Speaking out for the right of women to choose

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 20 September 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:697
  1. Benjamin Hope

Dr Nafis Sadik, the executive director of the United Nations Population and Development Fund, recently addressed a British all party parliamentary group on population issues. She tells Benjamin Hope that, although much progress has been made, there is still some way to go

Dr Sadik is accomplished at making her point and sticking to it. This, she says, is a habit born in the bad old days when she was routinely ignored and patronised at international meetings. But such tenacity and focus are also essential for her job: her remit is to oversee global public health programmes with minimum concessions to cultural diversity.

In fact, the point she makes has changed little since the 1960s, when she first became active in public health while still practising as an obstetrician in Pakistan. Many of her patients were suffering because of premature, poorly managed pregnancies. Yet the same women were not free to take preventive measures. Dr Sadik could accept no justification, whether religious or cultural, for the unnecessarily high levels of abortion and maternal and infant mortality that she encountered. Now, speaking from within the United Nations and backed by a growing body …

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