Mr. Gary Lewis, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Iran
Besmellah – heh – Rahman – ur – Rahim,
Salaam va Sobhe beh kheyr.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to start my remarks by thanking Dr. Monfared, the Minister of Health and Ayatollah Haeri-Shirazi for sharing their reflections. I would also like to thank Dr. Ardakani, the Head of the National Organization for Civil Registry and Dr. Rakshani, Deputy Minister of Health for their remarks.
I bring you greetings from Mr. Bank Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General as we commemorate World Population Day – a few days in advance of the Holy Month of Ramazan. His speech is contained in your folder and I have drawn inspiration from it in developing my own remarks today.
Today I am honoured to be addressing so many colleagues who play a crucial role in helping to take action against adolescent pregnancy.
Today, we have with us colleagues from:
· The Ministry of Health and Medical Education.
· The National Organization for Civil Registration.
· The Ministry of Youth and Sports.
· We have among us managers and health staff of medical universities (from all our provinces).
· We have colleagues from the media – from the diplomatic corps – and from the United Nations family here in the Islamic Republic of Iran – including the hard-working team from UNFPA, led by my colleague and friend, Dr. Hulki Uz, the UNFPA Representative.
· I join our Government hosts in welcoming you all.
When I asked my colleagues at UNFPA what is the single most important take-away message we should all have from today’s event they answered with three simple words:
· Prevent Adolescent Pregnancy.
…this is indeed the theme of this year’s World Population Day.
Preventing adolescent pregnancy sounds simple. But it is often easier said than done.
I myself have strong feelings about preventing adolescent pregnancy. My wife and I have three children. All of them are girls – well, young women, actually (a father always tends to think of his daughters as “little girls”). All three are now aged between 20 and 22.
Last week, I was privileged to attend the graduation of our eldest daughter from a university in another part of the world. As I was sitting in that gathering, I thought about today’s event and what I should say here. I drew a number of conclusions – about educating young women – about empowering them – and about giving them choices. I will share these with you in a little while.
But part of my role here today is to provide a view on how Iran is doing compared with other countries in reducing adolescent pregnancy. Some countries have succeeded in accomplishing this. Iran is one of them.
In fact, as I have said elsewhere, during the past three decades, Iran has made remarkable progress in achieving some of the Millennium Development Goals – especially those relating to female literacy and maternal mortality – in fact, I was profoundly impressed to learn a few moments ago from Dr. Ardakani that 95 per cent of births registered in Iran are registered in hospitals.
Iranian girls have powerful access to education. The ratio of literate women to literate men between the ages of 15-24 is one-to-one here in Iran. The adolescent pregnancy rate is down to 8.3%. Clearly there are differences across the country – with Sistan va Baluchistan and Ardabil having higher rates of around 13%.
Nonetheless, the Ministry of Health and Medical Education is doing a great job in preventing high-risk pregnancies (for girls under 18). The UN congratulates these colleagues. You are helping to achieve a world “where every pregnancy is wanted, where every childbirth is safe, and where every young person’s potential is fulfilled.” And I encourage you to keep up the great work!
Indeed, the UN is proud to have been working with the Government of Iran on development issues for many years.
Our joint Development Assistance Framework between the Government of Iran and United Nations – for the period 2012-2016 – places a very high priority on collaboration in health – including reproductive health. This is where our UNFPA team collaborates closely with the Ministry of Health and Medical Education to continue to reduce high-risk pregnancies and pregnancy-related complications, particularly among the under-18s.
Many countries of the world, particularly Muslim countries, are now acknowledging Iran’s achievements. They are interested in learning from Iran’s experience in adolescent reproductive health. The UN would like to publicize the achievements of Iran in the area of health and education within the framework of South/South cooperation.
These lessons need to be learnt elsewhere. And they need to be learnt fast. For the news reaching us from elsewhere on the planet – and indeed elsewhere in our very region – is not so encouraging.
There are more than 500 million girls in the developing world today. As my Secretary-General says in his statement for today, these girls have the potential to shape humanity’s present – and its future. With the right skills and the right opportunities, they can build their own capacity now. Later, they can invest in their families – and in their communities.
If they are given the right opportunities and choices as adolescents, girls can begin adulthood as empowered and active citizens.
But, unfortunately, across this planet, far too many of our young women are entrenched in poverty. They are neglected. They are voiceless.
Across the planet, millions of adolescent girls face deep discrimination and exclusion that prevent them from claiming their rights and living out their true potential.
They are taken out of school too early. They are subjected to harmful practices.
They often are married-off as children. In these circumstances they face pregnancy and childbearing before they are physically, emotionally and socially mature enough to be mothers.
We all know of the story of Malala Yousufzai, the 15-year-old girl who was shot in the head in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan – a place where I once worked – 1,500 km to the east of here. What was the reason for this? Why was she shot? She was shot by men who considered her to be too outspoken about her right to have an education. Yet, all she asked for was the opportunity to choose the future she wanted.
Fortunately, the shot was not fatal, and, after much surgery, Malala has recovered from her ordeal. She now speaks with even greater conviction. And I join the countless millions who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with her and I look forward to hearing her courageous voice when she speaks at UN HQ in New York a few days from now, on the occasion of her 16th birthday. Her request continues – in all its simplicity – to be for the right to choose the future she wants.
As we work jointly to continue to reduce adolescent pregnancy here in Iran – and as we work to share Iran’s good practices elsewhere in the region – let us pause to remember what are the raw consequences of adolescent pregnancy. Adolescent, first-time, pregnant mothers run a high risk of maternal death and disabilities, including obstetric fistula.
But aside from the danger and the pain, there is an equally high price to be paid for adolescent pregnancy. This is lost potential.
· Foreshortened education.
· Lack of opportunities.
· Constrained life options.
· Fewer choices.
These consequences – both physical and developmental – continue to be carried throughout a girl’s life. They are passed on to her children. And they are passed on to generations that follow.
So to the policy-makers in the audience today, I make the obvious point that adolescent pregnancy is a constraint to any country’s development. Therefore, let us continue the good work we are doing together to prevent and reduce it.
So, ladies and gentlemen, to return to a point I made at the beginning of this speech, as I watched our eldest daughter her go up to receive her degree, she paused. She turned. She picked out her mother and me among hundreds in the audience. She smiled and waved to us. It was a wave of confidence. Like so many young women who have graduated from Iran’s universities and places of higher learning – many of whom sit among us here today – our little girl was preparing to embrace the future as a young woman empowered with choices of her own.
I felt proud to have played a small part in making this happen. And I thought I would share with you the emotion of watching such potential come to life. I drew some conclusions which I would humbly like to share with this distinguished audience today.
Here – I believe – are the responsibilities which we owe to ALL our young women.
· We must invest in adolescent girls. We must invest in their education. We must invest their health.
· Educated and healthy girls have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
· They often choose to delay childbearing.
· As a result, they tend to have – healthier – children. I was pleased that Dr. Ardakani referred to Iran’s prioritization of “quality of health” of the population as a priority for the Government’s population policy.
· They tend to earn higher incomes.
· With these incomes they can help lift themselves – and their families – out of poverty.
· Empowered, they will be a force for change in their communities.
· Finally, and perhaps equally importantly, they also learn – like Malala – how to speak out in support of justice and fairness.
I thank you all for what you are doing – in your own professions and in your own way – to help make this happen.
Kheyli Moteshakeram and thank you all.
Mr. Gary Lewis, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Iran