Sadik will be remembered “for her significant contributions to women’s health and rights and population policies and for her tireless efforts to combat HIV/AIDS,” the UN chief said.

Nafis Sadik joined the UN Population Fund in 1971, becoming the first woman to head a major UN program that is voluntarily funded.
Nafis Sadik joined the UN Population Fund in 1971, becoming the first woman to head a major UN program that is voluntarily funded. (AA)

Nafis Sadik, a Pakistani doctor who championed women’s health and rights and spearheaded the breakthrough action plan adopted by 179 countries at the 1994 United Nations population conference, has died.

Her son Omar Sadik said his mother died of natural causes at her home in New York on Sunday night, four days before her 93rd birthday.

Nafis Sadik joined the UN Population Fund in 1971, became its assistant executive director in 1977, and was appointed executive director in 1987. 

She was the first woman to head a major United Nations program that is voluntarily funded.

In June 1990, Perez de Cuellar appointed Sadik to be secretary-general of the fifth UN International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, also known as the Cairo conference.

She became the architect of its groundbreaking program of action which recognised for the first time that women have the right to control their reproductive and sexual health and to choose whether to become pregnant.

At the Beijing women’s conference a year after Cairo, Sadik told delegates: “The first mark of respect for women is support for their reproductive rights.”

“Reproductive rights involve more than the right to reproduce,” she said. 

“They involve support for women in activities other than reproduction, infact liberating women from a system of values which insists that reproduction is their only function.”

'Significant contributions'

Natalia Kanem, current executive director of the UN Population Fund, said “millions of girls and young women have grown up knowing that their bodies belong to them, and that their futures are theirs to shape” since Cairo.

After her retirement from the Population Fund in 2000, Sadik served as special adviser to the secretary-general and special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Sadik will be remembered “for her significant contributions to women’s health and rights and population policies and for her tireless efforts to combat HIV/AIDS,” his spokesman said.

Born in Jaunpur in British-ruled India, Nafis Sadik received her medical degree from Dow Medical College in Karachi and began her career working in women’s and children’s wards in Pakistani armed forces hospitals from 1954 to 1963.

The following year she was appointed head of the health section of the government Planning Commission.

In 1966, Sadik joined the Pakistan Central Family Planning Council, the government agency responsible for carrying out the national family planning program. She rose to be its director-general in 1970.

She also served an internship in gynaecology and obstetrics at City Hospital in Baltimore and continued her medical education at Johns Hopkins University.

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Source: AP