In September 1994, Cairo hosted the largest intergovernmental conference on population and development ever held, with 11,000 registered participants from governments, UN specialized agencies and organizations, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and the media. More than 180 states took part in negotiations to finalize a Programme of Action in the area of population and development for the next 20 years. The Programme of Action, adopted by acclamation on 13 September 1994, endorses a new strategy that emphasizes the integral linkages between population and development and focuses on meeting the needs of individual women and men, rather than on achieving demographic targets.
The key to this new approach is empowering women and providing them with more choices through expanded access to education and health services, skill development and employment, and through their full involvement in policy- and decision-making processes at all levels. Indeed, one of the greatest achievements of the Cairo Conference has been the recognition of the need to empower women, both as a highly important end in itself and as a key to improving the quality of life for everyone.
A few years later, in September 2000, the largest gathering of world leaders in history met in New York for the UN Millennium Summit. One hundred and ninety-eight nations adopted the Millennium Declaration, including the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs)
. Central to the MDGs is the target of eradicating poverty by 2015. This ambitious goal requires concerted efforts across different but interrelated areas — such as health, education, the economy and the environment — by several actors, including governments, civil society and international agencies. Poverty has multiple causes and dimensions, and they all need to be addressed at the same time if progress is to be made.
The MDGs are clear and ambitious targets for reducing poverty. They consist of eight goals, 18 targets and over 40 indicators to be achieved by 2015. They synthesize, in a single package, many of the most important commitments made separately at the international conferences and summits of the 1990s. The MDGs are based on time-bound and measurable targets, accompanied by indicators for monitoring progress observed at the global level.
The Millennium Declaration spells out the commitment to help people achieve their human capabilities, which allow them to lead the lives they value. This means the ability to fulfill basic human needs like feeding oneself and avoiding premature morbidity. It also means the capability for self-betterment through opportunities created as a result of good education and participation in decisions that impact on an individual’s life. It has long been recognized that a deficit in these areas leads to deep and endemic poverty, which not only derives from a lack of income but also from a lack of capabilities to make choices in life.
The Cairo Consensus is fully aligned with the Millennium Development Goals and provided much of the groundwork for them. While the two sets of commitments are mutually reinforcing, the Cairo Consensus set forth a broad and comprehensive vision of development and its requirements that provides the analytical framework behind the eight MDGs. For instance, the Programme of Action agreed to in Cairo addressed the complex interrelationships between population, economic growth and sustainable development, with all its elements of population distribution, climate change, urbanization, migration, data collection and analysis.
Hence, the ICPD Plan of Action embraces every single aspect of UNFPA Mission and Mandate; and the MDGs gather under the same umbrella the development efforts made by International Organizations, National Governments and Civil Society Organizations. It is the milestone underpinning and articulating every single development initiative.