Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, a number of international conferences held under the auspices of the United Nations drew attention to the needs of women and adolescents, with a particular focus on their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Recognizing the growing strength and capacity of the international women’s movement, IWHC played a leadership role in mobilizing women and young people for participation in these conferences, most notably for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo in 1994.

At this conference, 179 governments agreed to a progressive, comprehensive 20-year Programme of Action that strives to strike a balance between the world’s people and its resources. This Programme of Action was the first to place women’s reproductive and sexual health and rights at the center of an international agreement on population, a field that had previously been dominated by strategies that sought to control women’s fertility and meet demographic targets with little recognition of women’s sexual and reproductive autonomy or human rights. This change in approach is commonly known as the “Cairo paradigm shift.”

Several conferences held during the years that followed—including the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), the five-year implementation reviews of ICPD (ICPD+5, New York, 1999) and the World Conference on Women (Beijing+5, New York, 2000), and the United Nations General Assembly Special Sessions on HIV/AIDS (New York, 2001) and Children (New York, 2002)—offered opportunities to strengthen and advance the commitments made at Cairo.

Together with international feminist alliances like HERA (Health, Empowerment, Rights, and Accountability), IWHC continued to mobilize women and young people to participate in these conferences, and succeeded in convincing governments to set more ambitious targets related to safe abortion, HIV prevention, contraception, and obstetric care. We also continued our support for local advocates who rely on these agreements as tools to lobby their own governments for an increased commitment to ensuring women and adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health and rights in the form of legislation, budgetary allocations, sexuality education curricula, and new programs and services.

Today, IWHC is at the center of two intertwined and key global policy debates that will set the agenda on health and sustainable development for decades to come. The first debate is taking place as the global community reviews 20 years of progress following ICPD. The second question concerns what will become the new priorities for international development once the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015. 

IWHC and our partners will continue to mobilize activists from around the world to ensure that our governments and global leaders prioritize the needs of women and girls.