UN Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs,
with support from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)

Overview of conference aims, background


Cairo, Egypt

5-13 September 1994




The international community's response to population and

development challenges over the next several years will greatly

affect the quality of life of present and future generations.

Action to empower women and promote gender equality will be

particularly crucial.

     The world's population, now almost 5.7 billion, is growing at

a record pace of more than 90 million persons a year. Many of the

resources on which future generations will depend are being

depleted at alarming rates and pollution is intensifying, driven by

wasteful consumption, the unprecedented growth in human numbers,

persistent poverty, and social and economic inequality.

     At the same time, at least half a million women are dying each

year as a consequence of pregnancy and childbirth; 99 per cent of

those deaths, almost all of them preventable, occur in developing

countries. In some countries, as many as half of maternal deaths

may result from unsafe abortions; many others result from the

absence of the most basic antenatal, maternity and post-natal care.

     Some 460 million couples in the developing regions of the

world (55 per cent of the total) use some method of family

planning. However, approximately 350 million couples do not have

access to a full range of modern family planning information and

services. It is estimated that 120 million women not currently

practising contraception would use a modern family planning method,

if one were available, affordable and acceptable to them and to

their husbands.

     These are among the issues that will be taken up at the 1994

International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), to

be held from 5-13 September in Cairo, Egypt. Delegations from some

180 countries are expected to participate in finalizing and

adopting a 20-year Programme of Action focusing on population,

sustained economic growth and sustainable development, with special

emphasis on women's health, education and status.

     A central theme is that efforts to slow population growth,

reduce poverty, achieve economic progress, improve environmental

protection, and reduce unsustainable consumption and production

patterns are mutually reinforcing.

     Convened by the United Nations, ICPD is a successor to the

1974 World Population Conference, held in Bucharest, and the 1984

International Conference on Population in Mexico City. Those

gatherings spelt out actions to address issues related to rapid

population growth, and affirmed that all couples and individuals

have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number and

spacing of their children, and to have the information, education

and means to do so.

     This year's Conference will build on and broaden that

consensus, reflecting the widespread recognition that population is

inextricably linked to the full range of human development concerns

-- including poverty alleviation, women's empowerment and

environmental protection.

     ICPD will emphasize two themes: choices and responsibilities;

and the need to incorporate population considerations into all

national and international efforts to achieve sustained economic

growth and sustainable development.

     The overall aim is to identify actions -- and to find the

means of implementing them -- that will make national policies and

programmes more effective in meeting individual needs, especially

those of women, and in bringing population into balance with

available resources.

     As part of a holistic approach that emphasizes the health,

education and empowerment of women, a major focus of the Conference

will be to increase the availability of family planning as part of

a broader package of reproductive health services. Closely related

to this objective are Conference goals to significantly reduce

infant, child and maternal mortality, and to expand access to

education, particularly for girls.


The past 20 years have seen remarkable demographic, social,

economic and political changes, as well as changes in attitudes

about reproductive health, family planning and population growth.

Death rates have also been lowered, and education and income

levels, including those of women, have increased, often

significantly. As political commitment to population policies and

family planning programmes has solidified, many countries have

substantially expanded access to reproductive health care and

reduced their birth rates.

     Progress, however, has been uneven. In Western Europe, North

America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and much of East Asia,

access to family planning is almost universal; between 65 and 80

per cent of couples practise contraception; and the average family

size is near or below two children per couple. But in most

sub-Saharan African and some Pacific Island countries, for example,

family planning services are not yet widely available;

contraceptive use there is below 15 per cent and women bear an

average of six or more children.

     Infant mortality world-wide has dropped by one third since

1974, from 92 deaths per 1,000 births to 62. But a large gap

remains between developing countries (with 69 infant deaths per

1,000 births) and developed countries (12 deaths per 1,000 births).

     While levels of education have risen considerably during the

past two decades, an estimated 960 million persons are illiterate,

two thirds of them women. Some 130 million children, including over

90 million girls, are denied access to primary schooling. This

impedes progress in every sphere of development, including changes

in patterns of human reproduction.

     Women's roles and status are changing in many countries. Women

are entering the labour force in record numbers, a trend that is

contributing to the rising demand for family planning services. But

women are often the only source of support for themselves and their

children. Everywhere, female-headed households are the poorest of

the poor, in part because women have less access than men to

training, credit, property, natural resources and better-paid jobs.

     In addressing these social concerns, developing countries find

that demographic changes are placing increasing strains on services

and infrastructure.

     By 2015, nearly 56 per cent of the global population is

expected to live in urban areas, compared to under 45 per cent in

1994. The urban population of developing countries is projected to

reach 50 per cent by 2015, up from 26 per cent in 1975. Lower death

rates imply that developing countries will soon have to provide

services to far larger numbers of elderly persons; while reduced

infant mortality combined with high fertility has resulted in

youthful populations in many countries, ensuring continued rapid

population growth for decades to come.

     How the world's nations address -- or fail to address -- these

multiple concerns over the next two decades will have an enormous

impact on the quality of life of all living and future generations.

In particular, the level of performance in meeting unmet needs for

family planning and other Conference goals in the next 20 years is

likely to determine whether world population in the year 2050

reaches 7.8 billion people (the United Nations' lowest projection)

or goes as high as 12.5 billion (the high projection). The medium,

or most likely projection is for 10 billion in 2050.


With such considerations in mind, the UN Economic and Social

Council in 1989 decided to convene ICPD in 1994 (ECOSOC resolution

1989/91). Dr. Nafis Sadik, Executive Director of the United Nations

Population Fund (UNFPA) was appointed Secretary-General of the

Conference. Since then, a Preparatory Committee, open to all United

Nations member States and a number of other States, has guided

advance efforts for ICPD.

     The Committee's first session in March 1991 defined the

objectives and themes of the Conference -- population, sustained

economic growth and sustainable development -- and identified six

clusters of priority issues: population, environment and

development; population policies and programmes; population and

women; family planning, health and family well-being; population

growth and demographic structure; and population distribution and


     At its second session in May 1993, the Preparatory Committee

agreed on a provisional structure for the Conference Programme of

Action. It instructed the Conference Secretariat to prepare a draft

of the final document, to be debated at the Committee's third and

last session (PrepCom III) from 4-22 April 1994.

     In drafting the document, the Secretariat drew on

recommendations of various gatherings, including: five regional

population conferences (for Asia and the Pacific, Africa, Europe

and North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Arab

States) in 1992 and 1993, and a number of subregional preparatory

meetings; expert group meetings on the six priority issues; and a

series of ad hoc round-tables on important Conference themes.

Important input also came from national population reports prepared

in more than 140 countries.

     At its forty-eighth session in 1993, the UN General Assembly

(in resolution 48/186) strongly endorsed ICPD by deciding to make

the Preparatory Committee a subsidiary body of the Assembly, giving

ICPD a status comparable to that of the 1992 UN Conference on

Environment and Development (UNCED). Debate in the General

Assembly's Second Committee on the proposed annotated outline of

the Programme of Action further guided the Secretariat in preparing

the draft final document for negotiation at PrepCom III.

     Delegations from over 170 countries took part in the

Preparatory Committee's third session, held at UN Headquarters in

New York. Negotiation of the 113-page draft Programme of Action was

the central activity. Delegates reached agreement on about 85 per

cent of the wording that is expected to be adopted in Cairo in

September; the remainder, including some substantial issues that

were not resolved, is subject to further negotiation at the


     An estimated 1,200 representatives from over 500

non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had unprecedented access to

the negotiation process and therefore an important influence in

shaping the outcome. The deliberations were widely covered by the

international news media.

     The three-week session strengthened the consensus that

population concerns are an indispensable part of national and

international efforts to achieve equitable, sustainable

development. There was also broad agreement that family planning

should be provided as part of a broader effort to meet overall

reproductive health care needs, particularly of women.

     This approach, Dr. Sadik later summarized, is "focused not on

demographic targets, but on seriously addressing the health and

education needs of individuals, especially of girls and women.

. . . Central to such endeavours is the imperative need to empower

women, to provide girls with a good education and women with better

health and real choices."


The draft Programme of Action that emerged from PrepCom III builds

on the World Population Plan of Action adopted in Bucharest in 1974

and further developed 10 years later at the International

Conference on Population in Mexico City. But as the draft Preamble

points out, the document also reflects "the considerable

international consensus that has developed" since 1984 ""to

consider the broad issues of population, sustained economic growth

and sustainable development, and advances in the educational and

economic status of women . . . reflecting the growing awareness of

the linkages" among these issues.

     In addition, the Preamble notes that ICPD will also build on

the achievements of the 1990 World Summit for Children, UNCED, and

the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, among others; and is

expected to contribute significantly to the World Summit for Social

Development, the Fourth World Conference on Women, and the

celebration of the United Nations' 50th anniversary, all in 1995,

as well as to the Second United Nations Conference on Human

Settlements in 1996.

     "These events are expected to highlight further the call of

the 1994 Conference for greater investments in people and for a new

action agenda to make women full partners with men in the social,

economic and political lives of their communities," the Preamble


     The draft Programme stresses that efforts to slow down

population growth, to reduce poverty, to achieve economic progress,

to improve environmental protection, and to modify unsustainable

patterns of consumption and production are mutually reinforcing.

Its more than 40 subchapters spell out actions needed in regard to

a wide range of population and development themes, including

poverty alleviation, environmental protection, support for

families, population growth, ageing, sexuality, sexually

transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, reproductive health needs

of adolescents, gender relations and male responsibility, maternal

and child health, urbanization, internal and international

migration, and education.

     The Programme also defines: national, regional and

international efforts and resources required to implement some of

the actions outlined; related research, awareness creation and data

collection; partnership between Governments and non-governmental

organizations and the private sector; and mechanisms for following

up Conference decisions.


The Conference will open on Monday, 5 September, at 10 a.m., at the

Cairo International Conference Centre. According to General

Assembly resolution 47/176, the head of each delegation should be

at the ministerial level or higher. A number of Heads of State or

Government have indicated they will attend and address the

Conference, including President Soeharto of Indonesia, Prime

Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Prime Minister Gro Harlem

Brundtland of Norway, Prime Minister Tansu Ciller of Turkey, and

Prime Minister Kaamuta Laatasi of Tuvalu.

     Nearly 1,000 non-governmental organizations have been

accredited to attend ICPD. In addition, while the Conference is

taking place, these and other NGOs will also participate in the NGO

Forum '94, to be held from 4 to 13 September at the National

Covered Stadium Complex, a 10-minute walk from the International

Conference Centre.

     Registration of national delegations begins at 9 a.m. on 25

August and will continue through to the start of the Conference. It

is expected that many delegations will include parliamentarians and

representatives of non-governmental organizations and of various

national groups with important roles to play in implementing

population and development strategies.

     In accordance with established practice at UN conferences,

preliminary consultations will be held on 3 and 4 September at the

Conference site to address procedural and organizational matters

which are to be taken up on the opening day. These include election

of officers, composition of the Conference General Committee,

adoption of the agenda and organization of work, and arrangements

for preparing the final report of the Conference.

     From the representatives of participating States, the

Conference will elect a President, 27 Vice-Presidents from the

various regions (7 from Africa, 6 Asia, 5 Latin America and the

Caribbean, 6 Western Europe and others, and 3 Eastern Europe), an

ex officio Vice-President from the host country, a

Rapporteur-General, and the Chairman of the Conference's Main


     The Conference's general debate will take place in plenary

meetings from 5-9 September. It is expected to focus on experiences

in population and development strategies and programmes (item 8 of

the provisional agenda).

     A separate Main Committee will meet in parallel with the

plenary from 5-9 September. This will finalize the ICPD Programme

of Action (item 9), by completing work on Chapters I (Preamble) and

II (Principles) and resolving those sections of Chapters III to XVI

of the draft text that are still in brackets for further

negotiation. The Committee will then submit the Programme of Action

to the plenary for approval and adoption.

     The Rapporteur-General will prepare a draft report on the

Conference's background, proceedings and decisions, including an

account of the Main Committee's recommendations and the action

taken on them in plenary meetings. After the report and the

Programme of Action are adopted by the Conference, they will be

submitted to the General Assembly for consideration and approval at

its 49th session, which is to begin a few days after ICPD



ICPD Secretariat

220 E. 42nd St., 22nd floor

New York, NY 10017, U.S.A.

Tel: (212) 297-5244/5245

Fax: (212) 297-5250

Media Contacts: (212) 297-5023/5030 or 5279

August 1994


For further information, please contact: popin@undp.org
POPIN Gopher site: gopher://gopher.undp.org/11/ungophers/popin
POPIN WWW site:http://www.undp.org/popin