Video Interview: Dr. Nafis Sadik

Video: Founding of APF, Views on Pakistan and the Diaspora (1 of 2)

Video: Work on Women’s Empowerment at the UN (2 of 2)

Growing up in a region where employment, education and health access is limited, it is no wonder that social reform is a major element of Dr. Nafis Sadik’s professional accomplishments.  Dr. Sadik is an extraordinary woman who has ventured down many roads to soar such heights. Of particular importance is her dedication to women’s empowerment.

Dr. Nafis Sadik currently serves as a Board Member of American Pakistan Foundation (APF). As she describes, APF works with similar organizations to fundraise and raise awareness for the development of Pakistan. Education, health, social development, and employment are areas Dr. Sadik identifies as crucial target points for the development of Pakistan. “Leaders need to change the attitudes of people towards education and health so that all their boys and all their girls get educated and healthy,” states Dr.  Sadik.  Her dedication towards improving women’s education, arising from the need for health reform, attests to her leadership qualities. As Dr. Sadik describes, when women are educated, they are better informed to make decisions. “We need a healthy and educated population… we have to improve not just the quantity of education, but also the quality,” Dr. Sadik asserts.

Where did Dr. Sadik’s vision begin to transform history and the present-day lives of millions of women? Of Indian descent, Dr. Sadik grew up in Pakistan with the early mentality to “make a difference.” Moreover, her open-minded parents believed in the education of both genders. With perseverance against getting married before completing school, she became the first woman in her family to embark upon a professional journey, and gained her Doctor of Medicine degree from Pakistan. Throughout the early stages of her career, she often went to villages and worked with women. There she witnessed firsthand that females were not “in charge” of their decisions- their families controlled their choices. From these early experiences, Dr. Sadik became a “Champion of Choice,” the same name of a biography by Cathleen Miller which chronicles her personal and professional expeditions.

Early in Dr. Sadik’s career, she served as a civilian medical officer at Pakistani army hospitals. Looking for something more personally satisfying, Dr. Sadik joined the Pakistan Central Family Planning Council where she worked her way up to become the  Director-General. There she helped introduce family planning as a government policy, providing contraceptive services to women.

In 1971, Dr. Sadik’s career would transition into an international realm, as she was appointed a position in the United Nations organization. In 1987, she became the Executive Director and the first female to lead one of the United Nations’ significant voluntarily-funded programs, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). She utilized her position to speak more openly about women’s rights and implement some of the first family planning programs in nations around the world. Due to her empowerment efforts, especially in the fields of fertility and reproduction, there was a reduction in maternal, infant and child mortality, as well as an improvement in the health of women. Underlying health issues, that were not formerly discussed, such as genital mutilation and domestic abuse, were now being openly addressed.

Dr. Sadik’s experiences allowed her to transform revelations into actions. Dr. Sadik proclaims that the mentality that “the less the girl knows, the more protected she is,” is a taboo that should be completely altered. She asserts that the opposite is true. So how did she act upon such lessons? As she describes, countries within Asia, such as Pakistan and India, had already started family planning programs. However, they were a method of population control. “We took a different approach,” asserts Dr. Sadik, explaining that her cause was the welfare and health of women.

The London Times calls Dr. Sadik “one of the most powerful women in the world.” Thanks to Dr. Sadik, a choice is not simply a vision, but a reality, for women everywhere who can now exercise the freedom to ‘choose.’ Dr. Sadik made a revelation which has altered her approach- one cannot provide services without giving women “the right to utilize them.” Dr. Sadik expresed, “this was the key to changing a woman’s life.” Today, Dr. Sadik continues to voice her opinion and often writes for leading publications on the subject of health. As a result of Dr. Sadik, “all these issues that really concerned women… are now out in the open.” Her actions serve as an inspiration and her contributions to humanity will allow her legacy to ring notably in the minds of millions.