A dense biography of Dr. Nafis Sadik, who changed the world for women through her work on population control.
Miller (Creative Writing/San Jose State Univ.; Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad, 1998, etc.) researched Sadik for 10 years to give us this biographical view of the former undersecretary-general and executive director of the U.N. Population Fund. The book follows the improbable path of the Pakistani Sadik through partition, medical school, her early work in local population control and her efforts for the U.N. Population Fund, which she directed for 13 years. Sadik’s family “celebrated her femininity, valued her wishes, gave her the same educational opportunities as her brothers, then encouraged her career and independence.” She worked passionately against genital mutilation, obstetric fistula and childhood marriage. Through Sadik’s tenure at the U.N., the organization was “able to bring respectability to the concept of family planning.” She helped set the tone for controlling population growth by empowering women through education and ensuring basic human rights. The apex of Sadik’s career was the U.N.’s 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. She outmaneuvered even the Vatican to support reproductive choice for women, brokering consensus for a 20-year plan to address world population and development. Miller intersperses each chapter about Sadik with vignettes of women she met while researching this book. These personal stories introduce us to victims of abuse, persecution, genital mutilation, prostitution and gang rape. The author also uses extensive quotes to bolster her story, but these passages lack concision—as do other parts of the book. Ultimately, it’s a thoroughly researched, inspiring story that runs more than 100 pages too long.
A long-winded view of a fascinating game-changer.