World Population Day isn’t just another day we mark on the calendar. It is a reminder of our common responsibility to build a more sustainable and just future.
I remember leading the U.S. Senate delegation to the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. Back then, a lot of people were still afraid to talk about the connections between family planning, women’s rights, and development, let alone think we could actually turn the tide.
Since Cairo, the tide’s been turning. According to the final report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the maternal mortality ratio has been cut nearly in half. Steps taken to educate girls and empower women have helped to lift 675 million people out of poverty in the past generation alone. These initiatives save lives. A child born to a mother who can read and write is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of five than one born to a mother who is illiterate. By ensuring gender equality, advancing reproductive health, and protecting reproductive rights, we can break the cycle of poverty.
That is why, as the MDGs expire this year, we and other nations hope to put forward a new set of goals that highlight gender equality and reproductive health and rights.
This year’s theme for World Population Day is “vulnerable populations in emergencies.” It is a reminder that in a fragile world, where war and persecution are displacing record numbers of people, those with the least power need the most protection. And so we must strengthen our partnerships to prevent conflict, shield the innocent, care for refugees, and confront such common threats as climate change, violent extremism, bigotry, and discrimination.
Our responsibilities are clear, and so are the solutions. We know the difference it makes when women and girls are empowered, educated, and equipped to participate as equals in the political and economic life of their countries.
The post-2015 Development Agenda embraces all of these priorities. If countries take these goals seriously, we can improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people. And so on this World Population Day, we mark the miles we have traveled, but more importantly, we commit to the next miles of the journey.