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UN HIV/AIDS advocate and ‘proud champion’ of women dies at 92



Nafis Sadik walks with Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, 1994.

Nafis Sadik, who died on Monday at the age 92 was the first woman to ever head one of the UN’s major voluntarily funded programmes and leaves a rich legacy of contributions to women’s health and rights.

“She consistently called attention to the importance of addressing the needs of women, and of involving women directly in making and carrying out development policy, which she believed was particularly important for population policies and programmes,” UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement on behalf of the UN chief.

A native of Pakistan, she served as the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Special Advisor to the Secretary-General and Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific.

“Dr. 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,” he said, concluding with the UN chief’s “sincere condolences to her friends and family”.

‘Trailblazer’ for women

“Profoundly saddened” by the news, current UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem described Dr. Sadik as a “proud champion of choice and tireless advocate for women’s health, rights and empowerment”.

The late UNFPA chief also served as Secretary-General of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994 and architect of its groundbreaking Programme of Action.

In describing Dr. Sadik, Ms. Kanem painted a picture of “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,” detailed Ms. Kanem.

‘Transformative power’

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.

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She 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, said Ms. Kanem.

“She demonstrated through her own example the transformative power of women’s leadership”.

She consistently called attention to the importance of addressing the needs of women — UN chief


“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,” she said, referring to the Conference that reached consensus on a series of goals including wider access for women to secondary and higher education, the reduction of infant and child mortality and access to reproductive and sexual health services such as family planning.

“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,” Ms. Kanem upheld.  

In her address at the Beijing Women’s Conference 25 years ago, the former UNFPA chief said that the first mark of respect for women is support for their reproductive rights, which “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”.

Decades of dedication

Dr. Sadik joined UNFPA in 1971 and served as Assistant Executive Director from 1977 until her appointment as Executive Director in 1987. Before joining the Organization, as an obstetrician-gynecologist by training, she was Director-General of the Pakistan Central Family Planning Council.

After retiring from the Population Fund in 2000, she served as the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser and his Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific.

From the World Health Organization to UN Women and UNAIDS, the UN family lauded their late colleague on Twitter and expressed deep sorrow for her passing.

On behalf of UNFPA, Ms. Kanem extended her 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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