ICPD30: Our fight for sexual and reproductive health – Defining UN reproductive health terminology 

Participants at Global Youth Dialogue, an event to celebrate ICPD30
Participants at the Global Youth Dialogue in Cotonou, Benin, one of the events we are hosting in honor of the 30th anniversary of the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). © UNFPA/Abdoulatif Keita 

What is ICPD30? 

As a supporter of the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, you may already know that our work to provide women and girls with the healthcare they deserve began with our founding in 1969. But you may not know is that sexual and reproductive health did not become internationally recognized rights until 1994.  

At the 1994 International Conference for Population and Development (ICPD), the world came together to define a bold and landmark objective: to put people, their dignity, and their sexual and reproductive rights at the heart of development. At this conference, 179 governments adopted the ICPD Program of Action – which affirmed that inclusive sustainable development cannot be possible without first prioritizing reproductive rights, empowering women and girls, and addressing inequalities.  

This year, we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of ICPD (hence the 30 in ICPD30) and analyzing all the progress we have made. Through global dialogues around the world with community leaders of every kind, we are also looking at how far we still need to go to achieve our sexual and reproductive health goals.  

Participants at ICPD30's Global Youth Dialogue hold signs.
  Participants at the Global Youth Dialogue in Cotonou, Benin. © UNFPA/Beatrice Kabore 

How far have we come in the last 30 years? 

The last 30 years have seen some of the most rapid progress for the international women’s and feminist movements yet. Some examples of the progress we have made in these last three decades include: 

– Decreasing unintended pregnancies by nearly 20% 

– Doubling the number of women using modern contraceptives 

– Reducing the number of teen pregnancies by about 30% 

– Reducing the global maternal mortality rate by more than 30% 

– Securing laws against domestic violence in more than 160 countries 

To put these massive metrics into perspective, in 2022 and 2023 alone, we have been able to protect 273,500 girls from female genital mutilation, deliver 2.4 million babies in humanitarian settings, avert 64,730 maternal deaths and treat 18,600 women with the debilitating childbirth injury known as obstetric fistula.  

Together, we have made a real difference in the last 30 years for women and girls. We have saved hundreds of thousands of lives and given millions more the opportunity to control their own reproductive destinies. Every single day, we change another life – but we cannot forget those that we have not yet reached. There is still so much work to be done to secure a world where every woman and girl is safe and empowered. 

Two midwives hold newborns.
Midwives Lucie and Lydie, providing support on a maternity ward at UNFPA-supported hospital, General Reference Hospital in Kinshasa. © UNFPA/Junior Mayindu  

What obstacles block our path to progress? 

While we have made incredible progress around the world for women and girls, we are unfortunately backsliding on some of the rights that we have fought so hard to win for women in girls. In some areas, progress has become stagnant. In others, such as in global maternal health rates, we are beginning to reverse the progress we have made over the last three decades.  

The reality is that, while we have increased our efforts for women and girls, our world is becoming increasingly volatile. The climate crisis is introducing new challenges to reaching women and girls with care, misinformation and fearmongering is convincing lawmakers and voters to peel back hard-fought advances on bodily autonomy, and technology has created new and rapidly evolving types of violence.  

Our path to progress is clear – but the road is not easy. It is for that reason that millions have been left out in the last 30 years of work.

Three girls pose with their new reusable sanitary pads.
Students at St John’s School for the Deaf receive reusable sanitary pads. © UNFPA The Gambia 

Who has been left out? 

While we have made significant strides in sexual and reproductive rights for women and girls – millions of people from historically oppressed groups and people from low socio-economic status have remained stagnant. In 69 countries, women still cannot make decisions about their own healthcare. Around the world, 1 in 10 women have no choice on whether or not they can use contraception. And alarmingly, a quarter of women cannot say no to sex with their husband or partner.  

It is women and girls who belong to vulnerable groups that suffer the most. Women with disabilities are 10 times more likely to experience violence, especially sexual violence. Black and indigenous women are more likely to experience obstetric violence, exploitation, and even experimentation due to a long and bloodied history of racism and colonialism. Millions of people in the LGBTQ+ community have also been pushed to the outskirts of their communities – making sexual and reproductive healthcare nearly impossible to obtain. 

While this 30-year anniversary is certainly a cause to celebrate all that we have accomplished for women and girls, we cannot forget to acknowledge those that we have struggled to reach. That’s why we’re taking this time to open dialogues with vulnerable groups around the globe and recommit ourselves to ensuring that no single person is left out. 

UNFPA worker conducts a health evaluation on a woman.
UNFPA health teams provide support to people who lost their homes to the earthquakes. © UNFPA/Eren Korkmaz

Where do we go from here? 

Now, it’s time to look forward. We are working tirelessly to reach three transformative results for women and girls by 2030: (1) zero unmet demand for contraceptives, (2) zero preventable maternal deaths, and (3) zero incidents of violence against women and girls. 

Thanks to this incredible community, we are making progress toward these goals every single day – but we cannot realize these goals without your continued support. If you would like to make a donation to help support our work in these critical years ahead, you can do so here. 

Thank you for all of your support so far – thanks to you, we are making a true difference for women and girls every single day.  

Amanda Christian
Be there for women and girls, no matter what

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