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ICPD25 – what we need to know

23 April 2019

What is ICPD?

This year, 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.

Who shaped the ICPD agenda?

Governments, NGOs, UNFPA and other UN agencies played a critical during the International Conference on Population and Development and created an action plan.

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

What is the use of ICPD?

The action plan agreed upon during the ICPD is extremely important for all people. Since then, the world will never be the same as before 1994. Millions of people choose a balanced approach to reproductive health, seeking a better life.

Achieving consensus on the ICPD was a turning point that marked the victory of the change-oriented movement of reproductive rights defenders. As a result, human rights and the well-being of each and every individual became central in the reproductive health agenda, and a number of fundamental changes were made:

  • In scientific studies, the focus has been on the study of factors affecting individual choices and behavior regarding the use or non-use of contraceptives;
  • In information and awareness raising - raising awareness among women, men and decision makers about the health benefits and socio-economic benefits of reducing fertility and preventing unintended pregnancies;
  • And in the field of service provision - emphasizing the importance of providing a full range of contraceptive methods and ensuring that women have the opportunity to choose.

ICPD participants also recognized that women's sexual and reproductive health and well-being concerns not only access to and use of contraceptives, but also many other aspects of the problem, such as the ability to prevent and treat sexually transmitted infections, including HIV; receive care during pregnancy and childbirth. Prevention and treatment of infertility and oncological diseases of the reproductive system have also been identified as essential elements of the sexual and reproductive health concept.

Why do we celebrate the 25-th anniversary of ICPD?

In the 25 years since the International Conference on Population and Development, significant progress has been achieved in the protection of sexual and reproductive rights.

In 1999, at a session dedicated to the five-year review of the ICPD decisions progress, its participants reaffirmed their commitment to the principle of universal access to sexual and reproductive health protection. And at that time, they also succeeded in supplementing it with such key elements as protecting the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents and ensuring access to safe abortions in cases where this is permitted by law.

However, in 2000, when the United Nations adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), defining goals and targets for the world over the next 15 years, reproductive health was not among them. Perhaps, given the lengthy and intense negotiations at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 and at the Five-Year ICPD Review Meeting in 1999, the officials responsible for defining MDG goals considered that this goal may be better identified as "Maternal health protection improvement". Only in 2005, the incessant efforts of sexual and reproductive health advocates have been supported, and ensuring universal access to the protection of sexual and reproductive health has become one of the targets of the maternal health goal.

The ICPD's 25-th anniversary offers a unique opportunity for the world community, relying on the framework laid down in the ICPD's decisions, to reaffirm its commitment to the full implementation of the agenda for the protection of sexual and reproductive health and rights and to help those who need it the most. Attention in this agenda should be given to the dynamics of demographic processes, the various problems faced by different countries at a certain stage of development, and political attitudes and programs based on respect for human rights and dignity and ensuring the exercise of these rights. At present, efforts to achieve the MDGs are reaffirming the commitment to implementing the Health for All strategy, where everyone has a basic right to the highest attainable standard of health without any exceptions. Within the Every Woman, Every Child movement, established by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2010, keen attention is paid to achieving the goals of sustainable development and ensuring universal coverage of health services, including sexual and reproductive health and women's, girls and adolescents' rights as one of the key areas of concerted efforts.

What changed after the ICPD?

As a result of the ICPD agenda adoption, human rights and the welfare of each and every individual have been put on the reproductive health agenda, a number of fundamental changes have been made:

  • In scientific studies, the focus has been placed on the study of factors affecting individual choices and behavior regarding the use or non-use of contraceptives;
  • In information and awareness raising - raising awareness among women, men and decision makers about the health benefits and socio-economic benefits of reducing fertility and preventing unintended pregnancies;
  • And as for the service provision, emphasizing the importance of providing a full range of contraceptive methods and ensuring that women have the opportunity to choose is a priority.

ICPD participants also recognized that women's sexual and reproductive health and well-being concerns not only access to and use of contraceptives, but also many other aspects of the problem, such as the ability to prevent and treat sexually transmitted infections, including HIV; availability of care during pregnancy and childbirth. Prevention and treatment of infertility and oncological reproductive diseases have also been identified as essential elements of the sexual and reproductive health concept.

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.

Who will support the ICPD action plan and when?

At the Nairobi Summit in 2019, Governments, UN agencies, civil society, private companies, women's groups and youth movements will reaffirm their commitment to the ICPD action plan.

Were to read more?

UNFPA Global Website.