The year 2014 was meant to be the year that ended the Program of Action adopted by the Cairo Conference for Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994. The document was a paradigm shift in understanding and framing reproductive health and rights and prioritizing individuals’ rights to choose and make decisions with regards to their own bodies. Now that the General Assembly extended the PoA indefinitely, and will review country progress at its 2014 session, it is the right moment to evaluate the extent to which different countries in the region implemented the PoA and how this has changed the realities lived by women and youth regarding their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
In the MENA region, acknowledging reproductive rights in a UN consensus document has greatly contributed in enhancing the countries’ policies especially in maternity care, family planning services and HIV/AIDS. Yet, cultural and religious discourses still play a major role in holding back sexual rights especially for young people. Women’s autonomy over their bodies is still a highly debated issue because of the deeply embedded patriarchal culture, which is also reflected in an unprecedented increase in the level of sexual violence against women.