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  • The 2nd Annual Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health:Critiques, Challenges, and Cautious Optimism
  • Jill Keesbury, Ph.D.


From October 6-10, 2003 almost 1,500 delegates, primarily from Asia and the Pacific, gathered in Bangkok for the 2nd Annual Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health (APCRSH.) With only a handful of attendees from the United States and Europe, the debate at the APCRSH provided unique insight into what are perceived to be the overarching issues and challenges to achieving reproductive and sexual health in Asia. Because many of the issues that were raised in Bangkok have global implications, or were specifically targeted at donor countries, the following summary is intended to share the central points of this debate with a broader international audience.

The overall tenor of the APCRSH was one of cautious optimism, where the progress of the reproductive health approach over the past decade was juxtaposed against the present challenges posed by growing fundamentalism and shifting global priorities. An undercurrent of disappointment also ran through the proceedings, as delegates recognized the region's failure to achieve the ambitious goals set out at the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). Much of this disappointment took the form of frustration with the Bush Administration's policy and funding shifts that have taken place since the Cairo conference. Perhaps because of this disappointment, even though it was a conference intended to address the theme of "Moving into Action," prescriptions for reproductive health activism were less forthcoming than were assessments of current challenges. This article documents the most important of these challenges that were identified by participants and highlights the strategies that were put forth to help overcome them.

Following a brief overview of the composition and theme of the APCRSH, the discussion below details the major themes of the conference. It begins by outlining the numerous critiques that were lodged against American reproductive health policy, provides an overview of the other central points of the conference, and concludes with a look at the strategies proposed for pursuing reproductive and sexual health and rights in the current political environment.

Background of the Debate

With an attendance of nearly 1,500 civil society, government, and donor representatives from the Asia Pacific region, many delegates expressed the belief that the APCRSH was the most important reproductive health event held in the region since the 1st APCRSH was convened in Manila during 2001. Whereas the first conference focused on gender equity, the theme of the second APCRSH was more activist in nature, as expressed in the theme of "Moving into Action: [End Page 36] Realizing reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights in the Asia Pacific Region."i While this activist agenda was left largely unrealized during the conference, the ideals of activism and regionalism still infused the proceedings.

The debate was often dominated by voices from the Philippines and India, primarily because participants from these two countries represented the single largest proportion of delegates in attendance. Reflecting the momentum the 1st APCRSH generated in Manila, a disproportionate number of panel and plenary discussions revolved around reproductive and sexual health issues in the Philippines. Similarly, Indian viewpoints informed many of the sessions, due largely to the rich tradition of population studies and reproductive health activism in the country. While certain Asian communities were well represented in the debate, Pacific Islanders and Americans were conspicuously absent. The few Pacific Islanders who were in attendance expressed frustration that this was another in the number of Asia-Pacific events that marginalize the concerns of the Pacific. In contrast, while American policy was a central presence in the debate, Americans themselves were barely visible in the conference hall. Only about 50 Americans attended the conference, comprising approximately 3 percent of the delegates, all hailing from United States (US) based non-governmental organizations and universities.

Critiques of the US Government

While the US Government may not have been represented at the conference, its policies remained a constant presence in the discussion. Much, if not all, of this discussion was highly critical of the Bush Administration's international population and health policies. This criticism seems to have stemmed from...


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