This week Asia reviewed its stance on population, development, sexual and reproductive rights at the 6th Asia-Pacific Population Conference in Bangkok. Though there was resistance most notably from Iran and Russia, most countries particularly the Pacific Islands and the Philippines, among others championed a progressive outcome that moves the ICPD (The International Conference on Population and Development) agenda onward.
With this in mind, we would like to talk about Dr. Nafis Sadik, who could be considered the architect of the ICPD . Dr. Sadik, a Pakistani national served as Executive Director of UNFPA, with the rank of Under-Secretary-General, from 1987 through 2000, and convened the ICPD in 1994. She became the first woman to head one of the United Nations’ major voluntarily-funded programmes.
Most notable is her view on rights, which she expressed in her address:
“Rights are not what someone gives you. They are what no one is entitled to take away from you.”
We would like to present you with the rest of her keynote speech.
Here is what she thought of the ICPD:
“The Cairo consensus firmly nailed down the coffin of so-called “population control”, and made clear once and for all that population and development policies are inseparable… To follow the Cairo agenda is to respect and promote human rights. “
Her views on reproductive rights are also very profound:
“When we talk about “reproductive rights” this is what we mean. It’s the difference between people as objects, and people as agents: between regarding people as pawns on the policy chessboard, and recognizing them as the players, the decision-makers, the drivers of policy; autonomous individuals intimately concerned with the direction of their own lives.
Under these conditions women, especially, enjoy better health and live fuller lives. Boys and girls alike grow up knowing that they can make their own choices in life. Girls whose rights are understood and protected within the family become women with a strong sense of autonomy, who value themselves, their partners and the rights of others.
Under these conditions, girls finish school, marry later and have the children they want, and no more. Large families are no longer the norm, and population growth slows down. A window opens for investment and economic development.”
Her contribution to improving the health of women and children of the global community has brought her many international awards and honours.
Dr. Sadik has in her speeches recounted the cultural barriers that stand between women and development. Her opinion on cultural values is very valuable to activism.
“No cultural value worth the name permits or promotes the oppression and enslavement of women. No cultural value permits women to go without education or health care, including sexual and reproductive health. No cultural value permits women’s behaviour to be the standard of cultural expression, while men behave as they please. No cultural value entitles a man to hide behind his sister’s honour, while he attacks other men’s sisters. No cultural value holds women up to veneration as mothers while exposing them to death and disability in childbirth. These are not cultural values or human values – these are the means by which one group of people holds and uses power over another.”
Before I close, I would like to leave you with her views on women’s rights to safe abortion.
“Unsafe abortion – the cause of so much heated discussion in Cairo – remains a major cause of maternal death in many countries. They have made little progress in addressing it, or the underlying issues of ideology and prejudice. There is a rational discussion to be had in every society about the conditions under which abortion is permissible. But whatever the outcome, wherever abortion is legal it must be safe. That was the minimal consensus position reached at ICPD, and in its time it was a breakthrough. However, the consensus does not address the rights of the woman who needs an abortion where it is not legal. Pregnancy should not entail an avoidable risk of death: that is a simple extension of the human right to health. Illegal abortion is unsafe almost by definition. Surely it is time to recognize and address this urgent question, not only within countries and cultures but at the global level?”
Dr. Nafis Sadik is currently the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General with additional responsibilities as Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia.