In 1994, I ran into Joan Dunlop in Egypt when I attended the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo. When I walked from the Plenary hall into the exhibition area, my eyes caught Joan kneeling down to talk with Bella Abzug in front of her chair. The two of them were surrounded by Catholic priests and the “Right to Life” activists displayed a box of fetus and women’s womb that made of plastic to delegates and other Conference participants. A part of their publicity campaign against abortion and women’s right to be in charge of their own body and reproductive health. I took the pictures of what I saw that day because it showed us how difficult it was then in advocacy for women’s health and safe motherhood. This group of church-supported activists, combined with the representatives of conservative male-dominated governments and non-governmental organizations, were the main obstacles to the inclusion of women’s rights and reproductive health into the Cairo Programme of Action. By fighting against safe-abortion for women’s health, they were promoting a “forced pregnancy” on women and prevent them of reproductive choice.
Joan Dunlop, former President of the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Bella Abzug, former USA Congresswoman and many other key women’s right activists fought this kind of battle for us in many other venues not just in Cairo to put women’s right issues on international agendas.Now that both of them are no longer with us, and with Joan recent passing, I want to honor them by putting my 1994 photographs online. Both Joan and Bella were two of my friends who have gone through a lot of troubles to fight for our rights especially the right to be in control of our own health and well-being.
We owed it to them that since 1994, women have these rights guaranteed by the United Nations and at world level as written in the ICPD Programme of Action adopted in Cairo. That Conference had made a shift to the framework of reproductive rights and reproductive health in addressing population and family planning policies. Joan and Bella lobbied very hard among NGOs and government delegations to get there. They did succeed in reconfirming the basic right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to have the information and means to do so. The ICPD Programme of Action also guaranteed the rights of women to make decisions concerning reproduction, free of discrimination, coercion and violence.
I remember well the many discussions I had with Joan on women’s rights/development throughout the 70s and the 80s, starting in Mexico at the first UN Conference on Women (1975), then at the Wellesley Women and Development (1976), and other follow-up of WID international meetings in Washington D.C. I have a happy memory of my lunch, at her invitation, at the restaurant for executives high above the clouds on top of the J.D.Rockefeller Foundation in New York City. It is my honor to join in the celebration of her life and the various important contributions that she had made to women’s rights and health globally.