Crossing cultural divides: moral conflict and the Cairo population conference

Va Rev Sociol. 1995;2:189-212.


PIP: This essay considers the public conflict that arose during the drafting of the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) as reflecting a moral argument between interest groups holding different world views. These differences are seen as running through and across civilizations rather than being civilization-specific. The essay opens with background information on the development of the concepts of population control and population stabilization as well as the adoption of national population policies and the goals of population programs. The public conflict over the ICPD is then reiterated and is seen to be something other than the usual "West versus the rest" tension or a "religious" versus "secular" battle. Instead the divide can be broadly categorized as "orthodox" versus "progressive." The contested issues included a conflict over language relating to abortion, marriage and the family, promiscuity and adultery, and development and international migration. The conflict over human rights involved health rights versus nonmedicalized moral norms, individual rights versus family rights, and sustainable development versus integral development. The underriding conflict is seen to be a conflict between those holding orthodox versus progressive world views over who will shape the future. The tactics of this high-stakes conflict included portraying the other side as fanatics, treating the moral debate as a distraction from more important issues, charging the other side with having a hidden agenda, and isolating certain ideas from the possibility of discussion. With 92% of the Draft Programme of Action uncontested, both sides made compromises that resulted in the gist of the text remaining intact. Because the result of implementation of the Programme of Action will be cultural change, the conflict did not end with the ICPD. As the globalization of Western culture proceeds, cross-cultural moral conflicts may arise.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced*
  • Behavior
  • Culture*
  • Demography
  • Emigration and Immigration*
  • Ethics*
  • Family Planning Services
  • Health Planning
  • Human Rights*
  • International Agencies
  • Marriage*
  • Organization and Administration
  • Organizations
  • Philosophy*
  • Policy Making*
  • Population
  • Population Dynamics
  • Public Policy*
  • Religion*
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • United Nations