In preparation for the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development

Since the Women’s Declaration on Population Policies was formally launched by the Women’s Voices ’94 Alliance during the second preparatory meeting of the International Conference on Population and Development in May 1993, it has been signed or endorsed by a total of 2,539 individuals and organizations from over 110 countries.

A regional breakdown shows that the following numbers of individuals and organizations have signed or endorsed the Declaration: 447 from Africa, 317 from Asia, 433 from the Pacific, 406 from Latin America, 429 from Europe, and 507 from North America.

Fifteen international women’s organizations, 517 women’s organizations from 73 countries, and 1,455 women from 104 countries have signed the Declaration. Six international non-women’s organizations, 286 non-women’s organizations from 66 countries, and 260 individual men from 58 countries have endorsed the Declaration.

The endorsers and signatories are from many walks of life, professions, sectors, and interest groups. The local, national and international organizations include labor unions, urban and rural community groups, academic institutions, professional associations, and networks. They represent the following sectors: health, economic and social development and justice, law, environment, family planning, political affiliated organizations, women’s groups; and feminist and human rights activists. They range in membership from a few to over one million.

As far as the Secretariat for the Women’s Declaration are aware, the Declaration has been translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, and Dutch, and has appeared in at least fourteen publications and one telecommunications network. We understand that the Women’s Declaration is also being translated into Russian.

INTRODUCTION

In September 1992, women’s health advocates representing women’s networks in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, the U.S. and Western Europe, met to discuss how women’s voices might best be heard during preparations for the 1994 Conference on Population and Development and in the conference itself. The group suggested that a strong positive statement from women around the world would make a unique contribution to reshaping the population agenda to better ensure reproductive health and rights. The group drafted a Women’s Declaration on Population Policies, which was reviewed, modified and finalized by over 100 women’s organizations across the globe.

The Declaration is now being circulated by the initiators to women’s health advocates, other women’s groups and women health professionals, outside and inside government, for their signatures. In addition, the initiators invite other networks, organizations, governments, and individuals, including men, to endorse the Declaration.

Initiators of the Women’s Declaration on Population Policies

  • Peggy Antrobus DAWN and Women and Development Unit, University of the West Indies Barbados
  • Noeleen Heyzer Gender and Development Programme Asian and Pacific Development Centre Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Fatima Mernissi
  • Marge Berer Reproductive Health Matters London, United Kingdom
  • Sandra Kabir Bangladesh Women’s Health Coalition Dhaka, Bangladesh
  • Florence Nekyon Uganda National Council of Women and Organizing Committee for 7th International Women’s Health Meeting ­ Kampala, Uganda
  • Amparo Claro Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Health Network Santiago, Chile
  • Josephine Kasolo Safe Motherhood Office, World Bank Kampala, Uganda
  • Eva Njenga Kenya Medical Women’s Association Nairobi, Kenya
  • Sonia Correa National Feminist Health and Reproductive Rights Network Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
  • Loes Keysers Coordination Office, Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • Rosalind Petchesky Reproductive Rights Education Project and International Reproductive Rights Research Action Group (IRRRAG) New York, United States
  • Joan Dunlop International Women’s Health Coalition New York, United States
  • Frances Kissling Catholics for a Free Choice ­Washington, DC, United States
  • Jacqueline Pitanguy Citizenship, Studies, Research, Information, Action (CEPIA) Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Claudia Garcia-Moreno OXFAM Health Unit Coordinator* Oxford, United Kingdom
  • Bene E. Madunagu Women in Nigeria (WIN) Calabar, Nigeria
  • T.K. Sundari Ravindran Rural Women’s Social Education Centre Tamil Nadu, India
  • Adrienne Germain International Women’s Health Coalition New York, United States
  • Florence W. Manguyu Medical Women’s International Association Nairobi, Kenya
  • Julia Scott National Black Women’s Health Project Washington, DC, United States
  • Marie Aimee Heile-Lucas Women Living Under Muslim Laws International Solidarity Network Grabels, France
  • Alexandrina Marcelo Institute for Social Studies & Action and Womanhealth Philippines Quezon City, The Philippines
  • Kanwaljit Soin Association of Women for Action and Research Singapore

The initiators asked the International Women’s Health Coalition to serve as Secretariat for this effort. 

PREAMBLE

Just, humane and effective development policies based on principles of social justice promote the well-being of all people. Population policies, designed and implemented under this objective, need to address a wide range of conditions that affect the reproductive health and rights of women and men. These include unequal distribution of material and social resources among individuals and groups, based on gender, age, race, religion, social class, rural-urban residence, nationality and other social criteria; changing patterns of sexual and family relationships; political and economic policies that restrict girls’ and women’s access to health services and methods of fertility regulation; and ideologies, laws and practices that deny women’s basic human rights.

While there is considerable regional and national diversity, each of these conditions reflects not only biological differences between males and females, but also discrimination against girls and women, and power imbalances between women and men. Each of these conditions affects, and is affected by, the ability and willingness of governments to ensure health and education, to generate employment, and to protect basic human rights for all. Governments’ ability and willingness are currently jeopardized by the global economic crisis, structural adjustment programs, and trends toward privatization, among other factors.

To assure the well-being of all people, and especially of women, population policies and programs must be framed within and implemented as a part of broader development strategies that will redress the unequal distribution of resources and power between and within countries, between racial and ethnic groups, and between women and men.

Population policies and programs of most countries and international agencies have been driven more by demographic goals than by quality of life goals. Population size and growth have often been blamed inappropriately as the exclusive or primary causes of problems such as global environmental degradation and poverty. Fertility control programs have prevailed as solutions when poverty and inequity are root causes that need to be addressed. Population policies and programs have typically targeted low income countries and groups, often reflecting racial and class biases.

Women’s fertility has been the primary object of both pro-natalist and anti-natalist population policies. Women’s behaviour rather than men’s has been the focus of attention. Women have been expected to carry most of the responsibility and risks of birth control, but have been largely excluded from decision-making in personal relationships as well as in public policy. Sexuality and gender-based power inequities have been largely ignored, and sometimes even strengthened, by population and family planning programs.

As women involved directly in the organization of services, research and advocacy, we focus this declaration on women’s reproductive health and rights. We call for a fundamental revision in the design, structure and implementation of population policies, to foster the empowerment and wellbeing of all women. Women’s empowerment is legitimate and critically important in its own right, not merely as a means to address population issues. Population policies that are responsive to women’s needs and rights must be grounded in the following internationally accepted, but too often ignored, ethical principles.

FUNDAMENTAL ETHICAL PRINCIPLES

  1. Women can and do make responsible decisions for themselves, their families, their communities, and, increasingly, for the state of the world. Women must be subjects, not objects, of any development policy, and especially of population policies.
  2. Women have the right to determine when, whether, why, with whom, and how to express their sexuality. Population policies must be based on the principle of respect for the sexual and bodily integrity of girls and women.
  3. Women have the individual right and the social responsibility to decide whether, how, and when to have children and how many to have; no woman can be compelled to bear a child or be prevented from doing so against her will. All women, regardless of age, marital status, or other social conditions have a right to information and services necessary to exercise their reproductive rights and responsibilities.
  4. Men also have a personal and social responsibility for their own sexual behaviour and fertility and for the effects of that behaviour on their partners’ and their children’s health and well-being.
  5. Sexual and social relationships between women and men must be governed by principles of equity, non-coercion, and mutual respect and responsibility. Violence against girls and women, their subjugation or exploitation, and other harmful practices such as genital mutilation or unnecessary medical procedures, violate basic human rights. Such practices also impede effective, health- and rights-oriented population programs.
  6. The fundamental sexual and reproductive rights of women cannot be subordinated, against a woman’s will, to the interests of partners, family members, ethnic groups, religious institutions, health providers, researchers, policy makers, the state or any other actors.
  7. Women committed to promoting women’s reproductive health and rights, and linked to the women to be served, must be included as policy makers and program implementors in all aspects of decision-making including definition of ethical standards, technology development and distribution, services, and information dissemination. To assure the centrality of women’s well-being, population policies and programs need to honor these principles at national and international levels.

MINIMUM PROGRAM REQUIREMENTS

In the design and implementation of population policies and programs, policy makers in international and national agencies should:

1. Seek to reduce and eliminate pervasive inequalities in all aspects of sexual, social and economic life by:

  • providing universal access to information, education and discussion on sexuality, gender roles, reproduction and birth control, in school and outside;
  • changing sex-role and gender stereotypes in mass media and other public communications to support more egalitarian and respectful relationships;
  • enacting and enforcing laws that protect women from sexual and gende-based violence, abuse or coercion;
  • implementing policies that encourage and support parenting and household maintenance by men;
  • prioritizing women’s education, job training, paid employment, access to credit, and the right to own land and other property in social and economic policies, and through equal rights legislation;
  • prioritizing investment in basic health services, sanitation, and clean water.

2. Support women’s organizations that are committed to women’s reproductive health and rights and linked to the women to be served, especially women disadvantaged by class, race, ethnicity or other factors, to:

  • participate in designing, implementing and monitoring policies and programs for comprehensive reproductive health and rights;
  • work with communities on service delivery, education and advocacy.

3. Assure personally and locally appropriate, affordable good quality, comprehensive reproductive and sexual health services for women of all ages, provided on a voluntary basis without incentives or disincentives, including but not limited to:

  • legislation to allow safe access to all appropriate means of birth control;
  • balanced attention to all aspects of sexual and reproductive health, including pregnancy, delivery and postpartum care; safe and legal abortion services; safe choices among contraceptive methods including barrier methods; information, prevention and treatment of STDs, AIDS, infertility, and other gynecological problems; child care services; and policies to support men’s parenting and household responsibilities;
  • nondirective counselling to enable women to make free, fully informed choices among birth control methods as well as other health services;
  • discussion and information on sexuality, gender roles and power relationships, reproductive health and rights;
  • management information systems that follow the woman or man, not simply the contraceptive method or service;
  • training to enable all staff to be gender sensitive, respectful service providers, along with procedures to evaluate and reward performance on the basis of the quality of care provided, not simply the quantity of services;
  • program evaluation and funding criteria that utilize the standards defined here to eliminate unsafe or coercive practices, as well as sexist, classist or racist bias;
  • inclusion of reproductive health as a central component of all public health programs, including population programs, recognizing that women require information and services not just in the reproductive ages but before and after;
  • research into what services women want, how to maintain women’s integrity, and how to promote their overall health and well-being.

4. Develop and provide the widest possible range of appropriate contraceptives to meet women’s multiple needs throughout their lives:

  • give priority to the development of women-controlled methods that protect against sexually transmitted infections, as well as pregnancy, in order to redress the current imbalances in contraceptive technology research, development and delivery;
  • ensure availability and promote universal use of good quality condoms;
  • ensure that technology research is respectful of women’s right to full information and free choice, and is not concentrated among low income or otherwise disadvantaged women, or particular racial groups.

5. Ensure sufficient financial resources to meet the goals outlined above. Expand public funding for health, clean water and sanitation, and maternity care, as well as birth control. Establish better collaboration and coordination among UN, donors, governments and other agencies in order to use resources most effectively for women’s health.

6. Design and promote policies for wider social, political and economic transformation that will allow women to negotiate and manage their own sexuality and health, make their own life choices, and participate fully in all levels of government and society.

NECESSARY CONDITIONS

In order for women to control their sexuality and reproductive health, and to exercise their reproductive rights, the following actions are priorities:

  1. Women Decision Makers
    Using participatory processes, fill at least 50 percent of decision-making positions in all relevant agencies with women who agree with the principles described here, who have a demonstrated commitment to advancing women’s rights, and who are linked to the women to be served, taking into account income, ethnicity and race.
  2. Financial Resources
    As present expenditure levels are totally inadequate, multiply at least four-fold the money available to implement the program requirements listed in this Declaration.
  3. Women’s Health Movement
    Allocate a minimum of 20 percent of available resources for women’s health and reproductive rights organizations to strengthen their activities and work toward the goals specified in this declaration.
  4. Accountability Mechanisms
    Support women’s rights and health advocacy groups, and other nongovernmental mechanisms, mandated by and accountable to women, at national and international levels, to:

    • investigate and seek redress for abuses or infringements of women’s and men’s reproductive rights;
    • analyze the allocation of resources to reproductive health and rights, and pursue revisions where necessary;
    • identify inadequacies or gaps in policies, programs, information and services and recommend improvements;
    • document and publicize progress.

Meeting these priority conditions will ensure women’s reproductive health and their fundamental right to decide whether, when and how many children to have. Such commitment will also ensure just, humane and effective development and population policies that will attract a broad base of political support.