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Where angels fear to tread

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 04 November 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1102

Nafis Sadik has spent the past 30 years campaigning to increase health choices for women. Charles Marwick spoke to her about her achievements

When Dr Nafis Sadik first joined the United Nations Population Fund in 1971, the issues of contraception, abortion, and female genital mutilation—the fund's areas of activity—were taboo in many countries. Now, almost 30 years later, countries such as Chile, Cuba, and Mexico have introduced family planning policies, abortion is widely discussed, and female circumcision is banned in 17 countries.

Dr Sadik, who retires at the end of this year, at the age of 71, played an important part in helping to bring about these changes. She joined the fund as a technical adviser but rose through its ranks and for the past 13 years has been its director. What strategies did she adopt?

Firstly, Dr Sadik, who is an obstetrician by training, always emphasised the health aspects of such issues as contraception and abortion, publicising, for example, the high death rates from illegal abortion. And secondly, she drew attention to the importance of responding to individual needs—providing women with information and letting them make up their own minds.

In 1971 only a handful of countries accepted the …

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