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Conference Cairo and Beyond about the role of culture

Experts from fifty countries met in Amsterdam in March 2004 for the conference Cairo and Beyond - Reproductive Rights and Culture. Special focus was placed on the power of culture. The conference was organized based on an initiative of Dutch minister Van Ardenne and Thoraya Obaid, director of the UNFPA population fund.

The meeting was organized in order to accelerate execution of a number of decisions made during the 1994 Cairo UN population conference. The organizers also hoped to draw attention to the role that culture can play in issues regarding sexuality and procreation. Van Ardenne referred to this as the Power of Culture in her opening speech. With this she referred to the customs of a country or folk that prevent women from determining their own sexual behaviour, choosing their own partners and planning their own families.

Instead of being an obstacle, the minister asserted that culture can be a tool for emancipation. She used the example of an imam in the Netherlands who utilises religion to discuss love, sexuality and women's rights with young people.

The minister emphasized that oppressive customs can be done away with without devaluating the culture and traditions. It should be possible, for example, for girls to be able to make the transition to womanhood in certain countries without being subjected to circumcision.

The conference resulted in a list of ten objectives. One of these objectives as formulated by the Dutch government and the UNFPA is to lift cultural and religious taboos on sexuality and procreation. They will call governments throughout the world to account for education, sex education and combating any type of sexual violence, including the circumcision of women.

In continuation of the themes discussed during the conference, the Dutch government will be organizing an international meeting on 8 March 2005 to discuss relationships between generations.

Marrigje de Bok

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Cairo and beyond, conference website


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