Second Regular Session 2020 of the Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS

2 September 2020

Statement of UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem to the Second Regular Session of the Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS on 2 September 2020.


Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of the Executive Board,
Colleagues and friends,

Greetings! As I address you for this Second Regular Session of the Executive Board, allow me to warmly welcome Ms. Diene Keita, Deputy Executive Director (Programme) and Mr. Ib Petersen, Deputy Executive Director (Management), to their first Board session in their new roles. Diene and Ib bring unique and complementary skills and experience to the Senior Management team. I look forward to their contributions to our work to drive progress towards the realization of the ICPD Programme of Action and the achievement of UNFPA’s mandate.

I extend our thanks to Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov and Dr. Julitta Onabanjo for their steady and strategic stewardship of the Management and Programme portfolios over the past several months – a time of unprecedented challenges for the Organization as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I now invite you to view a brief video on the themes in our 2020 State of World Population report: Against my will: defying the practices that harm women and girls and undermine equality

Mr. President,
Distinguished Delegates,

The world is a dramatically different place than it was when the United Nations was founded 75 years ago. Looking at progress and challenges since the Second World War, it is clear that we have made great strides in promoting the rights and choices of women and girls, a cornerstone of inclusive and sustainable societies and of our mission at UNFPA. We also know that the road to 2030 is made steeper now by COVID-19, the greatest global health crisis in a century.

Climate change threatens the health, security and prosperity of people and planet. Conflicts and crises exact a heavy toll. Pervasive racism continues to gnaw at our common fabric, often with deadly consequences. And alarmingly, women’s rights and choices have come under threat around the world, with sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, continuingly coming under pressure.

Yet our life-saving work has never been more needed, and our focus as a public health organization on the frontlines, on making change on the ground, on delivering for women and girls, has never been sharper nor more essential.

Just ask Frantzia in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Her fear of COVID infection nearly kept her from seeking maternal health care, until a midwife supported by UNFPA taught her how to protect herself when going to the hospital for prenatal care.

Or Salwa in Sana’a, Yemen. She survived child marriage, three abusive husbands, crushing poverty and extreme hunger. At a UNFPA safe space for women, Salwa received health and psychosocial services and learned to sew. She now has her own sewing business and makes face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Betty, a health volunteer in Kampala, Uganda, distributes condoms in her community through a partnership among UNFPA, local health officials, Marie Stopes and the popular motorcycle taxi company SafeBoda.

These are just some of the millions of women and girls we support, as we move swiftly to respond to the pandemic, nimbly adjusting our programming and our means of implementation.

UNFPA works to ensure continuity of sexual and reproductive health services, and to minimize supply chain disruptions for contraceptives. We have been sounding the alarm and responding to skyrocketing gender-based violence. And as always, we prioritize those who suffer most: the most vulnerable women and girls. UNFPA has paid special attention to older persons on the ground and in our well-received global convenings, and we have attended to issues of import to indigenous peoples and those of African descent; people living with disabilities; those in low-resource countries, Small Island Developing States, or in humanitarian or fragile contexts.

As we respond to COVID-19 and reimagine a better future, we must repeat unequivocally that the rights of women and girls are not negotiable. Even in times of crisis – especially in times of crisis – their sexual and reproductive health must be safeguarded at all costs. Services must continue; supplies must be delivered; and women and girls must be safe from harm.

The impact of COVID-19 will likely hamper progress towards the three transformative results at the heart of our work – universal family planning, an end to preventable maternal deaths and the elimination of gender-based violence in all its forms.  That is why we are doing everything we can, working hand-in-hand with our UN partners to deliver coordinated health, humanitarian and socioeconomic responses under the leadership of Resident Coordinators.

As part of the UN Global Humanitarian Response to COVID, UNFPA already has reached over 5 million women and 1.3 million adolescents and youth with sexual and reproductive health services, and delivered more than 1 million surgical masks.

Since April, UNFPA has procured services and supplies, such as PPE, contraceptives, reproductive health kits, and dignity kits for over 107 countries affected by COVID-19. We contribute to the joint UN tender led by UNICEF – another example of increased UN coordination.

Our country-level work continues to be framed around national priorities in alignment with our Strategic Plan, and we are carefully reviewing work plans and budgets to rapidly respond to emerging priorities.

Delays in the 2020 census round due to COVID-19 mean that an unprecedented number of countries will conduct censuses in 2021 and 2022 – an eventuality that UNFPA is planning for now.

COVID-19 also affects our humanitarian delivery. Why are sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence services still so often sidelined? These are essential services and must be prioritized as such. UNFPA is working to ensure that they are. The lives and wellbeing of women and girls hang in the balance.

I could not be more proud of the way that UNFPA personnel, our strongest asset, are responded to the crisis – with resolve, determination and a fierce commitment to delivering for women and girls. I note with gratitude the service and sacrifice of UNFPA staff, especially those serving in hazardous duty stations.

During these difficult times, UNFPA is encouraging managers to exercise maximum flexibility with regard to working arrangements. We have also engaged a Duty of Care Coordinator, and Staff Care Support Specialists for each region, to implement wellbeing strategies.

In response to staff concerns about the racism, inequality and discrimination plaguing our societies, UNFPA is hosting a series of candid internal conversations — safe spaces for our workforce to have hard, uncomfortable and certainly illuminating discussions. I have encouraged managers to continue these conversations. I applaud UNFPA staff’s willingness to speak up and to listen and their commitment to creating a more inclusive workplace.

As we develop our next Strategic Plan, UNFPA is taking stock, and we will build on the enormous evidence base we have of what works and how.  There are scarcely 10 years left until the year 2030. We count on your support to help us a develop a Strategic Plan that accelerates progress towards our three transformative results in a post-COVID world. A Strategic Plan that keeps our eye on the prize, and addresses systemic inequalities, fragilities and gaps to build back better and ensure that this time no one is left out or left behind. And a Strategic Plan that builds on our collaborative advantage with the rest of the UN development system.

We are committed to making this process as inclusive and consultative as possible with the Board, public and private sector partners, and civil society, and we look forward to your strategic engagement.

Mr. President,

Protection from sexual exploitation, abuse and sexual harassment, PSEAH, continues to be a key priority for UNFPA, including during COVID-19.

With a strengthened institutional framework, our focus now is on enhancing country capacities, particularly in the 14 high-risk countries where UNFPA is leading or co-leading PSEA networks. With UN partners, we aim to ensure sustainable interagency investment and to strengthen implementing partner accountability. The new Partner PSEA assessment tool developed jointly with UNICEF, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme; the roll-out of a standardized electronic incident reporting form; and service and capacity mapping are identifying gaps and areas for further improvement to strengthen assistance to victims of sexual wrongdoing.

I look forward to further advancing this victim-centered approach to the humanitarian sector’s response to sexual wrongdoing when UNFPA assumes the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Championship on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Sexual Harassment in January 2021.

Humanitarian Action

UNFPA is currently on the humanitarian frontlines in more than 60 countries.

In Lebanon, as a key humanitarian actor, UNFPA stepped up immediately, mobilizing expertise, funding and support to meet the urgent needs of women and girls affected by the devastating explosion in Beirut.  We are deploying additional midwives, distributing PPE and reproductive health supplies, and procuring medical equipment and drugs to save lives. We have delivered more than 10,000 dignity kits with hygiene items and more are on the way. We have also deployed additional social workers and counselors to support women whose lives have been fractured by violence.

While progress is being made globally in providing GBV services during the pandemic, we are concerned about the limited or lack of services in some areas. Our recent assessment of maternal health services also points to disruptions in essential sexual and reproductive health care, with potentially serious implications for maternal and newborn health.

UNFPA has developed a body of technical briefs to support and guide work on our issues by partners on ground, and we have worked hard to ensure national response plans integrate a rights approach, taking into account the specific needs of pregnant women, older people, and others in need of tailored support. 

Our Humanitarian Office continues to strengthen procurement and supply chain management, operational and human resource capacity to increase effectiveness and efficiency. We are also taking action to address specific operational gaps identified in the recent global evaluation of UNFPA humanitarian response capacity – an item we will be taking up later today.

UNFPA appreciates the important strides made by the independent Evaluation Office to ensure that evaluations are relevant and responsive to the organization’s needs, and those of the broader UN system through joint and system-wide evaluations.

We also welcome the important contributions and reports of the Office of Audit and Investigation Services and of the Ethics Office, which the Board took up in the joint segment on Monday. They reflect a UNFPA deeply committed to transparency and accountability, effective governance and upholding the highest values and standards of the United Nations – and to improving as we go forward in line with best practice. We are committed to continuing to prioritize the oversight functions, so essential for our overall effectiveness. 

Peace in the home

Mr. President,

Gender-based violence is a pandemic within the pandemic, and UNFPA is working to make the Secretary-General’s call for ‘peace in the home’ a reality, in partnership with the 146 countries that have signed on to the call.

Drawing on our considerable experience coordinating and leading GBV programming in both development and humanitarian settings, there are a number of areas where we are helping.

First is data. Keeping women safer means having reliable data on the prevalence of violence and the availability of services. UNFPA has been able to show that during the pandemic 65% of countries where data are available have maintained or expanded GBV services. And fortunately, with hard work, 80% of the UNFPA GBV service points maintained operations, with few disruptions.

Second, mobilizing and engaging meaningfully with youth-led and especially young women-led organizations. Through our various youth platforms and networks, we can support the scaling up of these efforts.

Third, we want to expand the focus on gender-based violence from awareness to accountability. Our communication platforms provide messaging on the availability of GBV services and amplify existing programmes and interventions to end gender-based violence and harmful practices once and for all.  

Funding situation

Turning to the UNFPA funding situation, how gratified I am that we surpassed resource targets for the past two years.

Adequate core funding continues to be essential to our efforts to complete the unfinished business of ICPD and champion the rights of women and girls. The flexibility from our core resources was the reason we could immediately and effectively respond to COVID-19. It enables us to plan and to adapt to shifting global challenges and countries’ changing circumstances and needs.

The fast-tracking of 2020 payments by several donors made all the difference. Now, with additional commitments from a number of countries, we can project strong core resources this year, 2020, at just over US$400 million. 

Distinguished Members of the Executive Board,

I must emphasize how much we appreciate the trust of our partners during these times of hardship. The early payments enhanced predictability. For next year, mindful of the projected economic contraction and tightening of fiscal space, UNFPA appeals to all donors to maintain this level of commitment for 2021 and beyond. 

We have marshalled our energies to diversify our funding base, reaching out to new donors and making the case for core by demonstrating the unique value and impact of UNFPA implementation funded through core resources.  UNFPA also invests core resources in enhancing the coherence, effectiveness and impact of collective UN action at country level, while continuing to strive for efficiency gains through common operations. Our support for and engagement in UN reform efforts remain strong, including as we collaborate to define new ways of working at the regional level.

UNFPA has so far raised around US$410 million in co-financing from bilateral and multilateral sources in 2020, including more than $53 million for our COVID-19 response. As one of six entities accredited to help countries execute the World Bank’s Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility, UNFPA has received an additional $12 million through that mechanism. 

In the first half of 2020, the private sector contributed nearly US$23 million in financial and in-kind contributions, including $6 million for our COVID-19 response.

The regular structured funding dialogues with Member States continue to provide a platform to exchange ideas on ways to better link results to resources. In response to the Board’s request, we have discussed the UNFPA funding architecture within the broader framework of the UN funding compact, and we are reporting more granular results.

Going forward, we will continue to seek guidance and support from our allies and partners for our immediate and longer-term response to COVID-19, and to address the growing imbalance between core and non-core resources, the funding gaps identified in the costing exercise, and humanitarian programming needs.

Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of the Executive Board,

UNFPA has proven to be a public health implementing agency of great importance to women and girls during the COVID pandemic. In this and all our work, we remain firmly committed to effective and coherent UN action at the global, regional and country levels.

In this landmark year for women’s rights, UNFPA is pleased to co-lead and put our full institutional weight behind the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.

We continue to build on the momentum from ICPD25, and I am happy to report that enthusiasm remains high. Thousands have responded positively to UNFPA’s series of global “What’s Next?” conversations on ICPD25 and the Nairobi Commitments. Discussions to date have focused on issues ranging from bodily autonomy, to the socio-economic consequences of COVID-19, to the disparate impact of the pandemic on people of African descent and indigenous peoples.

Nearly one year on from Nairobi, we are taking stock of progress against the more than 1250+ commitments. The newly formed High-Level Commission on the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 Follow-up will meet for the first time later this month to discuss how to ensure commitment makers are on track to make good on their voluntary pledges.

Now is the time to stand firm on our commitments; to forge ahead; to back up words with deeds and action on the ground; and for delivery with adequate budgetary allocations and financing.

I assure you that UNFPA will continue to stand tall for women and girls.

Let’s put women’s rights and equality front and centre and move forward on the promise of this agenda ahead like never before.

As I close, I wish to recall the brave colleagues and implementing partners – nurses, midwives, doctors, cleaners, drivers, administrators – so many who have paid the ultimate price, their lives, while selflessly giving service this year in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic. UNFPA will never forget their sacrifice. 

Thank you.

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