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Islamabad, Pakistan - The importance of family planning underpinned by individual rights was a key theme at the 2015 Pakistan Population Summit, held in Islamabad on November 5-6 and organized by the Government of Pakistan with the support of the Population Council, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation and the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA.

The government reiterated its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, along with the complementary objectives outlined in Pakistan 2025 - One Nation, One Vision, a national consensus that aims at "Putting People First".  This includes interventions aimed at improving education, health, gender equality, women's empowerment and opportunities for youth.

A key message came from Muslim religious leaders who have pledged to work with government and civil society on a number of fronts, including family planning and reproductive rights that put the health and well-being of women and families at the center.

Earlier in the year, a number of religious leaders from across Pakistan had issued a declaration acknowledging that unplanned pregnancies are "an unwarranted burden for the family as they can lead to adverse maternal and child health outcomes".

The declaration further agreed that "the death of (an estimated) 14,000 women every year due to pregnancy related causes is a grave tragedy and should be avoided, and proper care and attention needs to be given to the upbringing and education of girls."

Thus, citing the Holy Quran, the religious leaders said they "fully endorse the concept of birth spacing...and all methods that can help families to better plan the timing and spacing for their pregnancies to prevent maternal deaths and improve the health and wellbeing of families."

Addressing the summit via a video recording, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin praised the government for its foresight in prioritising reproductive health rights with a focus on women and girls, but also spelled out the challenges ahead.

Yoriko Yasukawa, UNFPA's Asia-Pacific Regional Director attending the summit, underscored the importance of using the 2030 Agenda as an opportunity for Pakistan, and indeed all countries, to approach population and development issues in a holistic way, given the cross-cutting nature of the Sustainable Development Goals and against the backdrop of human rights for all -- to ensure that "no one is left behind."