She was introduced by Sheila Dunn, medical director of Toronto’s Bay Centre for Birth Control, as “a leading international advocate for women’s health and equality” and a person who “changed the international approach to slowing population growth.”

As “a role model and a mentor,” she was said to have displayed “vision … courage and … inspiration … to implement the ‘transformative program of action’ through the UN Conference on Population and Development” in Cairo in 1994.

Meet Dr. Nafis Sadik, the former executive director of the notorious United Nations Fund for Population Activities and currently a “special advisor” to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Sadik spoke at the opening session of the two-day Women’s Health Matters Forum and Expo Jan. 18 and 19 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Last month’s issue of The Interim covered some of the explicit sessions held elsewhere at the event for young people on sexuality and various contraceptive methods. It was left for Sadik to provide background and a portrait of the mentality and ideology motivating the kinds of people behind such sessions.

Sadik’s talk was billed as dealing with “reproductive health and the rights of women,” and she did not disappoint. (“Reproductive health” is commonly used by international contraceptive and population control types as a euphemism for abortion.)

“The need to ensure the ‘reproductive health’ of women and of girls is as pressing today as it has ever been,” Sadik emphasized. “Even though we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress in the last 30 years, still there are so many things that require our attention.”

She stressed that such “health” concerns are “a moral imperative.” All the countries of the world, she said, are obligated to provide “basic reproductive health.”

Ignoring exploding rates of AIDS throughout Africa despite aggressive condom-distribution programs, she claimed that countries such as Uganda have turned around high AIDS rates by various measures, including condom dissemination exercises among not only married people, “but to all who are engaged in sexual activity.”

Also turning a blind eye to fervent opposition at UN women’s and population conferences from numerous governments and non-governmental organizations in recent years, Sadik strikingly claimed that “a global consensus” exists on reproductive health and rights issues. “At the international conferences, all of the countries agreed that reproductive health and rights are development issues, they’re tied in with the future of societies and nations … We must give women more rights to be able to choose.”

“I have worked all my life to establish these rights and I am delighted now that an international consensus exists to provide not only family planning, but also the whole range of reproductive health services.”

She claimed that it is now being accepted that women are, first and foremost, women, “not mothers or daughters or units of production or bulwarks of the family.” But practise, she complained, is still lagging behind principle.

“What we must do and what young people have to do is to make sure to bring the two in line … The answer lies in growing commitment to better public health systems and to change cultures and norms in many of our societies. The answer lies, therefore, in speaking out about these issues – not once, twice, but whenever you have the opportunity.”

Sadik said this “must happen in every country, for every individual around the world.”

As if implying that adolescents have fully formed and mature consciences, as well as the ability to make proper moral decisions without guidance, she attacked what she called “moralists,” who “tout” abstinence. Instead, young people must be educated “as to why they must be responsible for their own behaviour.”

“You must be provided with the information in order to make responsible decisions,” she told a mainly young audience. “The resistance to this information, education and to these services for young people comes from adults – parents, teachers, spiritual advisors and from all those people who feel they know better … Young people must be treated as responsible people who have needs and whose needs must be met by those who are in a position to meet them.”

Opposition to “adolescent reproductive health services,” meanwhile, comes from quite another quarter – “from individuals and from groups who may not have had a great deal of contact with the young, but who assume they know how the young behave. Unfortunately, their ideas often have little relationship with the real world and their notion of what is culturally appropriate or morally right has more to do with ideology than with practical needs.”

The “real world,” said Sadik, is one in which there is “a greater range and variety of sexual experiences outside of marriage today in all the societies of the world, whether they’re recognized or not … We should really not sit in judgement.”

She took a jab at religious faith, which was lumped under the category of outmoded “tradition and custom,” when she anecdotally recalled a member of the UNFPA’s executive board “who came from a Catholic country, was himself a Catholic.” The man was claimed to have said that while he and his daughter may disagree about what is morally correct behaviour, he doesn’t think she should have to “pay with her life” because of that disagreement.

“Tradition and culture and custom have often been perverted to suit the interests of a small group,” said Sadik, perhaps overlooking her own organization’s efforts in a similar, though ideologically opposite, vein.

“We still have to fight and have to continue to fight … especially (for) the right to reproductive and sexual health. This is still a controversial issue, but we can, we must and we will win our fight,” she concluded to polite applause.

Sheila Dunn then took the podium to encourage the young people present to “take that challenge … This kind of information is exactly what our young women want today, what they’re looking for.”

Dunn herself was recently named this year’s winner of the Marion Powell Award, which is given to a doctor who demonstrates “leadership, commitment and dedication to advocacy for women’s health.”

Presenters, who included outspoken feminist MP Carolyn Bennett, (St. Paul, L) cited Dunn’s work on “contraception, family planning and reproductive health.” Dunn recently led an initiative to make the so-called emergency contraceptive pill – more accurately termed an early abortifacient – more accessible via neighbourhood pharmacies.