The Unfinished Cairo Agenda: Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health for All

The Huffington Post

The international community faces a historic opportunity. Nearly 20 years ago, in 1994, 179 nations committed to protect the reproductive health and rights of women and girls at the landmark UN International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. Those basic rights, which include the ability to make free and informed decisions about one's body, health, relationships, marriage and childbearing, form the cornerstone of efforts to protect human dignity and promote the sustainable development of our planet.

Twenty years later, a major UN review of progress toward those commitments gives us the chance to ask, "Has life really changed for women and girls?"

The answer is decidedly mixed. And urgent action is called for.

On the positive side, a number of countries have implemented new laws and policies that provide at least partial protection for reproductive health and rights. Maternal mortality has declined in some countries that have improved access to reproductive health care. Access to information and services that can prevent and treat HIV/AIDS has also increased in various countries.

For hundreds of millions of women and girls, however, and for poor and marginalized communities, the promise of Cairo is far from fulfilled. Maternal mortality remains the leading cause of death for adolescent girls in the developing world, with the poorest and most disadvantaged women most at risk. One in nine girls in developing countries will be married before her 15th birthday. As many as seven in 10 women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Women are injured and die every day at the hands of their husbands and partners, and legal systems often protect rather than punish their assailants.