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On July 11th, 2019, Rwanda joined the world in celebrating World Population Day (WPD) with the rural community of Rusizi District to reach the last mile. Rusizi is the farthest district from the capital city, as well as the one with the lowest uptake of family planning and high teenage pregnancy rates in the country. Under the theme “25 Years of the ICPD: Accelerating the Promise”, the celebration renewed focus on the unfinished business of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).

As Rwanda celebrates the remarkable gains made since the Conference, it recognises how progress and best practices have built the foundation upon which to reach the last mile where Family Planning uptake and other Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) services are lagging behind. In Rwanda, according to the Demographic Health Survey (2014/15), the contraceptive prevalence rate has halted [with a slow increase from 45% (2010) to 47.5% (2015)], while unmet need for family planning has remained unchanged (19%) for the past decade, with a total fertility rate of 4.2 (2015), posing a challenge in addressing population issues including rapid population growth.

Speaking to the community in attendance, the Mayor of Rusizi District, Ephrem Kayumba, highlighted that in Rusizi, alike in other parts of the country, the high fertility rate has been strongly associated with poverty and high childhood mortality rates. Public sensitization is needed to raise awareness about population issues, including on how rapid population growth may limit a family’s chances to meet its basic needs.

“We thank UNFPA for choosing to celebrate the World Population Day and hold an awareness campaign in our district, discussing matters that affect our local community” he added; “while the population increases, the available land will not expand”. The Mayor encouraged the residents to appreciate the benefits that family planning offers to families, their district and the country in general.

Hon. Suzanne Mukayijore, a Parliamentarian and member of Rwanda Parliamentary Network on Population and Development, observed that in Rwanda the biggest unmet need for contraception is found among unmarried young women and teenagers. There is thus a need to improve the quality of and access to these services to everyone in need, and she commended the ICPD for initiating a new way of thinking, which is central towards improving people’s quality of life generally, and more particularly that of women and young girls.

Photo: Using Sport to Engage Communities on ICPD25 - Mark Bryan Schreiner, UNFPA Representative, Hon. Suzanne Mukayijore, Member of Parliament, and Ephrem Kayumba, Mayor of Rusizi District, kicking off the football match during World Population Day celebrations.

The Hon. Member of Parliament also noted that one of the critical areas for women and young people is the lack of access to comprehensive and inclusive SRHR information, which, particularly in poor or rural communities, is currently contributing to rising teenage pregnancy rates.

“Actions to empower women and men are key to successful solutions to many population problems. Increasing the level of education, economic and political decision-making, particularly for girls and women, is vital”, she added.

Key players in the health sector ascertain women’s access to family planning and SRHR services as one of the vital tools required to harness the demographic dividend and build inclusive and just societies.

Mark Bryan Schreiner, UNFPA Representative to Rwanda, stressed how monitoring progress towards the ICPD Agenda directly contributes to the core aim of the Sustainable Development Goals. He highlighted Rwanda’s progress over the last two decades on many development fronts, especially health outcomes including in the area of SRHR. Schreiner remarked that with strengthened efforts, Rwanda will continue to lead the continent and even more success will be registered in population and development issues.

“We appreciate Rwanda’s leadership in creating platforms that convene stakeholders to develop plans to accelerate the program of action, accelerating the ICDP promise” he concluded.

During the World Population Day celebrations messages conveyed through speeches, sketches enacted by “Ubuhanzi” artists, testimonies by the youth, and songs performed from Community Health Workers, focused on celebrating the progress made since the landmark ICPD and called to accelerate the promise in Rwanda. World Population Day further provided an opportunity to raise awareness on SRHR, provide Family Planning services on the ground to the host community, and re-commit partners to fully realize the goals of the ICPD.

Youth Travelling Caravan

The celebration of World Population Day was followed by a series of activities organised to mark the 25th anniversary since the ICPD, in partnership with key advocates of SRH/FP. These included Enabel, Imbuto Foundation, Society for Family Health (SFH), AfriYAN, under the leadership of the Ministry of Health and the Rwanda Biomedical Center, as well as of the communities that were engaged throughout the outreach activities.

Photo: Youth Travelling Caravan engaging local communities on SRHR messages and promise of ICPD.

A Youth Travelling Caravan kicked off in Rusizi District and included a 10-day mass outreach campaign around Family Planning and Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health in Rusizi, Nyamasheke, Karongi, and Muhanga Districts, which ended in Kigali City on Car Free Sunday. Through community mobilisation efforts the Travelling Caravan reached over 7,000 community members with SRHR messages and services - 579 people were tested for HIV tested and 223 clients received family planning methods.

Photo: Harnessing the Power of Sport - Residents of Kigali City, UNFPA and Partners during ICPD25 celebrations during Car Free Day sport activities in Kigali. 22 July 2019.

The Youth Travelling Caravan, led by young SRHR advocacy including AfriYAN Rwanda, gathered stories and testimonies on key issues affecting young people’s access to SRHR information and services. All the stories, innovative and creative ideas collected across the districts will be compiled and serve as advocacy tools towards the promotion of the ICPD agenda throughout 2019 and beyond. The Travelling Caravan concluded its 10-day campaign at Car Free Sunday, an event that attracts hundreds of residents to join planned sport activities in Kigali.

Rwanda’s Road to Nairobi Summit

The Youth Travelling Caravan is the latest activity on Rwanda’s road to Nairobi Summit. ICPD25 activities were kicked off with a high-level Partners’ Advocacy meeting co-organised by the Rwanda Parliamentarian Network on Population and Development (RPRPD) and UNFPA on 21 June which reviewed progress, assessed gaps, and defined resolutions shaping Rwanda’s national commitments for ICPD25.  Rwanda’s road to ICPD25 activities continues over the upcoming months leading up to the Nairobi Summit in November where heads of state and ministers, parliamentarians, thought-leaders, technical experts, civil society organizations, young people, business and community leaders, faith-based organizations, and thousands of others, including a delegation from Rwanda, will gather at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 to seek clear commitments to advance the goals of the ICPD and secure the rights and dignity of all.