What is the “unfinished business” of the ICPD?

By | October 15, 2019

Twenty-five years ago, national leaders, UN representatives, and members of civil society met in Cairo, Egypt for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).  The resulting Programme of Action has influenced the agenda of the UN, particularly the work of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which was tasked with carrying it out.  ICPD was a milestone in UN social policy: a coordinated attempt to create an international human right to abortion was blocked, and a compromise was achieved that remains in place, despite persistent controversy.

A quarter century later, national leaders are again preparing to convene, this time in Nairobi, Kenya, to revisit the ICPD agenda and discuss what “unfinished business” remains.  For some, this means redoubling efforts to close the gaps in maternal and child health outcomes that remain, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, despite progress in reducing preventable deaths since the early 1990s.  For others, the “unfinished business” means finally achieving what was elusive both at Cairo and to the present day: establishing a human right to abortion and recognition of “sexual rights” in international human rights law, and seeing these concepts enshrined in national laws as well.  This issue of Definitions explores the status of the ICPD at 25, with a particular focus on what has been characterized as its outstanding agenda, as it pertains to social issues such as abortion.