International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) : A Historical account and future trajectory


The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in 1994 is undoubtedly a landmark UN conference in terms of the shift from population control to a reproductive rights framework, an achievement that was a result of passionate struggle of all stakeholders mainly the women’s health movement.  The question in many minds today is WHAT NEXT AFTER ICPD?

Taking a journey into the history of population and development conferences, organized by the United Nations, we understand that the ICPD conference was not a one off conference organized by the United Nations, but fifth in succession to the population and development conferences held since 1954.

Every ten years since 1954, United Nations has been organizing international conferences on population and development issues. Each conference brought forth issues for discussion relevant to that decade. The first two United Nations Population Conference held in 1954 in Rome, and 1965 in Belgrade were purely technical conferences aimed at expanding scientific knowledge and understanding on population issues. These two conferences were held in collaboration with the International Union on the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) and comprised of technical experts.

The subsequent conferences held in 1974 in Bucharest and 1984 in Mexico City, were organized by the United Nations alone and composed of government representatives. These conferences benefitted from extensive preparations, scientific symposia’s, regional meetings, and meetings of preparatory committees involving technical experts and focused on development of policies.

In continuity, the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo was a landmark conference in population policy and politics. It is at this conference that the concepts of reproductive rights, sexual health, and reproductive health were officially incorporated in the programme of action. This conference held from September 5-13, 1994 in Cairo, saw more than 4000 delegates from 180 national governments produce a Programme of Action that serves as a blueprint for population programmes of the United Nations and individual countries until 2015.

Acknowledging the limitations, and at the same time recognizing the progressive elements within the Programme of Action , the women’s health movement  since then has consistently monitored the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action at national, regional and international levels. The twenty years are drawing to a close very soon in 2015, and my understanding of the above history and the logical sequence of conferences since 1954 point to a potential UN conference in the lines of ICPD in 2015.

If such a UN conference is going to take place then it is time be prepared and consolidate experiences and learning from the women’s health movement who made Cairo possible. Based on the contemporary realities, and drawing from the strengths of the women’s health movement, lets aspire for the next paradigm shift where sexual and reproductive rights and health are realized by all individuals irrespective of gender identities and sexual orientation, a shift where all individuals have equitable access to affordable and quality sexual and reproductive health services.

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