Secretary-General Presents Population Award to This Year's Laureates

Secretary-General Presents Population Award to This Year's Laureates
From Left: Mr Enrique Picado, Dr. Mahmoud Fathalla, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon , Mr. Hamidon Ali and UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid
  • 02 June 2009

UNITED NATIONS — Each year the United Nations Population Award recognizes the work of an individual and an institution for outstanding contributions to population concerns and their solutions. Yesterday United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon presented the 2009 award to two laureates: a Nicaraguan non-governmental organization, Movimiento Comunal Nicaragüense and an Egyptian doctor, Mahmoud Fahmy Fathalla. The Secretary-General praised their work in helping mothers and the rural poor to claim their right to health.

"You all know that population issues are not about numbers – they are about people," the Secretary-General said in his opening remarks. "When we speak of maternal mortality, we are not just talking about statistics, we are dealing with tragic deaths. And when we urge action, we are not trying to reduce population growth, we are trying to help individuals to exercise their rights."

The work of both laureates demonstrates that point. For more than 30 years, brigades of Nicaraguan volunteers have worked with educators and public officials to improve community health and advance human rights.

The movement, which comprises some 15,000 volunteers along with educators and leaders, has contributed to the eradication of polio from Nicaragua, as well as to major immunization campaigns that have reduced the incidence of whooping cough, malaria and tetanus in the country. Since 1994, it has worked closely with UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and through this alliance its mission expanded to include HIV prevention, gender-based violence and gender equality, said Mr. Enrique Picado. The organization has contributed to a drastic reduction in maternal and child mortality rates and significant increases in literacy in Nicaragua.

Mr. Picado accepted the award, he said, “on behalf of those who are unable to be with us, the members of the health brigades, outreach workers, midwives, volunteers and community leaders, organized in the field and in the mountains, in valleys, towns, cities and in our capital…. This award also belongs to those volunteers, organized and motivated by other social movements like churches, youth movements, citizen action groups, women’s movements, healthcare unions, maternal health clinics, teenage and youth centres, which promote human rights in Nicaragua, particularly, the right to health.”

The work of the Nicaraguan Communal Movement and the enthusiasm of its volunteers is captured in a recent video.

The other laureate, Dr. Fathalla, has worked in the population field for decades as well. He pioneered one of the first family planning organizations in the Arab world, co-founded the ‘Safe Motherhood Initiative’ and is an acclaimed advocate for women’s health and rights. “I entered the population field through the door of women’s health and rights,” he said in his acceptance speech. “From my early professional career, I was privileged to serve the health needs of women in a community in which people are mostly poor and women are the poorest of the poor.”

He said that through his work, he became convinced the powerlessness of women is a serious health hazard. “When I moved into the international field,” he added, “I realized that powerlessness of women is much more pervasive, and that women in different countries have more in common than what meets the eye.”

He also discussed the heavy penalty the world pays for the subordination of women. “Women, in a sense, have been coerced into motherhood by denying them not only the power and the means to control and regulate their fertility, but also by denying them choices in life apart from childbearing and child-rearing,” he said. “When women are empowered to make choices, even the poor and illiterate women, whom I know best, will make the right choices for themselves, for their families, for their communities, for their countries and for the world at large.”

We use cookies and other identifiers to help improve your online experience. By using our website you agree to this. To learn more, including how to change your settings, see our cookie policy