Statement by UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem on the passing of Dr. Nafis Sadik

15 August 2022

I am profoundly saddened to learn of the death of former Executive Director of UNFPA Dr. Nafis Sadik, proud champion of choice and tireless advocate for women’s health, rights and empowerment.

As Secretary-General of the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994 and architect of its groundbreaking Programme of Action, Dr. Sadik was a trailblazer who made indelible contributions to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, women’s leadership and global development.

Her bold vision and leadership in Cairo set the world on an ambitious path – a journey that passed through Beijing and the 1995 World Conference on Women, helped shape the Millennium Development Goals and anticipated the transformative vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 integrated and universal Sustainable Development Goals. This journey has helped transform the lives of millions of women and girls.

Dr. Sadik joined UNFPA in 1971 and served as Assistant Executive Director from 1977 until her appointment as Executive Director in 1987. Throughout her long and distinguished career, Dr. Sadik called attention to the importance of addressing women’s needs, and of involving women as decision-makers and drivers of development policy. As the first woman to head a major voluntarily funded United Nations programme, she demonstrated through her own example the transformative power of women’s leadership.

Dr. Sadik helped the world understand that people are at the heart of development and that when we remove obstacles in their path and uphold their rights, they and their societies flourish – women especially. Since Cairo, millions of girls and young women have grown up knowing that their bodies belong to them, and that their futures are theirs to shape.

“The first mark of respect for women is support for their reproductive rights,” she said in her address at the Beijing Women’s Conference 25 years ago. “Reproductive rights involve more than the right to reproduce. They involve support for women in activities other than reproduction, in fact liberating women from a system of values which insists that reproduction is their only function.”

After her retirement from UNFPA in 2000, she served as Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General and his Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific. Before joining the United Nations, Dr. Sadik, an obstetrician-gynecologist by training, was Director-General of the Pakistan Central Family Planning Council.

The ICPD Programme of Action stands as a lasting monument to Dr. Sadik’s determination, courage and conviction. Nearly three decades later, it remains our roadmap to achieve a world of reproductive rights and choices for all.  

On behalf of UNFPA, I extend sincere condolences to Dr. Sadik’s family, to the Government and people of Pakistan, to women around the world and to all who are mourning her loss.

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