By Patrick Markey
UNITED NATIONS — Mary Banotti, former presidential candidate and MEP, has been appointed Ireland’s Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Population Fund, the agency that assists developing countries with reproductive health and planning.
Banotti’s appointment comes as the United Nations marked the birth of the world’s six billionth person, a baby born in Bosnia on Tuesday, and launched a campaign of population awareness and education.
A former nurse who worked in Africa in the 1960s and a campaigner for protection of children, Banotti said she had personal experience of the suffering caused by a lack of reproductive rights.
"We still face a situation where 350 million women worldwide do not have access to modern family planning methods, which means they have no control over the number of children they have," Banotti said on Monday at a UN press conference.
As goodwill ambassador she will campaign to increase awareness about funding for reproductive health care and education. Working with the Irish Family Planning Association, Banotti will also promote the Face to Face campaign to address the rights of women and youth.
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Her first official function was to attend the Day of Six Billion events in Dublin on Tuesday.
The developing world could learn from Ireland’s own experience, given the nation’s recent turbulent past on reproductive issues, Banotti said.
"Ireland does have a lot to offer developing countries. But since we came fairly recently past the stage where it was illegal to have contraceptives in Ireland, we will have a particularly unique experience to bring," she said.
Tony O’Brien, chief executive for the IFPA, said Ireland had made remarkable progress on contraception and planning. The nation’s involvement in the campaign was all the more striking as only seven years ago his organization was fined for selling a condom in a Dublin record store, he said.
UN officials said Ireland has already increased its contributions to the UNFPA programs from $300,000 in 1998 to $350,000 this year.
Banotti, who has been an MEP 15 years, said the European parliament would also make an increasing economic and political contribution to tackling reproductive issues.
"We see the issues of development and population as inextricably linked and we cannot in fact progress with our development aid if don’t empower men and women to have control over their own lives," she said.