Arab Population Forum

Beirut , 19-21 November 2004

The Arab Population Forum (APF), organized by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the League of Arab States (LAS) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), was convened at ESCWA Headquarters in Beirut from 19 to 21 November 2004.

The Forum marks the tenth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) (Cairo, 5-13 September 1994), which involved a general debate on population and related issues and their implications for social and economic development, and which resulted in the landmark agreement and adoption of the Programme of Action of ICPD. At the Twenty-first Special Session of the General Assembly, Member States affirmed “their renewed and sustained commitment to the principles, goals and objectives of the Programme of Action”.[1] Equally, at the Fifty-sixth Session of the General Assembly on the follow-up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit, all 189 Member States of the United Nations adopted the road map towards the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Declaration, which embodies a large number of specific commitments aimed at improving the quality of life and the well-being of human beings in the new century.


OBJECTIVES AND NATURE OF THE FORUM

The Forum focuses on a number of emerging issues in the area of population, including trends and structural changes of the population in the Arab region, and the major challenges and concomitant policy responses arising from such changes. Within this framework, the Forum is aimed at the following: (a) assessing the achievements in the Arab region with regard to the implementation of regional and global agreements pursuant to the Programme of Action of ICPD; (b) enabling stocktaking of lessons learned and best practices that could be replicated in other countries in the region; and (c) further accelerating the implementation of these agreements.

In addition to offering a multifaceted perspective in the areas of population, poverty and development, and youth, the Forum plans to address and analyse such prevailing challenges as high maternal mortality, reproductive health morbidity and barriers to the enforcement of reproductive rights and gender equality. Moreover, the Forum covers the potential sources of support and partnership, including the mobilization of financial resources, and the participation, transfer and use of knowledge and information and communication technology.

The Forum is aimed at noted experts and representatives from the executive and legislative branches of governmental agencies, academic and research centres, intergovernmental organizations and institutions, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. Consequently, the Forum provides a rare opportunity for dialogue within the framework of ICPD and ICPD+5 among policymakers, academic experts and other resource persons involved in the area of population and development. Moreover, the outcomes of these open debates include a summary of deliberations by the chair, a report on the Forum to be prepared by ESCWA and proceedings of the Conference to be published in a timely manner both in paper and electronic formats.

In addition to opening and closing presentations by the organizers, the Forum is set to comprise the following five thematic sessions: (a) population and development issues: ten-year review and future prospects; (b) population, poverty and gender; (c) reproductive health and reproductive rights; (d) Arab youth: opportunities and challenges; and (e) post-demographic transition: process and implications.

These sessions provide an opportunity for an expert debate on the salient issues related to population, including the causes and implications of structural change, the interrelationship with poverty and development, and the policy responses experienced in the countries of the region. In addition to the chair, who is a moderator, each session features a panel comprising three prominent experts whose presentations are set to occupy approximately half of the time allotted to the session. The remaining is apportioned for general debate, including questions from the floor and responses by the panellists, and concluding comments by the chair.

These thematic sessions are outlined below.

1. Review of population and development issues in the last decade and future prospects

This session reviews the population and development issues since ICPD (1994), including trends in reproductive health, and focuses on the achievements, constraints, best practices and lessons learned in implementing the recommendations of the Programme of Action of ICPD. Within that context, the session highlights and provides an overview of the policy and programme responses from the countries in the Arab region.

Moreover, the session covers the trends in key operational issues, both at regional and national levels, including the mobilization of financial resources, and the participation, transfer and use of knowledge and information and communication technology. Additionally, discussions concentrates on the potential roles of private sector initiatives and explore the possibilities of investing in the opportunities provided by the political commitments towards ICPD, ICPD+5, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Poverty Reduction Strategies and Policies (PRSP).

The following background papers are provided for this session: (a) “Progress Made Towards the Achievement of ICPD Objectives in Arab Countries”; (b) “Partnerships and Resource Flows in Population, Reproductive Health, and Development”.

2. Population, poverty and gender

In the Arab region, globalization, uncertain economies, poor governance and wars have exacerbated insecurity and population mobility, and have impinged on the attainment of basic rights for survival, freedom of thought and intellectual advancement. Currently, approximately 22 per cent of the population in the region lives on less than $1 a day, and 52 per cent survive on $2-$5 a day. Moreover, this poverty is highly correlated with population and reproductive health parameters in the region, including, inter alia, high fertility, high morbidity and mortality, early marriage age, low contraceptive use, high dependency ratio, large family size, low female education and preponderance of female-headed households in communities.

This session defines the nature and magnitude of causalities between population, poverty and gender and identifies new insights and empirical support for tackling poverty issues by improving reproductive health and by promoting rights, awareness, access to quality services and empowerment of women. The empirical evidence and qualitative parameters that are presented during this session lend analytical support to the theory that poverty, which is compounded by social and cultural values, can be combated by empowering women and by promoting reproductive rights and governance.

The following background papers are provided for this session: (a) "Population, Reproductive Health and Poverty"; (b) "Macro Economic Aspects Linking Poverty, Development and Population”; and (c) “Poverty, Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women”.

3. Reproductive health and reproductive rights


Young people are the fastest growing segment of the population in the Arab region, and represent one-third to one-half of national populations. This large and rapidly increasing bracket of the population is already having a substantial impact on all facets of life within the region. While this youth is typically more educated and enjoys greater access to knowledge, technology and resources than other age-groups, there are a number of challenges and growing sources of risk facing young people that impede on their development.

Within the framework of ICPD, ICPD+5 and other relevant international resolutions, this session is set to review these challenges, including, inter alia, rising poverty, unemployment and under-employment; decreasing quality of education and skill development; worsening housing conditions; decreasing community support, which can lead to emotional distress, violence and abuse; increasing risks of exposure to diseases and infections, particularly sexually-transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS; the incidence of violence based on gender; and the issues relating to fertility, unwanted pregnancies and early marriages. Moreover, discussions highlights the impact of sound socio-economic policies and the participative interventions by the State, civil society and the private sector aimed at promoting healthy and fulfilling behaviours and practices among the youth.

The following background papers are provided for this session: (a) "Adolescents/Youth Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights in the Arab Region"; (b) "Social, Economic and Cultural Dimensions of the Arab Adolescents/Youth: Present and Future".

4. Arab youth, opportunities and challenges

Young people are the fastest growing segment of the population in the Arab region, and represent one-third to one-half of national populations. This large and rapidly increasing bracket of the population is already having a substantial impact on all facets of life within the region. While this youth is typically more educated and enjoys greater access to knowledge, technology and resources than other age-groups, there are a number of challenges and growing sources of risk facing young people that impede on their development.

Within the framework of ICPD, ICPD+5 and other relevant international resolutions, this session is set to review these challenges, including, inter alia, rising poverty, unemployment and under-employment; decreasing quality of education and skill development; worsening housing conditions; decreasing community support, which can lead to emotional distress, violence and abuse; increasing risks of exposure to diseases and infections, particularly sexually-transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS; the incidence of violence based on gender; and the issues relating to fertility, unwanted pregnancies and early marriages. Moreover, discussions will highlight the impact of sound socio-economic policies and the participative interventions by the State, civil society and the private sector aimed at promoting healthy and fulfilling behaviours and practices among the youth.

The following background papers will be provided for this session: (a) "Adolescents/Youth Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights in the Arab Region"; (b) "Socioeconomic and Cultural Dimensions of the Arab youth/adolescents: Present and Future".

5. Post-demographic transition: process and implications

While the regional levels of fertility, mortality and population growth have experienced significant declines over the past two decades, and projections indicate a continuing downward trend, population growth rates in Arab countries are still among the highest in the world. Moreover, at a national level, some Arab countries have completed their demographic transition, while others are experiencing a plateau wherein fertility rates are still comparatively high. From socio-economic and development perspectives, the coming decades will be characterized by a higher percentage of the working-age population, which provides opportunities for cost-effective human development investment and economic policies, thereby leading to high returns at a time when the population will equally comprise ever increasing numbers of older persons in need of social security, pensions and healthcare.

By concentrating on and identifying the future challenges and opportunities, this session reviews the expected impact of the post-demographic transition on the reproductive health, behaviour and needs of the population, including the impact of ageing, youth, marriage, migration of labour, family and inter-generational relationships. Additionally, discussions are expected to highlight the reasons behind the lack of advancement of the transition in some countries and the related impact on development and poverty, and to review the policies that have encouraged investment in human capital, thereby maximizing the gain of the demographic transition from high to low mortality and fertility rates, referred to as “demographic bonus”. Finally, this session probes a number of successful case studies in order to underscore the benefits that can be reaped from investing in reproductive health and rights, gender equality and empowerment of women.

The following background papers are provided for this session: (a) "The Process of Demographic Transition and its Impact in the Arab Region"; (b) "Population Policies and Demographic Transition in the Arab Region, with special reference to the GCC Countries".

 

 Copyright © ESCWA 2004