Frequently Asked Questions
- What is UNFPA's goal?
- What is the UNFPA mandate?
- What does UNFPA stand for?
- Who funds and governs UNFPA?
- What is World Population Day?
- What is reproductive health?
- How does UNFPA’s work on population issues relate to its focus on reproductive health and gender issues?
- Does UNFPA promote abortion?
- How does emergency contraception work?
- Are condoms effective protection against HIV?
- What is fistula and what is UNFPA’s role in the Campaign to End Fistula?
- Is UNFPA involved in the issue of female circumcision?
- Where can I get the latest statistics on world population trends?
- Where can I get more specific information about what UNFPA does in specific countries?
- What can I do to support the work of UNFPA?
- Where do I find information about doing business with UNFPA?
The goal of UNFPA is ensure reproductive rights for all. To accomplish this, UNFPA works to ensure that all people, especially women and young people, are able to access high-quality sexual and reproductive health services, including voluntary family planning, so that they can make informed and voluntary choices about their sexual and reproductive lives.
The mandate of UNFPA, as established by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1973 and reaffirmed in 1993, is (1) to build the knowledge and the capacity to respond to needs in population and family planning; (2) to promote awareness in both developed and developing countries of population problems and possible strategies to deal with these problems; (3) to assist their population problems in the forms and means best suited to the individual countries' needs; (4) to assume a leading role in the United Nations system in promoting population programmes, and to coordinate projects supported by the Fund.
At the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo in 1994, these broad ideas were elaborated to emphasize the gender and human rights dimensions of population. UNFPA was given the lead in helping countries carry out the Programme of Action adopted by 179 governments at the Cairo Conference. In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly extended the ICPD beyond 2014, which was original end date for the 20-year Programme of Action.
The United Nations Fund for Population Activities was established as a trust fund in 1967 and began operations in 1969. In 1987, it was officially renamed the United Nations Population Fund, reflecting its lead role in the United Nations system in the area of population. The original abbreviation, UNFPA, was retained.
UNFPA’s full name, the United Nations Population Fund, is the working title used in all languages. To explain our work to a general audience, the organization can be described as the United Nations reproductive health and rights agency. Official UN documents use the full, written-out name.
UNFPA is entirely supported by voluntary contributions of donor governments, intergovernmental organizations, the private sector, and foundations and individuals, not by the United Nations regular budget. Our latest annual report provides a complete list of donors and contributions.
UNFPA is a subsidiary organ of the UN General Assembly. It reports to the UNDP/UNFPA Executive Board of 36 UN Member States on administrative, financial and programme matters and receives overall policy guidance from the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The Executive Board is composed of 36 members: eight from Africa, seven from Asia and the Pacific, four from Eastern Europe, five from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 12 from Western Europe and other developed countries.
World Population Day, which seeks to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues, was established by the then-Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989, an outgrowth of the interest generated by the Day of Five Billion, which was observed on 11 July 1987. By resolution 45/216 of December 1990, the United Nations General Assembly decided to continue World Population Day to enhance awareness of population issues, including their relations to the environment and development. The Day was first marked on 11 July 1990 in more than 90 countries. Since then, a number of UNFPA Country Offices and other organizations and institutions commemorate World Population Day, in partnership with governments and civil society.
Reproductive health can be defined as a state of well-being related to one’s sexual and reproductive life. It implies, according to the ICPD Programme of Action, “that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.” (para. 7.2)
By this definition, reproductive health encompasses sexual health, which in medical terms often connotes the absence of sexually transmitted infections. But the term “sexual and reproductive health” is generally used by UNFPA and others as a way to emphasize that people have a right to a safe and satisfying sex life, and appropriate health services, independent of their reproductive status.
Although universal access to reproductive health is a widely endorsed international goal, we have a long way to go to achieve that aim. Reproductive health concerns – including HIV and AIDS – are a leading cause of death and illness in women worldwide (15-44 years of age). And because reproductive health problems are borne disproportionately by women, it is also an issue of gender, inequality and human rights.
Reproductive health, in all of its dimensions, remains the cornerstone of UNFPA assistance and the area in which we invest the highest proportion of our resources.
How does UNFPA’s work on population issues relate to its focus on reproductive health and gender issues?
Population dynamics – including growth rates, age structure, fertility and mortality, migration and more – influence every aspect of human, social and economic development. The other core areas of UNFPA’s work – including sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, and the rights of young people – powerfully influence population trends and dynamics.
Until 1994, population planning often took the form of reaching specific demographic targets. The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, however, underscored and reaffirmed the idea that individuals and couples are at the heart of development and enjoy the basic human right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children. These decisions, multiplied across communities and countries, and coupled with mortality and migration rates, are what create population trends.
The UNFPA policy on abortion, as approved by its Executive Board, is twofold:
1. Prevent recourse to abortion by promoting universal access to voluntary family planning; and
2. Deal with the consequences of unsafe abortions to save women's lives.
UNFPA does not promote abortion. Rather, it accords the highest priority to voluntary family planning to prevent unintended pregnancies in order to eliminate recourse to abortion. UNFPA helps governments strengthen their national health systems to deal effectively with complications of unsafe abortions, thereby saving women's lives.
UNFPA does not promote changes to the legal status of abortion, which are decision-making processes that are the sovereign preserve of countries. But UNFPA opposes any coercive abortion and the discriminatory practice of prenatal sex selection.
Given unsafe abortion’s contributions to maternal deaths worldwide, UNFPA advocates for its impact on women's health, lives and well-being to be tackled head-on and post-abortion care provided urgently.
Where abortion is illegal, UNFPA supports the right of all women to get post-abortion care to save their lives. It also provides policy advice on the treatment of post-abortion complications, counselling and family planning. UNFPA trains health-care staff to provide post-abortion care as well as reproductive health information and services, including family planning.
Where abortion is legal, UNFPA states that national health systems should make it safe and accessible, as agreed by United Nations Member States.
The term “emergency contraception” refers to modern contraceptive methods that can be used to prevent pregnancy after sex. There are two recommended methods of emergency contraception: emergency contraceptive pills and copper-bearing intrauterine devices. Emergency contraceptive methods are used as emergency procedures to prevent pregnancy following unprotected intercourse, including failure or misuse of a contraceptive (such as torn condoms), rape or coerced sex. Alternative names for emergency contraception include post-coital contraception and “morning after pill”. Emergency contraception inhibits or delays ovulation and does not harm a developing embryo or end a pregnancy.
The male latex condom is the single most efficient, available technology to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, according to the UNAIDS Position Statement on Condoms and HIV Prevention. Condom use is a critical element in a comprehensive, effective and sustainable approach to HIV prevention and treatment, and condoms have played a decisive role in HIV prevention efforts in many countries. In some countries, female condoms are also beginning to play a larger role in HIV prevention.
Obstetric fistula is a devastating injury of childbearing that affects the lives of millions of women – mostly those who are poor, young and living in remote areas. Addressing this injury relates to many aspects of UNFPA’s mission, including ensuring that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect. For this reason, UNFPA spearheaded the global Campaign to End Fistula.
The accepted term for this practice is female genital mutilation. UNFPA considers it to be a harmful practice that violates the rights of girls and women. UNFPA and UNICEF cosponsor the Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.
UNFPA’s website has an easy-to-navigate dashboard on world population and related issues, including family planning, fertility, life expectancy, and maternal and newborn health. It can be found here. Additional information on population trends can be found here.
The website of the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs also provides the latest world population data and projections used by the UN system, including UNFPA, in a variety of formats and analyses.
The data section of this website offers an overview of the work UNFPA does by country, including programme activities, the provision of reproductive health supplies, as well as human interest stories about our work.
Our donations page provides a number of ways to give, including different currencies, campaigns and ways of paying. It also gives you an idea of how far your money can go.
Simply staying informed about the issues and sharing what you learn with others also makes a big difference. Increased public awareness of issues often leads to greater political support to address them. Visiting this website frequently is a good way to stay abreast of our work.
This section of the web, Frequently Asked Questions, was last updated in January 2018.