The time is NOW: an urgent call to action on the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development

18 February, 2020


The International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994 agreed to a visionary Programme of Action that was well ahead of its time. Women’s human rights advocates were the drivers of this paradigm shift, and since that time, have been the torch bearers of the ICPD Programme of Action. Together with supportive governments, allied social justice movements, and researchers, they have defended the ICPD agenda against well-funded attacks, advanced it at every opportunity including through its review conferences, creatively implemented it through innovation and community education, local organising and wide mobilisation, worked with governments, development agencies and other stakeholders, and held governments accountable.

As we assemble in Nairobi on November 12–14, 2019 to celebrate 25 years of ICPD, women’s and feminist groups and their allies continue to celebrate the transformative power of the ICPD Programme of Action. What was hard-fought 25 years ago is now assumed to be the norm by many young people who were not then born. Adolescents and young people around the world expect and demand to have control of their own bodies, sexualities and reproduction. They challenge taboos about abortion, contraception, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics; and expect accurate information and quality, respectful and confidential services. They reject oppressive heteronormativity, gender norms and binaries, and harmful social, economic, ecological and climate policies and practices; call out patriarchy, ageism, ableism, racism and neo-colonialism; and work for an end to all emotional, physical, and sexual harassment and violence. They see all aspects of their lives as connected. They are mobilised in a global movement to stop the climate and ecological crises by tackling its drivers: unsustainable and massively inequitable consumption and production, heteropatriarchy, neoliberalism, and the military-industrial complex.

We welcome the further commitments made in Nairobi, including those made in the Nairobi Statement on ICPD25: Accelerating the Promise.

But much more remains to be done, and with urgency

We call on all stakeholders – governments, civil society, social movements, trade unions, regional development agencies, UN agencies, private sector, health care professionals, research and academia, and individuals everywhere – to join us in redoubling our efforts to ensure the following urgent priorities are addressed, including by adopting regional action plans; removing regressive laws and policies and building coherent, comprehensive, gender-just legal and policy frameworks; and ensuring sufficient public funding to realise:

  • The rights of adolescents everywhere – and especially adolescent girls, transgender and gender non-conforming adolescents – to the education, information, programmes and services that will allow them to control their bodies, reproduction and sexualities, free of coercion, discrimination and violence; have mutually respectful and gender-equitable relationships; and achieve their full potential;

  • The right of all people who can become pregnant to the information, the means, and the support to have an abortion, by the method, and at the time, place and with the accompaniment of their choice, including through self-managed abortion;

  • The right of pregnant persons to the highest quality, affordable maternal health care during pregnancy, childbirth and the post-partum period; to be free of abuse, coercion and violence; and to be treated with dignity and full respect for their human rights;

  • Urgent, global multisectoral action to prevent, detect and manage reproductive cancers, especially cervical cancer, which kills 300,000 women every year, 90% of them in developing countries – a deep injustice 25 years after ICPD;

  • The right to the highest attainable standard of health for all, through primary health care that integrates comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care, and is truly affordable, with universal health coverage guaranteed and user fees and out-of-pocket costs eliminated;

  • The recognition of sexual rights as human rights, including the right of all persons to life, to privacy, to freedom of thought and expression, to control and decide freely on matters related to their sexualities, to be free from violence, coercion, or intimidation in their sexual lives, to enjoy a satisfying and pleasurable sex life, to have access to quality, comprehensive, integrated sexual and reproductive health services, counselling, and information, including confidential and voluntary testing, prevention, treatment, care and support of HIV, and to be protected from discrimination based on the exercise of their sexualities;

  • The rights of all people to bodily autonomy and integrity; the elimination of discrimination, coercive practices and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming people and intersex people, people with disabilities, indigenous people, people in occupied and colonial territories, Afro-descendants and other racial and ethnic minorities, sex workers and other marginalised groups; and the repeal and removal of laws and policies that murder, pathologise and criminalise them;

  • The rights of all refugees, internally displaced persons, climate crisis survivors and migrants to be free of violence, abuse and imprisonment; to have access to all social services necessary for their well-being, including comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and menstrual hygiene; to be treated with due process and dignity in countries of transit and destination; and to be re-settled without delay;

  • Government and private sector accountability for the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all women, adolescents, transgender and gender non-conforming people, especially for those who are marginalised or who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination;

  • Adequate, sustained and flexible funding for feminist and women’s human rights organisations, LGBTQI organisations, disability rights organisations, youth movements and all civil society organisations and movements fighting to implement the commitments of ICPD and its follow-up reviews, particularly those led by marginalised and historically under-represented populations;

  • Immediate action to address the urgent global climate and ecological crises by placing bodily autonomy and integrity, and gender justice and human rights at the core of all climate responses; such that respect for the safety and wellbeing of all women and girls, access to health services including sexual and reproductive health, access to nutritious food and clean water, quality education, effective and unimpeded democratic participation, and ecological sustainability, are the ways we define and measure progress towards climate justice, and sustainable and just development.

  • Urgently reducing carbon emissions; an end to fossil fuel subsidies; an urgent move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy; cutting plastics and other chemical pollution; protecting and managing watersheds, water sources and oceans; cutting the indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides; compensating the loss and damage suffered by climate frontline peoples; adopting policies and making investments that address inequalities within and between countries and drive sustainable consumption and production, including by a binding UN Treaty on transnational corporations and human rights.

The time is NOW.

  • Gita Sen, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN)

  • Françoise Girard, International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC)

  • Noelene Nabulivou, Diverse Voices and Action for Equality (DIVA)

  • Sivananthi Thanenthiran, Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre on Women (ARROW)

  • Geetanjali Misra, CREA
  • Susana Chavez, Consorcio Latinoamericano contra el aborto inseguro (CLACAI)

  • Marisa Viana, Resurj – Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice

(For a full list of signatories to this call for action, and translated versions in Arabic, French, Portuguese and Spanish, please see supplemental files.)