State of Executive Director to First Regular Session of Executive Board 2017

1 February 2017

Remarks of UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin to the 2017 First Regular Session of the Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS.

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

Good morning! Let me begin by congratulating you, Ambassador Petersen, on your election as President of the Executive Board. I would also like to welcome the rest of the Bureau, Ambassador Laura Elena Flores Herrera of Panama, Ambassador Omar Annakou of Libya, Ms. Carolina Popovici of Moldova, and Mr. Talal Aljamali of Yemen.

Let me also take this occasion to thank Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan of Armenia and the outgoing Bureau for their partnership, guidance and support throughout 2016.
I would also like to acknowledge and thank my dear colleague Helen Clark for her leadership and partnership during her tenure as UNDP Administrator. On behalf of all of us in UNFPA, I wish her much success, health and happiness in the years ahead.

Mr. President,
Last year, we began implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

One year on, this ambitious vision for people, planet and prosperity remains a powerful aspiration. Its adoption not only pointed the way to a more just, equitable, inclusive world and a healthier planet; it also renewed our faith in multilateralism and offered hope that consensus and collective action could be galvanized for the common good. This remains the hope of all of us even today.

UNFPA is working to respond to this vision and to the expectations defined by the 2030 Agenda and ICPD Beyond 2014.

In partnership with our sister UN agencies, we are firmly committed to delivering as one as we work to support Member States in achieving their development goals, in line with the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) and the vision of our new Secretary-General, António Guterres.

We look forward to working closely with Secretary-General Guterres and welcome his pledge to work for the promotion and protection of women’s rights and to advance gender equality, including within the UN.

I remain encouraged by the support for these issues around the world and was privileged to participate in two conferences in recent months where women’s rights and gender equality were front and centre – the World Assembly for Women in Tokyo in December, where I took part in a panel on women’s wellbeing and stressed the centrality of sexual and reproductive health and rights to women’s empowerment. 

I also traveled to Montevideo, Uruguay, in October for the Latin America and Caribbean Regional Conference on Women, where I made the case for greater investment in the health and rights of adolescent girls. It is important to stress that Montevideo was the site where we got the most progressive outcome in the ICPD beyond 2014 review process, and I think that vision continues to provide leadership on these issues as we go forward.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment will remain key priorities for UNFPA in our Strategic Plan for 2018-2021, so let me turn now to where we are in the strategic planning process.

New Strategic Plan

I would like to thank those Board members who attended our workshop in December and who have continuously engaged with us individually and collectively.

I thank you for your helpful feedback and guidance, which we are incorporating into the new Strategic Plan.

We are also incorporating feedback from UNFPA staff, from UN inter-agency strategic planning groups, and from widespread consultations with partners, including young people, humanitarian partners, faith- based groups, civil society and foundations, and academia.

UNFPA co-initiated and is proactively contributing to the UN inter-agency strategic planning working group, currently focusing on key areas, including linking resources to results; alignment to the SDGs; results-based management; and gender mainstreaming.

The new Strategic Plan will focus on delivering an interconnected set of transformative results in line with our mandate and informed by a robust evidence base. This includes quality corporate and programme evaluations such as the evaluation on UNFPA support to adolescents and youth, which will be presented at this session.  And while I am on the subject of evaluation, let me take this opportunity to thank Andrea Cook, our current Director of Evaluation, for her work over the past three years. We wish her well in her new role as head of Evaluation at the World Food Programme.

The updates to the Board during the briefing session this afternoon will include a detailed presentation on the progress made to date in the strategic planning process.

We see the new Strategic Plan as a critical opportunity to strongly position UNFPA in the 2030 Agenda. As the first of three consecutive plans with a time horizon of 2030, this Plan will lay the foundation for UNFPA’s contribution to achieving the global goals.

It will help us deliver on our mandate in a more turbulent world with increased demands for family planning and sexual and reproductive health services, even as we face strong headwinds and our core contributions and resources may come under further pressure.

UNFPA will remain firmly focused on the ‘bull’s eye’ – that is, achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health, realizing reproductive rights and reducing maternal mortality – to support Member States in achieving the ICPD targets under the 2030 Agenda. These efforts must respond to the global development, humanitarian and peacebuilding landscape.

Adolescent girls will continue to be a key focus group under the adolescents and youth area of work.

Building on our successes and lessons learned from 2014-17, the new Strategic Plan will chart the path ahead for delivering these transformative results and the world we envision for today’s 10-year-old girls and all women and young people by 2030.

To succeed in these efforts, we count on the political and financial support of Member States. Let me say, once again, how grateful we are for this support, which is helping promote and protect the health and rights of women, adolescent girls and young people, particularly the most vulnerable and those left furthest behind.

Your support is ensuring that more people have access to voluntary family planning, that more women receive the maternal health care they need so that they and their babies survive and thrive, that young people are empowered to reach their full potential and that they have a voice in decisions that affect them.

I would like take this opportunity to underline that UNFPA does not engage in any coercive activities or methods of any kind. In fact, the ICPD Programme of Action endorsed by Member States is very clear:

“Reproductive health-care programmes should provide the widest range of services without any form of coercion.  All couples and individuals have the basic right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information, education and means to do so.”

Member States’ support to the ICPD agenda and UNFPA over the years has enabled so much progress: Maternal deaths worldwide have fallen by nearly half since 1990. More women and couples have access to modern contraception. More girls are in school. More women and young people are able to exercise their human rights.

Let me give you an example of what we have been able to do with modern contraception. In East and Southern Africa more than 30 million women in the last few years have been able to access modern contraception. This is a first.

And the Ouagadougou Partnership in West and Central Africa has reached its target of 1 million new acceptors of family planning ahead of time, and they have now set a new target, which implies that what we are doing is working. But the job is not done, and we need to do far more.

But, with our agenda and mission increasingly under attack in parts of the world, we need an even stronger UNFPA, politically and financially – one that can continue to stand up and speak up for the forgotten, for the marginalized, for the ones often left behind! Now more than ever, the world needs a UNFPA that is financially and structurally fit for this purpose.

Because without this vital support – both political and financial – there is a risk of losing ground on critical priorities like maternal health, which is imperative to leaving no one behind. And it is not only momentum that will be lost if funding for these vital activities is discontinued or cut, it is women’s and girls’ lives.

Around 8% of all maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortion. These are needless deaths – deaths that could be prevented by universal access to voluntary family planning that enables women and couples to freely decide the number and timing of their children.

In 2015, contraceptives provided by UNFPA had the potential to prevent 12.3 million unintended pregnancies, 4.4 million abortions, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women and children.

Your support is saving and changing lives. So again, on behalf of all of us at UNFPA and those we are privileged to serve, let me say thank you.

Over the course of the past year, we have faced considerable challenges:

  • ongoing funding constraints and an uncertain political environment;
  • historic levels of displacement around the world and ever greater humanitarian needs; and
  • continued pushback on sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, gender equality and other issues central to our mandate and the ICPD agenda.

The international landscape for resources has shifted dramatically in the past year. And unfavourable exchange rates continue to take their toll on our overall income.

This political and financial uncertainty looks likely to continue in the foreseeable future. But we are committed as UNFPA to continuing to do the best we can with the little we have to address these important issues.

Member States’ generous and continued support, particularly to our regular resources, is essential to enable us to continue delivering life-saving services and assistance to the women and young people we serve. We thank those countries who significantly increased their contributions to our regular resources in 2016, namely France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden. We are also thankful for the generous contributions of other countries both from the North and South.

We encourage all Member States to contribute as much as possible to our regular resources, which are key to sustainability and delivery on UNFPA’s mandate and the 2030 Agenda.

At the same time, we also recognize that more work is needed on our end to address the challenges we face and improve efficiency.

As you know, last year we instituted a number of austerity measures to respond to the decrease in regular resource contributions from a number of donors, who had redirected development resources to tackle urgent domestic priorities.

These austerity measures, which included lower country programme ceilings and cuts in the institutional budget and in the global and regional initiatives, continue.

In addition, we have undertaken a cost-mapping exercise to identify additional potential savings, including related to travel and other costs.

We have frozen certain vacancies and are exploring ways to further streamline our processes and free up staff capacity and resources as a longer-term solution.

While our current business model remains relevant for the 2030 Agenda, the new Strategic Plan will make some adjustments primarily to address changes in the global and local environments, and to make it more suitable to country needs.

We continue to expand our partnerships and our donor base and to identify and support opportunities for South-South and triangular cooperation.

A new strategic partnership strategy will be adopted soon, aimed at strengthening our reach, brainpower collaboration and resource mobilization efforts with the private sector, academia, high net-worth individuals, philanthropy, and parliamentarians.

In this precarious political and funding environment, resource mobilization and advocacy must be the business of each of us at UNFPA, and we are intensifying these activities at all levels of the organization.

This goes hand-in-hand with our efforts to improve organizational effectiveness, efficiency and delivery, which will enable us to achieve even better results as a valuable, trusted development and humanitarian partner.

Humanitarian response

Mr. President,
Every day, from Afghanistan to Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, South Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Ukraine and Yemen, UNFPA and partners are working to meet the needs of women, adolescent girls and young people in emergencies, responding to their priorities and ensuring their participation. We also continue to support a number of countries affected by the situation in Syria.

In 2016, UNFPA reached 11.4 million people with essential services to address sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence in humanitarian settings in 55 countries.

Reproductive health kits totaling $7 million were dispatched to meet emergency obstetric and newborn care needs and to provide prenatal and postnatal care, address clinical management of rape, provide contraceptive choice and prevent and treat sexually transmitted infections.

These services can mean the difference between life and death, yet they are often neglected because of the way money is divvied up when it comes to humanitarian action. So we need our Board Members to also speak up about the needs of women, girls and young people when donations are made for humanitarian response.

Mr. President,
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: If we want effective humanitarian action and hope for the future, we must embrace the full participation and priorities of young people.

Following the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security and the World Humanitarian Summit, UNFPA has been coordinating the Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action and facilitating, with the Peacebuilding Support Office, a Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security.

The study is, in our view, a uniquely strategic contribution to shaping the youth, peace and security agenda. And both initiatives capitalize on the potential and creativity of young people as contributors to building resilient, sustainable, peaceful societies.

In hotspots around the world, and globally, we at UNFPA are leading efforts to ensure that the specific needs of women, girls and young people are not neglected.
This critical work, bridging our development and humanitarian efforts, will continue and will be mainstreamed throughout the new Strategic Plan.


Mr. President,
I would like to turn now to a subject vital to the implementation, follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda – data.

The SDGs have spawned new data programmes and initiatives, and new energy and commitment around a data revolution for development.

Ensuring strong national data systems is a massive undertaking requiring the skills and expertise of a wide range of partners.

UNFPA is one of many UN agencies engaged in this work, and we welcome the chance to advance this work together.

We have a unique role in data systems, and that is in population data.  Our commitment in the data arena is a commitment to core areas of our work on census and SRH data, complemented by partnerships within a range of data networks.

Late last year, to take just one example, UNFPA and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) jointly organized a regional meeting on building national data systems capacity for integrating the ICPD agenda into SDG processes at regional and country level in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region.

For more than 40 years our work in the population field has been anchored in our strong support to national censuses, and as countries commit to leaving no one behind, these data will be more important than ever.

UNFPA’s Special Event tomorrow on “Data Systems within the Framework of the SDGs” will offer a country perspective on challenges and opportunities with respect to strengthening national data systems. We hope you will join us for what promises to be an engaging discussion.

Demographic Dividend

Mr. President,
I have just returned from the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, where the fruits of UNFPA’s advocacy and engagement around the demographic dividend were abundantly evident.

African Heads of State and Government have demonstrated their commitment by devoting 2017 to “Harnessing the demographic dividend through investments in youth”.

They have pushed for the development of a comprehensive roadmap to guide the efforts of countries and regional economic communities.

UNFPA is proud to have been part of these efforts. Let me say, this is not just about advocacy; it’s about the work we do with countries on the ground. Today, UNFPA is working with 28 countries on the continent to support them in incorporating the demographic dividend into national development planning.

I would like to thank all UNFPA colleagues involved for their hard work and support, which was recognized by the newly elected AU Chair, President Alpha Condé of Guinea, in his acceptance speech. We remain committed to working closely with governments and other partners, including the African Union Commission, towards making this vision a reality.

It was also very heartening to hear the new Secretary-General speak to this issue and to say that this is an area in which the UN must work with Africa.

We hope that future generations will look back on this year as a turning point in Africa’s development trajectory.

UNFPA’s activities in the area of family planning are a linchpin of our efforts to help countries, not only in Africa but around the world, capture a demographic dividend. You cannot reap the dividend without a strong family planning programme. And I want to thank the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom for co-hosting with us a roundtable in Addis Ababa on taking family planning to the next level in Africa. Participants acknowledged that family planning is the basis for demographic dividend, so I think that we are going in the right direction.

It was also clear that African Heads of State are committed to addressing early and forced marriage, which together with increasing access to family planning can reduce maternal mortality and morbidity, reduce obstetric fistula, and ensure a healthier population of young people. If we can also ensure that girls go to school and stay in school and are able to reach their full potential, then countries can move forward and the dividend becomes even more realistic.

Our most recent State of World Population report shows that girls who reach adulthood with an education and their health and rights intact stand to triple their lifetime income. Higher incomes and greater productivity can help fuel progress for entire countries.

As I’ve said time and time again, our collective future depends on how we support 10-year-old girls today as they start their journey from adolescence to adulthood.

When we get it right, the effects can be truly transformative – both for the individual girls and their societies.

Last month, I visited northern Nigeria, where I saw first-hand the impact of UNFPA’s work with adolescent girls. In Kaduna State, I met Fatima Yusuf, a 12-year-old girl participating in UNFPA’s Adolescent Girl Initiative.

The programme provides safe spaces for vulnerable girls, where they receive mentoring, literacy and life skills classes, comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services.

Fatima spoke on behalf of the girls. In fluent English honed in the programme’s literacy classes and with a confidence beyond her years, she talked about the power of education, about their dreams of becoming doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, journalists. Of becoming Executive Director of UNFPA, or UN Secretary-General, or the first female president of Nigeria!

“As girls from rural communities, we are glad that there are no limits to our aspirations for the future. We want the same for all girls no matter where they live,” Fatima said.

Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Board,

Isn’t that what we all want? For every girl everywhere to be able to go to and stay in school; to be free from child marriage, teenage pregnancy and violence; to know and be able to exercise her rights, including her right to sexual and reproductive health; to be able to realize her full potential and help us build a better world.

I know that’s what we all want. That’s what the 2030 Agenda is all about. And I know, together, we can make it happen.

Thank you.