Remembering Nafis Sadik

Nafis Sadik, a champion of women’s health and rights around the world, passed away on August 15, 2022 at the age of 92.

Sadik began her career working in women’s and children’s wards in Pakistani armed forces hospitals after receiving her medical degree from Dow Medical College in Karachi. In 1966, Sadik joined the Pakistan Central Family Planning Council, the government agency responsible for carrying out the national family planning program and rose to be its director-general in 1970.

She joined the U.N. Population Fund in 1971 and was appointed executive director in 1987 by then Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar after the sudden death of its chief, Rafael Salas. Sadik was the first woman to head a major United Nations program that is voluntarily funded. In June 1990, Perez de Cuellar appointed Sadik to be secretary-general of the fifth U.N. International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, and she became the architect of its groundbreaking program of action which recognized for the first time that women have the right to control their reproductive and sexual health and to choose whether to become pregnant.

Cathleen Miller’s Champion of Choice (Nebraska, 2013) tells the remarkable story of how Sadik, born into a prominent Indian family in 1929, came to be the world’s foremost advocate for women’s health and reproductive rights, the first female director of a United Nations agency, and “one of the most powerful women in the world” (London Times).

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