Executive Director's Address to the Board

20 January 2009
Author: UNFPA

Mr. President,

Distinguished delegates,

Colleagues and friends,

Happy New Year!

My colleagues and I extend a warm welcome to you, Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the new President, and to the other members of the new Bureau. We pledge our continued cooperation. And we thank His Excellency, Mr. Jean-Marie Ehouzou of Benin, now Minister of Foreign Affairs, and his Vice-Presidents, for their excellent leadership over the past year.

I would also like to welcome four new colleagues to UNFPA. They are Neil Ford, Chief of the Media and Communications Branch; Rune Froseth, Chief of the Environmental Scanning and Planning Branch; Laura Laski, Chief of the Reproductive Health Branch; and Bettina Maas, Chief of the Office of the Executive Director.

I would also like to pay tribute to my colleague, friend and brother, the Administrator of UNDP, Kemal Dervis, who has announced that he will not seek a second term. He has led UNDP during tough times and faced many challenges throughout the four years. I would like to celebrate his contribution to United Nations reform in his capacity as the Chair of the United Nations Development Group. He had the courage, the wisdom and the patience to win over, not only the funds and programmes but most importantly the specialized agencies, so that together we can share a common vision of how we can support our Member States in a harmonized and coordinated way. It has not been an easy task, but he did it valiantly.

And since we meet here in the host country of the United States, I would like to welcome the new President of the United States, Barack Obama. We hope to work closely with the US administration to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and more specifically, the target of universal access to reproductive health by 2015.

I would like to welcome the President of Americans for UNFPA who is with us today and we thank all its members for support during the past years.

My friends, 2009 seems to mark a new beginning, but tremendous challenges lie ahead. People everywhere, who are shaken by the global financial crisis, want to contribute and to have hope for a better future.

This is the hope that delegates, like yourselves, felt more than six decades ago when they created the United Nations, right after the destruction of the Second World War. It is the hope that propelled them to write those first three words of the UN Charter, We the peoples…and the words that followed—determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.

It is this hope that motivated the founders of the United Nations to vow to promote justice, respect for international law and better standards of life in larger freedom. Hope kindles within us the belief that maybe it is possible for people to act in the best interests not only of themselves, but also of others, in a spirit of shared humanity and solidarity.

It is this hope that delegates shared 60 years ago in Paris when they adopted the historic Universal Declaration of Human Rights and declared that all persons are born free and equal.

Mr. President,

The United Nations remains an institution of hope, but it is facing huge challenges—from the recent war on Gaza, symbolizing a long-standing conflict with global ramifications, to the financial meltdown, to the melting of polar ice caps due to climate change.

These crises confirm what we have known for a while—that the world is more complex and connected than ever before, and that what happens on one side of the Earth has repercussions that reach around the globe.

And the question seems to repeat itself over and over again: can the United Nations do something? Can people and governments join together to put our world on a more peaceful, equitable and sustainable path?

Just as the crises are connected, people are connected too.

During this time of crisis, we have to maximize the power of connections to reach across cultures, promote universal values and find solutions to the many crises that confront us. In every country, people want to go beyond words to connect with each other and be part of the solution. This is the power of We the Peoples that must be translated into action.

This is a challenge that faces each one of us as individuals and all of us collectively and also as an institution of world governments.

Are we ready now to tip the scale towards humanity, to use human resources and ingenuity to end poverty, to promote human rights and to work towards a satisfying and sustainable life for everyone on the planet? Or will we allow the new century to continue the way it has begun, with wars and conflicts that raged, economic policies that failed, and social policies that lagged behind?

We know that we cannot continue on this path and expect our civilization to survive. There are four times as many people today as there were in 1900. Among us, we wield terrible power. In the last 100 years, we have altered the planet more than in the whole of human history. We have drastically reduced the available margin for error.

I believe we have no choice. We the Peoples must assume our duty to find solutions to these crises that endanger our very existence and that make a mockery of the principles of human rights and the inherent dignity and worth of each person.

If we say, “yes we can”, then we must harness our collective capacity and try to make every person part of the solution. This is the real challenge for the United Nations and it requires creative thinking, a deep and shared sense of justice within and among nations, and a whole lot of courage.

Today, there are wide divides between the rich and the poor and the powerful and the powerless, and together we must connect to the poor, the vulnerable, the occupied, the marginalized, and the forgotten. We must insist that those who need us most are the center of our efforts.

To this, my colleagues and I at UNFPA recommit ourselves for 2009.

Mr. President,

Distinguished delegates,

It is within this context that we mark the 40th anniversary of UNFPA and the 15th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development.

In the early years, the Population Fund supported countries, at their request, to reduce high rates of fertility and mortality. In 1994, you, as Member States, gave us a new mandate based on the rights of individuals.

In Cairo, 179 governments reaffirmed that every person has the right to determine the number and spacing of their children. And for the first time, they agreed that everyone has the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.

Countries also agreed, and this is a central point, that the empowerment and full and equal participation of women is not only an end in itself; it is vital to sustainable development. They agreed that progress for all requires solid progress for the world’s women.

In Cairo, delegates pronounced themselves on many issues—on migration, refugees and displaced persons, environment, and urbanization. And over the years, the support UNFPA provides to countries at their request has expanded in scope and scale.

At UNFPA, we believe that the 21st century requires new ways of doing business. Well developed networks are the way forward, and we at UNFPA are building stronger national, regional and global networks to carry the ICPD agenda forward.

Mr. President,

Distinguished delegates,

Some of you might ask, “What does this whole thing about ICPD and reproductive health have to do with a world in turmoil?”

In one of my rich and open dialogues with H.E. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, he asked me: “What is the relevance of reproductive health programmes in countries facing a major natural disaster?” My answer to him was simple: yes, people need shelter, food and water, but at the same time, women have special needs.

We all forget that women continue to menstruate, get pregnant, deliver babies, often prematurely, miscarry, bleed, get raped, and get infected with HIV, in all conflicts or disasters. They have special needs that, if forgotten, threaten the very human dignity that we claim we work to protect. Therefore, providing reproductive health services in emergencies to meet their very specific needs protects the dignity of women.

I was reminded of this conversation during the most recent tragic events in Gaza, but it is a repeated story wherever there is war or natural disaster in any part of the world. As we read the rising numbers of the dead and injured, we keep on being told that half of those are women and children. But what we are not told is that there are about 170 women who deliver babies daily in Gaza; that adds up to 3,700 deliveries during the 22 days of conflict, and with hospitals being used for the injured, women had no medical services to fully support them. So some of them delivered safely under very dangerous medical conditions, others sustained delivery-related injuries and yet others might have died, along with their infants. These are deaths and injuries that are not included in the numbers of victims of the war. These are silent deaths and injuries that are forgotten because they are invisible to our eyes, especially in wars and natural disasters.

Mr. President,

Distinguished delegates,

We are living in a century when human rights—especially social, economic and cultural rights—are intrinsic to people’s expectations and demands. For UNFPA, human rights are very specific because of the ICPD mandate that 179 Member States have given us. And you have made this the focus and business of our strategic plan.

We also see that the success of implementing the mandate depends on understanding the context of our Member States. Countries have evolved and developed since 60 years ago. They are independent states with independent wills; they have their knowledge base and their institutions and expertise. And they have spoken clearly in the most recent Accra meeting on aid effectiveness about what they expect from us, as an international community, including the United Nations. And we have listened carefully and must respond with appropriate action.

We at UNFPA believe that, in the 21st century, countries seek not only to further develop their knowledge base and human capacities; they also want to offer these to the global pool of knowledge. We know that countries have interconnections with one another, both South-South and triangular, and these relations require further strengthening.

We at UNFPA believe that this is a progressive way by which we can be of service to our Member States as they struggle to achieve the MDGs and implement their commitment to ICPD. Our approach in the strategic plan 2008–2011, as well as our logic for regionalization and changing the way we provide technical assistance, is based on this interconnectedness, in building networks at national, regional and global levels for flows of information, knowledge, experience, and expertise through both South-South cooperation and South-North relations.

We all have something to offer and to learn from each other. This is why building networks among institutions that are specialized in our mandate, both public and private – whether it is in demography or public health, or family planning, or migration, or urbanization – is critical for achieving the results of the strategic plan that this Board has adopted.

For us at UNFPA, networks are the way to go and we look forward to all Member States working with us. We believe in the power of working together for a common cause.

Just to give you a few examples of what I mean, 15 years ago, few people had heard of obstetric fistula. This devastating childbirth injury was eliminated in wealthy countries over a century ago but continues to afflict the world’s poorest women.

Today, I am pleased to announce that our Campaign to End Fistula has grown from 12 countries in 2003 to 45 countries in Africa, the Arab region and Asia. It has received an award of excellence from the United Nations Development Programme as a model for South-South collaboration. The success of the campaign highlights the importance of fostering connections among countries to share knowledge and expertise. And it highlights the way UNFPA is working to support national capacity and nationally owned and led development.

Because we believe that no woman should die giving life, UNFPA is intensifying action with partners to achieve MDG 5 to improve maternal health.

UNFPA is proud to be working with governments, civil society, the International Health Partnership and other networks to improve health systems, achieve the health-related Millennium Development Goals, and improve the well-being of the world’s women and mothers.

We are proud of our collaboration with UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the World Bank, and our clear division of roles to accelerate progress in countries and to promote transfer of knowledge from one country to another. One of these countries is a ‘delivering as one’ United Nations pilot, Rwanda.

Over the past five years in Rwanda, use of modern contraception has nearly tripled, skilled birth attendance has increased from less than 40 per cent to more than 50 per cent, and deliveries in health facilities have jumped from less than a third to nearly half. This is impressive progress towards ensuring that every pregnancy is wanted and every birth is safe.

UNFPA is undertaking a highly targeted effort focused on specific results in 60 high-maternal mortality countries.

To provide support that countries need, our goal is to raise $500 million between 2008 and 2011 in line with our strategic plan. To date, we have received some $25 million and we are looking forward to $70 million in 2009, $140 million in 2010 and $270 million in 2011 for the Maternal Health Trust Fund.

Along with our partner agencies of the H8, we are providing support to strengthen national health plans and systems. This effort can not be successful without the flow of information and knowledge among countries that succeeded so far in this area and others that are working hard to succeed. Networking among institutions of the countries specialized in public health is a foundation for this kind of endeavour.

Here, I would like to thank all countries that have contributed to our Maternal Health Trust Fund and encourage increased contributions this year.

All health systems should be able to deliver reproductive health services and supplies. In 2008, UNFPA provided support to some 60 countries to avoid stock-outs of contraceptives and other reproductive health commodities. In 2007, a comprehensive package of support was introduced to Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Mongolia, Mozambique, and Nicaragua. These countries were joined in 2008 by Haiti, Laos, Madagascar, and Niger.

The focus of our work in countries is to help governments prioritize reproductive health, including commodity security, in national health plans, programmes and budgets.

Here again, countries are building momentum by learning from each other. We also are able to transfer lessons learned from one country to another. Progress is building through the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition, a network of more than 80 partners from all sectors working to guarantee access to reproductive health by 2015.

Mr. President,

Distinguished delegates,

During the past 15 years since the Cairo Conference, solid progress has been made. We see this clearly in the case of emergencies and humanitarian assistance to the displaced and refugees. Over the years, UNFPA has built a global network so that issues of gender and sexual and reproductive health are addressed in emergencies. This is a network that we continue to expand.

We recently signed new or intensified agreements with eight organizations, including the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Islamic Relief, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

We play a strong role within the United Nations humanitarian system. Now starting our third year of the UNFPA humanitarian strategy, we are focused on building skills and awareness, not only in our country and regional offices, but among a large and growing number of partners in our network.

We are also reaching out to adolescents and young people through building and using existing networks. Today, there are more young people than ever before and they are a powerful group for change that is connected like no generation before them through communication technology.

UNFPA is working with young people through our Global Youth Advisory Panel, national panels and other networks, including the Coalition for Adolescent Girls. The public private partnership builds greater investment in the developing world’s 500 million girls. We are also reaching out through the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS, a UNFPA and UNAIDS-supported network of 3,500 young leaders working in 150 countries.

Advancing the ICPD agenda is the business of all. So we are also connecting to the police and the army.

Since our last Board meeting, we brought together representatives of uniformed services from every region. It was impressive to hear police lieutenants, UN peacekeeping commanders and army captains talk about their work to promote and protect the rights of women.

In March, we are co-sponsoring the International Symposium on Men and Boys for Gender Equality. Hundreds of representatives from civil society and government will converge in Brazil to exchange perspectives and experiences. Without the involvement of men, equality cannot be achieved.

As I have repeated many times before, change cannot be imposed from the outside; to be lasting it must come from within. This is why UNFPA is using a culturally sensitive approach to promote human rights, including the rights to sexual and reproductive health and to development in general. This is why we are reaching out to traditional and non-traditional partners to advance the principles and goals of the ICPD Programme of Action.

Within this context, I am pleased to report that the Global Forum of Faith-Based Organizations held in October in Istanbul was not only a success, it exceeded our expectations.

More than 160 religious leaders and representatives of faith-based organizations came together and decided to establish an interfaith network for population and development. We agreed that we all have the same goal of supporting people to have a better quality of life and can work together in areas of common interest while respecting each other’s differences. And we agreed that faith-based organizations should work together to support the multiple and varied needs of their communities.

It was a moving experience to hear faith leaders pledge their commitment to work, as a multi-faith network, with UNFPA and others to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.

My friends, during the past 15 years, we have come a long way. But we still have a long way to go to realize this vision.

Today, the violence committed against women and girls is the most systematic and unpunished human rights violation in the world. In some war-torn countries, sexual violence has reached brutal and alarming proportions.

UNFPA is working with many networks to prevent violence against women, end impunity, and offer services to survivors. We are an active member of the Secretary-General’s campaign UNITE to end violence against women. We are co-chairing the UN Task Force on Violence against Women bringing together UN Country Teams in pilot countries to develop national responses. And we are a member of Stop Rape Now: UN action to stop sexual violence in conflicts. In all we do, we are working with partners to implement Security Council resolutions 1325 on women, peace and security and 1820 on sexual violence.

Today, I urge everyone here to reach out and do more to stop violence against women and promote women’s full participation in conflict prevention, peace building and reconstruction. The network of UN agencies, civil society organizations and governments is critical to the success of stopping all forms of violence against women.

Mr. President,

I have heard loud and clear from many of our Member States that the United Nations has to change the way it does business to stay in business. At UNFPA, we are taking this message to heart.

In all we do, we are putting people above process. We are really trying to streamline and consolidate efforts so that we can focus on programme priorities. We want to consolidate our initiatives of the past few years and focus on concrete and tangible actions that make a positive difference in people’s lives.

We are working together with our UN partners, within the context of the TCPR, to provide unified support to countries for nationally owned and led development, to ensure that the UN system can deliver the best support possible. I am pleased to report that our effort was recognized by the 2008 MOPAN (Multilateral Organizations Performance Assessment Network) Survey that stated that UNFPA makes a "considerable contribution to harmonization within the UN system at the Country Level".

All UNFPA staff are held accountable for their constructive participation in the UN reform process and for working in collaboration with others. We at UNFPA are fully convinced that the best way to support the ICPD Programme of Action is to make sure that as many partners as possible, inside and outside of the UN, understand its importance and integrate its operational components into their own programmes and work to achieve its goals.

We are committed to harmonization and simplification in line with UN resolutions, and the principles of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, as well as the Accra Agenda for Action. We are committed to being less bureaucratic and more responsive, and accountable for results.

To make greater progress, we are moving closer to the people we serve. I am pleased that reorganization remains on track as we become an even more field-focused and results-oriented organization.

The Africa Regional Office and Asia Pacific Regional Office are on track to be relocated by the end of February. The Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office is operating out of temporary space in Panama with new premises to be completed around April. The Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office and the Arab States Regional Office are scheduled to be relocated in the second half of this year.

Here I would like to thank our UN system partners in the regional hubs for their collaboration and welcoming us with open arms. Specifically, I want to thank UNICEF for providing multifaceted support as well as space to meet our temporary needs in Panama; the World Food Programme for their generosity in housing us in Cairo; and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific for their cooperation in Bangkok.

I would also like to thank all the governments for their generous support. We have received contributions from Benin, Finland, Gabon and Mauritania and pledges to the one-time cost from Egypt, Kazakhstan, Senegal, Seychelles, Sudan and Uganda. I would also like to thank the Government of Senegal for the offer of premises rent-free, Panama for support with setting up premises and financial support to the regional hub, and Slovakia for the offer of premises, rent and maintenance free.

I would also like to thank my dear UNFPA colleagues for all the work they have done to make this transition go smoothly. You carried a heavy load in 2008 and your efforts are deeply appreciated. I also thank the members of the Executive Board for your continuous guidance and support.

As we set up our regional offices, we are focused on staying connected. We are using the latest technology for cost effectiveness and efficiency, such as employing regional websites, knowledge-sharing platforms, and new web-based video and telephone technology.

Right now, colleagues in New York, in the Sub-Regional Office in Jamaica and in the Regional Office in South Africa can talk to each other toll-free as if they were in the same building, and this will eventually cover the whole Fund. Our new video conferencing system also keeps us connected at minimal cost, especially considering the savings in travel. But I would also like to assure you that UNFPA Regional Directors will continue to attend all Executive Board meetings, and desk officers at headquarters will provide liaison and quick response services for each region.

During the past few years, we have undertaken a major management initiative to make the organization fit for higher performance. For UNFPA, effective management underpins our effectiveness as an organization. Because we are focused on accountability and results, we have improved communications, accounting, oversight, monitoring and evaluation, and put in place tighter controls to prevent fraud.

Our budgeting system is results-based and explicitly links funds expended to results achieved. Our oversight is robust with internal and external audits and an independent Audit Advisory Committee. We know we still have a way to go for excellence in national execution but with your support we will together reach our goal. And in 2009 specifically, we are going to ensure that a line of sight can be drawn from individual performance to office performance to the UNFPA Strategic Plan.

Because professional knowledge is acquired and replaced faster than ever, we are investing in continuous learning and training. An updated approach to human resources is now in line with the Strategic Plan and focuses on preparing a global team to meet the challenges ahead. For more information, we have placed brochures on UNFPA management reforms at the back of the room.

Like the rest of the United Nations, UNFPA is faced with increasing risk and threats to staff. In response, we are taking concrete steps to strengthen staff safety and security. We have added posts and increased investments to focus on the security of UNFPA operations and premises. We have taken unprecedented measures to ensure safety and security of locally recruited staff. And we have established regional security advisers in several regions. As Kemal said yesterday, it all comes with a cost but the lives of our colleagues are worth it all.

This afternoon, we shall brief you on the development of the UNFPA evaluation policy. Tomorrow afternoon, during the joint segment, Mari Simonen will update you on progress made in complying with audits. And next Monday, during the joint meeting of the Executive Boards, I will provide an update on progress made in harmonizing business practices among UN funds and programmes. There is much more to say on the progress in the support provided to countries for censuses, as well as other areas, but this will have to wait for the annual session in June.

Mr. President,

Distinguished Delegates,

Finally, I would now like to turn to the financial situation of UNFPA. Last year the provisional core contributions from donor Governments totaled $430 million, an increase of more than $10 million from the previous year. It was however $50 million less than expected, due to unfavourable exchange rates coinciding with late payments from some major donors. The non-core contributions income was around $300 million, an increase of $50 million from 2007.

Five of our 20 major donors have given us multi-year pledges aligned with our Strategic Plan (Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom) and Switzerland has pledged for two years. We urge you to keep these commitments in spite of financial difficulties.

We also look forward to more multi-year pledges, as well as payments early in the year in order for us to plan our activities on the ground. For 2009, we do not foresee any decrease; several donors have already pledged increases. Together with the leadership from you in the Executive Board, we need to – and can – make sure that our resources are also protected in 2010 and 2011.

I thank all donors for your confidence and trust in UNFPA. We recognize that keeping these commitments will not be easy as national economies face the continuing impact of a global recession. But we have confidence that investments in development will be maintained and even bolstered to promote a full recovery and protect the wo