The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo in
September 1994, was a watershed for global population and development initiatives.
All countries now accept that population concerns are at the heart of sustainable
development strategies. Rapid population growth and high fertility hold back
development. They help to perpetuate poverty. They make it hard for countries to
concentrate on the future because resources are soaked up by present needs.
But the Cairo conference also put an end to the concept of "population control". The
Conference recognized that smaller families and slower population growth depend not
on "control" but on free choice—the idea borne out by 30 years of experience that most
women given the choice will have fewer children than their mothers did.
Choice means access to reproductive health care, including a range of family planning
information and services, but it doesn’t stop there. Women and men must feel that the
services available and the quality of care meet their reproductive health needs.
The Cairo agenda also means more attention to education for women and girls. It
means leadership, encouraging family and community support for women’s choices. It
means more women active in the community, in government at all levels, in the private
sector. It means protection for women’s legal rights. It means, in three words,
empowerment, equity and equality. It is a powerful idea. It is an idea whose time has
The ICPD’s 20-year programme is ambitious, but practical. It is the outcome of three
years’ hard negotiation, and was agreed by all 179 countries, rich and poor, north and
south, industrialized countries and developing countries, who attended the Cairo

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