In September last year in Berlin, I attended an NGO forum on the the 15th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development trying to figure out how to achieve the ICPD targets on universal access to reproductive health. I met several people who had been delegates to the 1994 Cairo summit and one of them recollected how the stars had aligned that year to produce something important in sexual and reproductive health amid a sea of “bad years.” She cited three developments that made this historic alignment possible:
- The existence of a charismatic, committed and politically saavy leader in the person of Undersecretary of State Tim Wirth (now the president of the United Nations Foundation), who was unrelenting in pushing forward the agenda of the ICPD;
- A supportive U.S. administration and Congress: Bill Clinton had been in office for less than two years and had given reproductive health higher priority than it had for many years; and
- An increasingly sophisticated non-governmental organization movement which played a leading role in making ICPD a reality.
This unprecedented alignment started falling apart later that same year when conservative Republicans took control of Congress and the Clinton Administration lost its early momentum.
This ICPD delegate told me she saw a similar aligning of the stars happening now – a progressive and supportive American administration and Congress — after eight long years — and an even more sophisticated civil society than was the case in 1994. The only thing missing, she said, was a charismatic and committed leader like Tim Wirth.
Later that same day, I talked to another person who had been in Cairo in 1994 as a senior U.S. government official. He agreed with this scenario and thought that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could be that leader that some believe will be necessary to finally ensure universal access to reproductive health.
On Friday of this week, Secretary Clinton is making a major speech marking the 15th annniversary of ICPD in Washington. That speech might give us a glimpse of whether she has the passion and the commitment to not only reaffirm the 2015 goals and targets of ICPD, which she will undoubtedly do, but take the cause to the next level, providing the leadership to inspire others to actually achieve the vision of ICPD over the remaining five years. The Global Health Council and those of us who care about family planning and reproductive health are looking forward to watching Secretary Clinton Friday and are ready to support her in this effort.