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PAI on Cairo at 15

By Suzanne Ehlers

Anyone who works in the international development field should have a certain little orange book on their desk. It measures 3.5 x 6 inches, yet packs a real punch. It is the Programme of Action, adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in September 1994.

The Programme is made up of 16 chapters and covers a wide range of topics, ranging from Reproductive Rights and Gender Equality to Technology and International Cooperation. It acknowledges there are many opportunities needed to improve quality of life, including access to education, jobs, improved reproductive and maternal health, and a clean environment. The Programme recognizes that family planning services empower individuals and support economic investment programs aimed at helping families attain better health, higher levels of income, and greater stability.

The sheer breadth of the document is inspiring, but the global sexual and reproductive health and rights community has not adequately harnessed the potential provided in the 16 chapters. The initial post-Cairo enthusiasm for cross-sector solutions and linkages between SRHR and other key development concerns has not been adequately sustained, and has too often become detached from movements pushing for domestic and international recognition of women's sexual and reproductive rights. Furthermore, the SRHR community has struggled to promote an agenda that emphasizes individual rights but also relies on demography to draw attention to the needs of larger communities.  

Support for the ICPD crosses the ideological divide, so we have nothing to hide and we know that there are great opportunities to build consensus around reproductive health issues. In fact, about 70 percent of Americans support family planning, a number that has remained constant for decades. This includes large majorities of Independents, Republicans and Catholic voters. People understand the values that these programs support.

Cairo will expire in 2014 and soon the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goals will follow. We must start today to envision a world where all people can achieve equity, well-being and social justice; that vision cannot be achieved without the contribution of the sexual and reproductive health and rights community as part of a comprehensive and fully integrated roadmap for development.
Suzanne Ehlers is Interim President of Population Action International