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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

25 years since agreement reached on right to decide over your own body

Joint article by the Nordic development ministers, published in the run-up to the Nairobi Summit on the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25).

Peter Eriksson, Minister for International Development Cooperation, Sweden

Rasmus Prehn, Minister for Development Cooperation, Denmark

Ville Skinnari, Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, Finland

Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Iceland

Dag-Inge Ulstein, Minister of International Development, Norway


The Nordic countries’ prosperity and high standard of living are not only due to our forestry-based industries, agriculture, technology, or the abundance of resources such as fish and oil. For decades, women in the Nordic countries have had equal rights, free education, and access to contraception and safe and legal abortion. There is affordable public day-care for children as well generous parental leave and a legal framework that makes it possible to combine parenthood with a career. The advancement of women’s rights and empowerment has been vital to the development of our societies and have made it possible for our entire populations to participate in the labour force and in building our economies.

The social and economic benefits of gender equality are well known. Despite this, hundreds of millions of women lack access to modern contraceptives and thus risk unintended pregnancies. Every day, some 33 000 girls are married off as child brides, and every day 830 women die in childbirth, or from preventable pregnancy-related complications or unsafe abortions.

In many countries, the right to decide over your own body is still controversial, even though international agreement was reached on this principle 25 years ago. In 1994, at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, 179 governments agreed that all individuals – whether young people or adults, married or unmarried – should be able to decide if and when they want to start a family. This consensus was ground-breaking. It placed human rights and gender equality at the centre of sustainable development, and the world was united on this issue.

The international community will assemble again soon in Nairobi, to mark the 25th year anniversary of the ICPD and to seek to finish the work begun in Cairo. The Summit will be hosted by Kenya, Denmark and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and will bring together heads of state, ministers, government officials, representatives from civil society, the private sector and academia, as well as young people to discuss how to take this work forward.

We are deeply concerned that the right to make informed decisions over one’s own body is under threat in many countries. Comprehensive sexuality education, the right to safe and legal abortion and equal rights for LGBTQ persons are being met with fierce resistance. Our governments remain committed to working with the growing number of advocates for these rights to push this agenda forward.

Imagine a world in which the controversy over these issues has been put to rest, and where we could instead focus on what we will gain by fully realising everyone’s right to decide over their own body:

  • We would avert 67 million unintended pregnancies in developing countries each year if women and young people had access to modern contraception.
  • We would end child marriage, and through comprehensive sexuality education, we would enable young people to make informed choices about their bodies and lives, and to realise their full potential.
  • We would ensure that girls have equal opportunities to complete their education, find meaningful and paid employment, and participate in society on an equal footing with boys.


That is the world we want.

Empowering women and young people is not only an important goal in it is own right; it is a prerequisite for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

We – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden – will continue to be staunch supporters, politically and financially, of sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.

We cannot accept that women still die during childbirth, we cannot accept that children are still forced into marriage, we cannot accept that millions of women and girls still fear unintended pregnancies.

We will go to Nairobi with a clear resolve to finish this unfinished business.


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