The Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family

On October 22, the U.S. hosted a ceremony at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)  for the signing of the Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family.[1]

Contents of the Declaration[2]

The Declaration was prepared because COVID-19 prevented the signatories from meeting in Geneva, Switzerland for the 2020 World Health Assembly “to review progress made and challenges to uphold the right to the highest attainable standards of health for women; to promote women’s essential contribution to health, and strength of the family and of a successful and flourishing society; and to express the essential priority of protecting the right to life, committing to coordinated efforts in multilateral fora.”

The signatories, therefore:

“1. Reaffirm ‘all are equal before the law,’  and ‘human rights of women are an inalienable, integral, and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms’;”

“2. Emphasize ‘the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights,’  as well as economic, social, and cultural rights; and the ‘equal rights, opportunities and access to resources and equal sharing of responsibilities for the family by men and women and a harmonious partnership between them are critical to their well-being and that of their families’ ; and that ‘women and girls must enjoy equal access to quality education, economic resources, and political participation as well as equal opportunities with men and boys for employment, leadership and decision-making at all levels;’”

“3. Reaffirm the inherent ‘dignity and worth of the human person,’ that ‘every human being has the inherent right to life,’ and the commitment ‘to enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant;’”

“4. Emphasize that ‘in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning’ and that ‘any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process’; Reaffirm that ‘the child… needs special safeguards and care… before as well as after birth’ and ‘special measures of protection and assistance should be taken on behalf of all children,’ based on the principle of the best interest of the child;”

” 5. Reaffirm that ‘the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State’; that ‘motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance,’ that ‘women play a critical role in the family’ and women’s ‘contribution to the welfare of the family and to the development of society’;”

“6. Recognize that ‘universal health coverage is fundamental for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals related not only to health and well-being,’ with further recognition that ‘health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ that ‘the predominant focus of health-care systems on treating illness rather than maintaining optimal health also prevents a holistic approach’; and that there are ‘needs that exist at different stages in an individual’s lifespan, which together support optimal health across the life course, entailing the provision of the necessary information, skills, and care for achieving the best possible health outcomes and reaching full human potential; and”

“7. Reaffirm ‘the importance of national ownership and the primary role and responsibility of governments at all levels to determine their own path towards achieving universal health coverage, in accordance with national contexts and priorities’, preserving human dignity and all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Furthermore, the signatories ”hereby declare in mutual friendship and respect, our commitment to work together to:

  • Ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and equal opportunity for women at all levels of political, economic, and public life;
  • Improve and secure access to health and development gains for women, including sexual and reproductive health, which must always promote optimal health, the highest attainable standard of health, without including abortion;
  • Reaffirm that there is no international right to abortion, nor any international obligation on the part of States to finance or facilitate abortion, consistent with the long-standing international consensus that each nation has the sovereign right to implement programs and activities consistent with their laws and policies;
  • Build our health system capacity and mobilize resources to implement health and development programs that address the needs of women and children in situations of vulnerability and advance universal health coverage;
  • Advance supportive public health policies for women and girls as well as families, including building our healthcare capacity and mobilizing resources within our own countries, bilaterally, and in multilateral fora;
  • Support the role of the family as foundational to society and as a source of health, support, and care; and
  • Engage across the UN system to realize these universal values, recognizing that individually we are strong, but together we are stronger.”

The Declaration’s Signatories[3]

The co-sponsors and signatories of this Declaration were the U.S., Indonesia, Brazil, Egypt, Hungary and Uganda. The other 26 signatories included Poland, the Belarus (where security forces are currently trying to suppress a women-led protest movement), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan and Libya.

According to the Women, Peace and Security Index that was established by Georgetown University, most of the signatories are among the worst countries for women’s rights, and none of the top twenty countries on that index—except for the U.S. which ranked 19th—signed the declaration.

At the ceremony, Alex Azar, the Secretary of DHHS, said, “too many wealthy nations and international institutions put a myopic focus on a radical agenda that is offensive to many cultures and derails agreement on women’s health priorities. Today, we put down a clear marker: No longer can U.N. agencies reinterpret and misinterpret agreed-upon language without accountability. Member States set the policy for the U.N. to pursue. Not the other way around.”

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo added that this document aims to “protect women’s health, defends the unborn and reiterates the vital importance of the family as the foundation of society.” He also stressed, “There is no international right to abortion.”

The document does not directly address same-sex marriage, but its statement that the family is “the natural and fundamental group unit of society” has clear meaning for those signatories that restrict LGBT rights like Egypt.

========================

[1] Health & Human Services Dep’t, Trump Administration Marks the Signing of the Geneva Consensus Declaration (Oct. 22, 2020); Berger, U.S. signs international declaration challenging right to abortion and upholding ‘role of the family,’ Wash. Post (Oct. 22, 2020); Borger, U.S. signs anti-abortion declaration with group of largely authoritarian governments, Guardian (Oct. 22, 2020).

[2] Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family.

[3]  See n. 1; Azar, Remarks at the Geneva Consensus Declaration Signing Ceremony, DHHS (Oct. 22, 2020); State Dep’t, Secretary Pompeo Participates in the Geneva Consensus Declaration Signing Ceremony (Oct. 21, 2020).