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Human Rights

The Foundation for UNFPA's Work

UNFPA is committed to the advancement of human rights in the world. The idea that all individuals are entitled to the enjoyment of equal rights and protection is fundamental to UNFPA’s work and to its way of working.

A strong emphasis on the rights of individual women and men underpins the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action that guides UNFPA. This emphasis on human rights at the ICPD moved population policy and programmes from a focus on numbers to a focus on individual human lives. The ICPD Programme of Action – also known as the Cairo Consensus – reaffirmed the application of universally recognized human rights standards to all aspects of population and development programmes.

Fifteen key principles from the Cairo Consensus

In the Cairo Programme of Action – also known as the Cairo Consensus – delegates from all regions and cultures agreed on 15 Principles, which can be summarized as follows:

1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

2. Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development.

3. The right to development is an universal and inalienable right – the lack of development may not be invoked to justify human rights violations.

4. Advancing gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women, the elimination of violence against women, and ensuring women’s ability to control their own fertility are cornerstones of population programmes.

5. Population-related goals are integral parts of cultural, economic and social development.

6. Interrelationships between population, resources, the environment and development should be fully recognized.

7. All States and all people should contribute to the eradication of poverty.

8. States should take all appropriate measures to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, universal access to health-care services, including those related to sexual and reproductive health care.

9. The family is the basic unit of society and should be strengthened, taking into consideration the various forms of family according to different cultural, political and social systems.

10. Everyone has the right to education. Particular attention must be paid to the education of women and the girl child.

11. All States and families should give the highest possible priority to children.

12. Countries should guarantee all basic human rights to all migrants.

13. Everyone has the right to seek asylum.

14. States should recognize and support the identity, culture and interests of indigenous people, and enable them to participate fully in the political, economic and social life of the country.

15. Growth should be based on equal opportunities for all people. Developed countries should continue to improve their efforts to promote sustained and equitable growth that benefits developing countries.

The Cairo Consensus affirmed the linkages between human rights, population dynamics, sustainable development and eradication of poverty. It constitutes the basis for designing actions, strategies and policies to address population issues, as well as an invaluable tool in the efforts to reach the MDGs. It stresses the protection of human rights of vulnerable populations, the empowerment of women in order to reach gender equality and equity, as well as a comprehensive approach to reproductive health. It also calls for respect for various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds.

The Cairo Consensus articulated and affirmed the idea that reproductive rights embrace rights that had been established in national laws and earlier international human rights documents and other consensus documents. Reproductive rights derive from the recognition of the basic right of all individuals and couples to make decisions in their reproductive lives free of any form of discrimination, coercion or violence. They include rights regarding marriage, the right to determine the number, timing and spacing of children, and access to the means and information to do so; the right of women to safe and healthy childbearing; and the right to protection from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Reproductive rights are central to human rights, especially for women, for biological, social and economic reasons.

UNFPA plays a key role in advancing the MDGs, and the human rights-based approach gives added value to the priorities and strategies to support for collective effort of reaching the MDGs. UNFPA also stresses the interconnections between culture, gender and human rights and their impact in programming. Gender equality is simultaneously a goal and a human right and gender mainstreaming is a cross-cutting strategy for achieving this goal. Cultural factors need to be taken into account in an entry point strategy and a social framework.