Champion of Human Rights and Former UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Nafis Sadik, passes away at 92

Dr. Nafis Sadik, former Executive Director of UNFPA, passed away on August 14 of natural causes at age 92. Sadik dedicated her life to uplifting the voices and needs of women and girls

Early work

Born in British-ruled India, Sadik received her medical degree from Dow Medical College in Karachi, Pakistan. Prior to her work with the United Nations, Sadik worked as a civilian medical officer in Pakistani armed forces hospitals from 1954 to 1963. In 1966, she began serving on the Pakistan Central Family Planning Council. 

Joining the United Nations 

Sadik joined UNFPA in 1971 and became Assistant Executive Director in 1977. She was Executive Director of UNFPA from 1978 to 2000 and was the first woman to lead the agency. 

International Conference on Population and Development and Beyond

In 1990, Sadik became Secretary-General of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, Egypt. There, Sadik oversaw a global shift in sexual and reproductive health care. The field became focused on individual human rights and needs as opposed to national or international numerical goals. In her address to conference attendees, Sadik stated that “healthy families are created by choice, not by chance.” 

This idea — that sexual and reproductive health is a human right — is at the core of our work today. Since 1994, UNFPA and other international bodies have worked toward providing women with greater access to secondary and higher education, decreasing infant and child death, and increasing access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning

The ICPD encouraged world leaders to invest in the well-being of women and girls for the betterment of all people. The ICPD also identified sexual and reproductive health and ending gender-based violence as necessary steps to women’s rights and empowerment.  

In a statement regarding her passing, Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA’s current Executive Director, said Sadik was “a trailblazer who made indelible contributions to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, women’s leadership, and global development.” 

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