Working in alliance with churches is strategically important, said a UN representative at the recent assembly of the Latin American Council of Churches.
“Sustainable development rests in people, with women empowered, with young people engaged, with people of all traditions, faiths and cultures living in dignity and rights,” said Dr Kate Gilmore, director of the United Nations Fund for Population (UNFPA) for Latin America, during a presentation at a consultation in Havana, Cuba, on 21 May.
The consultation was part of the programme of the 6th Assembly of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), taking place in the Cuban capital between 21 and 25 May, under the theme “Affirming ecumenism of concrete gestures.” Gilmore’s presentation was part of an event within the assembly on “Churches and Sexual and Reproductive Rights.”
In her presentation, Gilmore shared figures about the situation of young pregnant women around the world and pointed to the urgent need to continue the process inaugurated by the Cairo Plan of Action, which is the outcome of the 1994’s UN Conference on Population and Development.
At the 1994 UN Conference on Population, in Cairo, the WCC urged “open, constructive dialogue” among the churches on issues of reproductive health, particularly within the larger contexts of poverty, inequality, and women’s rights.
“As the [Millenium Development Goals] draw to a close, 222 million women still lack access to family planning,” Gilmore said. “Of the 210 million pregnancies each year, nearly 33 million are unattended, leading to 21.6 million abortions and causing 27,000 deaths each year. If we had family planning, we’d have 26 million fewer abortions and 1.1 million infant deaths avoided.”
At the Cairo conference the WCC said, “We would contend that it is better to place the issues of population in the context of improving the quality of life. Quality of life is enhanced when people can attain their full potential, when the full spectrum of human rights is respected, when people are subjects rather than objects of policies, when they make choices in life and most all, when basic and spiritual needs are fulfilled.”
Gilmore affirmed that “the discussion of issues like reproductive rights and family planning with churches is urgent, essential, and compassionate.” The UNFPA co-sponsored the consultation in Cuba and considers the alliance with churches “strategically crucial.”
Addressing 350 participants, Gilmore stated that in most cases the arena in which human dignity and empowerment are most important is also the most intimate: sexual and reproductive rights.
“We must work in alliance,” she said. “This is neither a UN agency agenda nor a particular government’s policy. It is not the product one single faith or individual, but a work of the human community.”
As an example of cooperation between the church and UN, the Latin America Council of Churches and UNFPA developed and published a study guide on sexual and reproductive rights, created for churches and ecumenical organizations.
Its main goal is as a pastoral tool and for theological reflection, discussion, empowerment and organization around the theme of reproductive and sexual rights in churches. The handbook was presented and shared during the consultation, and member churches were asked to express their commitment to use it partially and/or integrally in their pastoral work.
Eduardo Campaña, one of the editors of the handbook, said that the material comes in response to “a need felt in the churches and ecumenical organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean to include a real and concrete answer to the problems and consequences of an issue that is part of the daily life of our communities and people, especially women.”
Gilmore, whose father served previously as a WCC president and member of the WCC Executive Committee, put the collaboration into larger perspective.
“Our partnership with CLAI is about improving the fundamental dignity of people,” she said. “You are agents of change and you are promoting efforts to reduce poverty, strengthening women, youth and indigenous people, and you are raising your voice for comprehensive sexuality education, reproductive rights, family planning, the prevention of HIV and the fight against sexual violence.”
The Latin America Council of Churches was founded in 1982 and has its headquarters in Quito, Ecuador. It currently brings together 188 Protestant churches and denominations from 20 countries and has as its main function consultation and coordination of pastoral work.