UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Nafis Sadiq, a Pakistani doctor who championed women’s health and rights and led the plan of action adopted by 179 countries at the 1994 UN population conference, has died four days before her birthday the 93rd, her son said late Monday.
Omar Sadik said his mother died of natural causes at her home in New York on Sunday night.
Nafis Sadik joined the UN Population Fund in 1971, became its assistant executive director in 1977, and was appointed executive director in 1987 by then-Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar following the sudden death of his boss, Rafael Salas. She was the first woman to head a major voluntarily funded United Nations program.
In June 1990, Perez de Cuellar appointed Sadiq as secretary-general of the fifth UN International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, and she became the architect of its groundbreaking program of action, which recognized for the first time that women have the right to control their reproductive and sexual health and choose whether to become pregnant.
The Cairo conference also reached consensus on a number of goals, including universal primary education in all countries by 2015 – a goal that has yet to be achieved – and wider access for women to secondary and higher education. It also set goals to reduce infant and child mortality and maternal mortality and to ensure access to reproductive and sexual health services, including family planning.
While the conference broke a taboo on discussing sexuality, it did not acknowledge that women have the right to control decisions about when they have sex and when they marry.
Natalia Kanem, the current executive director of the UN Population Fund, called Sadiq a “proud champion of choice and tireless advocate for women’s health, rights and empowerment.”
“Her vision and bold leadership in Cairo set the world on an ambitious path,” a journey she said continued at the 1995 UN conference on women in Beijing and with the adoption of the UN’s development goals- since 2000 that include the achievement of gender equality and many issues in the Cairo Program of Action.
Since Cairo, Kanem said, “millions of girls and young women have grown up knowing that their bodies belong to them and that their futures are there to be shaped.”
At the women’s conference in Beijing, a year after Cairo, Sadiq told delegates: “The first note of respect for women is support for their reproductive rights.”
“Reproductive rights encompass more than the right to reproduce,” she said. “They include supporting women in activities other than reproduction, in effect freeing women from a value system that insists that reproduction is their only function.”
After her retirement from the Population Fund in 2000, Sadik served as Special Adviser to the Secretary-General and Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Sadiq will be remembered “for her significant contributions to women’s health and rights and population policy and for her tireless efforts to combat HIV/AIDS,” he said. his spokesman. “She consistently emphasized the importance of addressing women’s needs and the direct involvement of women in the creation and implementation of development policies, which she believed was particularly important for population policies and programs.”
Born in Jaunpur in British-ruled India, Nafis Sadiq was the daughter of Iffat Ara and Muhammad Shoaib, a former Pakistani finance minister. After receiving her medical degree from the Dow Medical College in Karachi, she began her career working in the women’s and children’s wards of Pakistani armed forces hospitals from 1954 to 1963. The following year she was appointed head of the section health of the government’s Planning Commission.
In 1966, Sadiq joined the Central Family Planning Council of Pakistan, the government agency responsible for carrying out the national family planning program. She became its general director in 1970.
She also served an internship in gynecology and obstetrics at City Hospital in Baltimore and continued her medical education at Johns Hopkins University.
Sadik is survived by her five children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“Mama loved the way she lived: open, welcoming, wonderful, generous beyond belief, gracious and giving – always and in every way giving,” said Omar Sadik. “Our house wasn’t big, but Mom always found a way to make it seem limitless, and she somehow managed to accommodate absolutely anyone who needed a bed, a sofa, a meal or a family.”
“She transcended age and time and was loved as much by people much older than she was by little children – because they knew her heart,” he said. “She fit more in a day than most of us probably fit in a year – she was unmatched and she was unmatched.”