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What is ICPD?

In 2019, the whole world celebrates two important milestones in reproductive health: 50 years since the creation of #UNFPA and 25 years after the ICPD. In order to understand what this means and what has been achieved during this time, we have prepared 10 important things worth knowing about the ICPD.

The ICPD is the International Conference on Population and Development, held in 1994 in Cairo. Then, more than 10,000 delegates from all over the world attended the conference, and the governments of 179 countries adopted a groundbreaking program of action and called for the promotion of reproductive health and women's rights, as well as their central role in national and global development activities.

What was adopted on the ICPD?

Over the years preceding the ICPD convocation, there has been an incremental but increasingly tangible shift from demographic focus and birth reduction targets to prioritizing the rights of individuals and married couples to prevent or delay pregnancy and the protection of sexual and reproductive health. This shift was largely caused by the efforts of women's rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights advocates, and partially responded to the abuses generated by the spearheaded policy of "population growth control" inherited from the past. In the 1970s and 1980s, with the financial assistance and encouragement from donor countries and charitable foundations, programs were introduced in some countries that compelled or forced spouses to use contraceptives or restricted the family size or provided monetary or other incentives.

The ICPD Action Program, adopted by the governments of 179 countries, contains a direct call for the exclusion of target demographic and birth control indicators from national population and family planning. Taking into account the fact that the demographic processes dynamics should still be taken into account while developing policy, the Action Program included an urgent call to make women's needs and rights central in the area of population and development. Government representatives agreed that women, married couples and families need to have access to sexual and reproductive health services, as well as to implement social and economic transformations that will expand women's rights and opportunities, ensure their rights are respected. and will help advance the world to achieve gender equality.

The needs of adolescents in the field of reproductive health, as stated in the ICPD Action Program, are largely ignored by existing services. Although the consensus reached during the ICPD called for special efforts to meet these needs, the objections to providing adolescents with comprehensive services in the field of sexual education and reproductive health and differing approaches to the need to obtain parental approval caused confusing wordings to be included in the document, and in some cases - confusing policy implemented on the ground. The time of the ICPD coincided with the peak of another public health and human rights crisis, namely the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The world is increasingly concerned about the severe consequences of HIV and AIDS.

Why is ICPD so important?

The International Conference on Population and Development was a revolutionary initiative. It changed the concept of reproductive health and human rights. Example:

  • The ICPD Action Program, adopted by the governments of 179 countries, contains a direct call for the exclusion of target demographic and birth control indicators from national programs in the field of population and family planning.
  • Focus on women's rights and the achievement of gender equality
  • The need for sex education for adolescents and the provision of comprehensive reproductive health services
  • Identifying the response to the world AIDS pandemic as a global priority

Why the ICPD agenda is still of vital importance?

The struggle for ensuring the rights and choices for everyone continues, and new problems that need to be addressed are constantly emerging. Over the years, the nature and extent of these obstacles may have changed, but the international community still maintains its solid commitment to overcome them.

A lot has been achieved since 1994. The average number of births per woman at that time was 2.9 then and is 2.5 now; the fertility rate in the least developed countries declined from 5.6 in 1994 to 3.9 in 2019; and the mortality women for pregnancy-related reasons decreased from 369 per 100,000 live births in 1994 to 216 in 2015.

However, reproductive rights still remain inaccessible to too many women, including more than 200 million women who want to prevent pregnancy, but cannot access information and modern contraceptives.

"Despite the fact that in recent years, the range and number of available contraceptives has increased, hundreds of millions of women still have no access to them and, accordingly, have no opportunity to make their own decision on childbirth through these means," said the UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem. "Without access to them, these women are deprived of the possibility to make decisions about their own body, including whether they should get pregnant and when to do it".

What else can be achieved through ICPD?

We can ensure rights and choice for everyone. The following priorities of the UNFPA global activities in this area are as follows:

  • Maternal mortality prevention
  • Meeting the family planning needs
  • Countering violence against women and girls.

Nairobi Summit on ICPD25

The Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 was held in the Kenyan capital in November 2019, where states and partners making bold commitments to transform the world by ending all maternal deaths, unmet need for family planning and gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls by 2030.

The Summit, co-convened by the governments of Kenya and Denmark with UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, unveiled critical new data about the cost of achieving these goals. It mobilized more than 1,200 commitments from around the world, including billions of dollars in pledges from public and private sector partners. It also raised the voices of marginalized communities, youth and grassroots advocates, who were able to directly engage heads of state and policymakers about how to realize the rights and health of all people.

The Summit opened with the release of new research showing the price tag to achieve “three transformative results” -- zero maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices -- within the next decade. The total cost to the world would be $264 billion, according to the analysis by UNFPA and the Johns Hopkins University, in collaboration with Victoria University, the University of Washington and Avenir Health.

 Summit attendees then stepped up with specific and concrete commitments to help the world reach these ambitious, but achievable, goals. Pledges were made by governments, civil society, youth groups, faith-based organizations, academia and many more.

 Governments including Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom, together with the European Commission, committed around $1 billion in support. The private sector also stepped in: Children’s Investment Fund (CIF), The Ford Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, Philips, World Vision and many other organizations announced that they will mobilize some $8 billion in combined new pledges.

 “There will be no ICPD50. Women and girls around the world have waited long enough to have rights and choices,” said Ambassador Ib Petersen, Denmark’s Special Envoy for ICPD25. “Looking towards 2030, we now enter a decade of delivery during which we will walk the talk and hold all of us to account for the commitments we made in Nairobi.”

 Over 9,500 delegates from more than 170 countries took part in this radically inclusive conference, uniting behind the Nairobi Statement, which establishes a shared agenda to complete the ICPD Programme of Action.

 The same way the original 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo was a turning point for the future of women and girls, the Nairobi Summit will be remembered as a watershed moment that set in motion actions that saved lives, lifted millions of women and girls, their families and communities from exclusion and marginalization, and enabled nations to harness the demographic dividend to grow their economies.