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Review of population dynamics in UNECE region calls for increased efforts to ensure human rights, including reproductive rights, and gender equality across life course

Published: 01 October 2018

Increased investments in individual capabilities and more efforts on ensuring human rights, including reproductive rights, and gender equality throughout the life course are needed to respond to the population dynamics affecting the broader European region. This is the conclusion of a report launched today as countries of the UNECE region – which covers Europe, North America and Central Asia – come together in Geneva to review progress in implementing the Programme of Action adopted by the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994.

Ahead of the ICPD’s 25th anniversary in 2019, over 250 delegates from 40 UNECE member States, together with civil society and youth representatives, and regional and international organizations have gathered for a two-day conference, organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

"Over the next two days, we have a historic opportunity to reflect on our progress, formulate our vision for the future, and redouble our efforts to reach those who are still left behind", said Dereje Wordofa, UNFPA’s Deputy Executive Director.

“The UNECE regional report on ICPD+25 underlines that the aspirations of the ICPD Programme of Action remain pertinent in the UNECE region – they are still unfulfilled for too many. These insights into progress made and key challenges in the region will help sharpen policy responses in areas including population ageing and the need to scale up efforts for gender equality, which are fundamental to realizing the ambitious and inclusive vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, said Lidia Bratanova, Director, Statistical Division, UNECE.

The progress report, presented today at the conference, highlights major population and development trends affecting the region. These include:

  • Continued low fertility in large parts of the region, with fertility rates below replacement levels in 49 of 56 UNECE countries and projections showing that net migration will often not compensate for shrinking populations: population is projected to decline in 20 countries by 2030, and in 10 of them by 15 per cent or more by 2050;
  • Complex migration movements, linked in part to an increase in forced displacement across international borders. UNECE countries hosted some 17% of the world’s total estimated 25.9 million refugees and asylum seekers in 2016;
  • Increasing life expectancy and population ageing: by 2023, the region’s population aged 65+ will outnumber children (0-14 years) for the first time;
  • Low levels of participation in education and training among older workers (5% of women and 4% of men aged 55 to 74), revealing barriers to lifelong learning and unrealized potential;
  • Continued decrease in maternal mortality, which has declined from 15 to 14 deaths per 100,000 live births between 2010 and 2015, remaining highest in Central Asia;
  • Continued decline in adolescent pregnancy;
  • Very low modern contraceptive use in parts of Eastern Europe, with usage rates as low as 20—30 per cent;
  • Fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world, with a 30% increase since 2010 (over 120,000 new HIV infections in 2017);
  • Transformations in family formation, with trends towards cohabitation, single‐parent families and reconstituted families, among others;
  • Persistent gender inequalities in employment and decision-making, gender-based violence and harmful practices such as, in parts of the region, gender-biased sex selection and child marriage;
  • Minority groups, including ethnic minorities and persons with disabilities, continue to face persistent exclusion, material deprivation and inferior educational and health outcomes compounding over the life course.

The complex interrelationships between population ageing, low fertility and migration play out differently across the region. Policy responses so far have generated mixed results, according to the report, suggesting a need for additional evidence-based analyses. Rights-based and people-centered policies aimed at removing financial, social and health-related barriers can help men and women realize their fertility aspirations. Investments in human capital development and lifelong learning are key in addressing the implications of population ageing.

There is considerable progress in improving sexual and reproductive health in the region, the report finds. But aggregate figures conceal persisting inequalities in access to quality care between and within the region’s countries.

Women, adolescents and youth, older persons, men and boys, and migrants and other marginalized groups have distinct sexual and reproductive health needs and face significant obstacles in obtaining services and information. The report calls for the removal of access barriers, commitments to advancing gender equality and the strengthening of health systems for the universal provision of an essential package of services and information from birth to old age.

Women and men continue to face difficulties in reconciling work and family responsibilities across the region. Child leave entitlements across the region are largely focused on mothers, and few countries have gender-sensitive leave entitlements favouring father’s involvement. The report calls for further efforts to ensure affordable childcare, flexible working arrangements, compensation for parents’ lost income during full-time childcare, maternity leave periods that don’t exclude women from the labour market, and non-transferrable paternity leave and other measures fostering the participation of men in childcare and the household.

Gender-based violence remains a pervasive challenge to the region’s societies, with over half of women reporting physical or sexual violence by a partner in some countries. Tackling this issue requires coordinated responses from the health, education, social and legal sectors through rights-based, life-course prevention and response measures, the report says.

Over the next two days, delegates will take stock of where the region stands in terms of implementing the ICPD Programme of Action and related Sustainable Development Goals and chart the way forward for closing remaining gaps by 2030.

The progress report and the conference outcome, in the form of a rapporteurs’ summary, will inform the 52nd Session of the Commission on Population and Development in 2019.

For further information, please contact:

Information Unit, UNECE, Email : unece_info@un.org; Tel.: +41 (0) 22 917 1234;

Jens-Hagen Eschenbaecher, UNFPA, eschenbaecher@unfpa.org, Tel.: +90 5497483655


United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

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