The 1994 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) stressed the importance of women's health, and reproductive health in particular, to stabilize population growth and promote sustainable development (United Nations, 1994). A rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health was adopted, which was re-affirmed and extended at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, and again at the ICPD + 5 review in 1999. In line with the ICPD Programme of Action, many governments and organizations have expanded their activities in women's health in recent years. In addition to fertility regulation and child survival, a growing number of research agendas now include maternal health, reproductive tract infections, adolescent reproductive health, harmful traditional practices (such as female genital cutting), unsafe abortion and violence against women.
In the ICPD Programme of Action, reproductive health is defined as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes.’ It explicitly includes sexual health, which is defined as ‘the enhancement of life and personal relations, not merely counselling and care related to reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases’ (United Nations, 1994: 45, 46). These definitions are far broader than the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of reproductive morbidity, discussed later in this chapter (World Health Organization, 1990)