Statement of the Executive Director to the 1st Regular Session 2020 of the Executive Board

5 February 2020

Statement of UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem to the First Regular Session 2020 of the Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS

As we begin, on behalf of UNFPA, I express our solidarity with the people and Government of the People’s Republic of China and all countries affected by the outbreak of novel coronavirus 2019. UNFPA is monitoring the situation and advising our staff accordingly. Along with the World Health Organization and the rest of the UN system, UNFPA stands ready to lend our support.

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

Good morning! A very happy new year and decade to everyone.

Congratulations Ambassador Walton Webson on your election as President of the Executive Board. A warm welcome also to the rest of the Bureau: Ambassadors Georgi Panayotov of Bulgaria, Mansour Al-Otaibi of Kuwait, Valentine Rugwabiza of Rwanda, and Anna Karin Eneström of Sweden. We look forward to working closely with you in the year ahead.

Our deepest thanks to Ambassadors Cho Tae-yul and Cho Hyun of the Republic of Korea and to the outgoing Bureau for guidance and partnership over the past year. 2019 proved to be a momentous year for UNFPA and for the global movement for reproductive health and rights.

It’s a movement that is alive and well and indeed stronger than ever, as was evident at the highly successful Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 convened by the Governments of Kenya and Denmark together with UNFPA last November. We hope the video provided a taste of the energy, excitement and spirit of inclusivity that made the Nairobi Summit special.

The Board will recall that our intention was to mark the 25th anniversary of the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, which to this day guides the work of this body and UNFPA efforts in over 150 countries around the world. Even as we strive to be accountable and ever-efficient so that we can deliver on its bold promise to women and girls, even as we adapt to new realities; the ICPD Programme of Action remains our compass.

The Nairobi Summit aimed to celebrate progress; to create political and financial momentum to complete the unfinished business of the ICPD Programme of Action within the framework of the 2030 Agenda; and to reinvigorate and expand the ICPD community so that together we have greater impact – and within a 10-year time frame. Women cannot afford to wait another 25 years.

The Summit was not a forum for creating new language. The ICPD Programme of Action remains as valid and relevant as ever. The Nairobi Summit was meant to re-energize the movement and secure commitments to accelerate action. That’s why it was imperative to ensure its resounding success.

We explored themes of universal access, financing, demographic diversity, ending gender-based violence and harmful practices, and delivering in humanitarian and fragile contexts. These issues speak to the complementarity of the ICPD and 2030 agendas. The Nairobi Statement and voluntary commitments demonstrate global resolve to get the job done. They provide a powerful platform for UNFPA to accelerate the priorities agreed by the Board in our Strategic Plan 2018-2021.

We thank Member States from across the globe for contributing to the Summit’s tremendous success. We had high expectations. The Summit exceeded them: More than 8,000 delegates from 173 countries. More than 1,250 commitments from Heads of State, governments, donors, businesses, non-governmental organizations, civil society and more.  Billions of dollars pledged by private and public sector partners.

To follow up, I plan to convene a high-level commission drawn from a broad cross-section of stakeholders, to shepherd and give impetus to the Nairobi commitments within existing mechanisms at global, regional and national levels. This will help us to ensure that the next 10 years are indeed a decade of action – and results – for women and girls.

There is undoubtedly strong political will to achieve UNFPA’s three transformative results and reach zero: zero unmet need for family planning, zero preventable maternal deaths and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices.

We shall carry this powerful momentum forward as we begin the Decade of Action to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and, as we proudly celebrate 75 years of the United Nations and 25 years since the Beijing World Conference on Women.

The ICPD and Beijing agendas go hand in hand. Gender equality and empowerment depend upon women and girls’ ability to exercise their reproductive rights. We look forward to even stronger collaboration with you, to capitalize on more than 50 years of UNFPA experience, bringing our know-how to the strong partnership between UNFPA and UN Women on the two Beijing+25 Generation Equality Forums this year. We will engage with our partners to take the work forward, particularly that of the action coalition on “Bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights”.

To quote Secretary-General António Guterres:

“Gender equality is fundamentally a question of power… Only when we see women’s rights as our common objective … will we begin to shift the balance.”

On the 20th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, UNFPA is proud to bring our evidence-based research, data and technical assistance to support women’s and youth leadership for peace.

2020 is also designated ‘International Year of the Nurse and Midwife’. What an excellent way to start this decade of action and delivery! Midwives do deliver – babies, and more. Midwives are the backbone of many health systems, particularly important as UNFPA helps to advance Universal Health Coverage.  

Mr. President,

Despite considerable progress, there is still a long way to go to get to zero. The good news is that, while there may be resistance in some instances, there is an even stronger push forward. There is demonstrated strong consensus around the world that we can and must accelerate progress to achieve our common goals. UNFPA calls for reinvigorated joint action — because no single entity can do it alone.

The Nairobi Summit and related commitments prove that leadership to assure sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights exists at all levels, from Presidents to the grassroots, from refugees to royalty. Support for the ICPD agenda remains strong, and UNFPA remains strong and effective.

Midterm Review of Strategic Plan and Integrated Budget

The midterm review of the UNFPA Strategic Plan will be presented to the Board in June, to take stock of progress on the three transformative zeros, and to determine where additional support and focus may be required. UNFPA will ensure a transparent process in our discussions with the Board, focusing on key drivers and enablers to scale up and accelerate implementation over the remaining two years, and laying a solid foundation for the next strategic plan from 2022.

We also will engage with the Board as we prepare the midterm review of the Integrated Budget. Emerging priorities include risk-based strengthening of our country offices and additional investments in humanitarian activities; independent oversight functions; and resource mobilization and strategic partnerships.

UN reform

We continue to make progress working with other funds and programmes under the ‘common chapter framework’ and, more broadly, under the umbrella of UN Development System reform. For UNFPA, delivering better together and moving ahead on UN reform are mainstreamed across all that we do.

In response to questions about the price tag for achieving our three transformative results, last year UNFPA brought together leading research institutions to calculate, for the first time ever, the costs and the new investments needed to achieve these ambitious aims.

We decisively demonstrated a funding gap of $222 billion US dollars to achieve the three zeros by 2030, and that in comparison the cost of ‘inaction’ would be immense. Thus, an urgent need to accelerate global efforts on family planning, ending maternal mortality and ending gender-based violence, complemented by increased domestic resources and national action from all stakeholders — government, the private sector, civil society, and individuals.

In the years ahead, our focus will be on integration, adaptability, agility, innovation and above all, results.

Furthermore, UNFPA undertook an internal survey on UN reform. It indicates a more transparent and collaborative environment with more opportunities for joint initiatives among UN agencies. We are encouraged by the support of resident coordinators for the UNFPA mandate and by their engagement on normative issues.

UNFPA remains closely engaged in the regional and multi-country office reviews. We have offered our new costing models and tools to the United Nations system, to be scaled up and adjusted to the needs of those countries covered by multi-country offices. As part of our support to these countries, UNFPA is increasing physical presence; reviewing business model and resource allocations; and strengthening South-South and triangular cooperation.

UNFPA has much to offer UN Country Teams in the area of data: data for development, on youth, on harnessing the demographic dividend and to create financing momentum. 

Results-based management

UNFPA is committed to continuously fostering results-based management. We are pleased that several external assessments, such as one by the Multilateral Organization Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN), found that UNFPA systems perform well. Last year, the Fund asked the independent Evaluation Office to conduct the first-ever developmental evaluation at UNFPA.

Developmental evaluations help to identify innovative options in complex, uncertain and dynamic conditions associated with new initiatives or transformational activities. In this case, with the desire of UNFPA to evolve to the next stage of results-based management. The developmental evaluation of results-based management is providing us with real-time evidence, and we are actively incorporating that learning into our work.


Mr. President,

Our new Humanitarian Office in Geneva along with our humanitarian colleagues based in New York are meeting the ever-increasing needs of people in emergencies for sexual and reproductive health services, a response to gender-based violence, and mental health care.

Our strategic humanitarian priorities for 2020 are to: improve preparedness and prepositioning, strengthen leadership, and enhance operational capacity.

In the past six months, we scaled up the gender-based violence response and reproductive health services provision by specialists in our regional hubs, which provide technical and capacity-building support to our country offices for timely emergency action.

Since we last met in September, UNFPA shipped reproductive health kits to serve up to two-and-a-half million people in humanitarian and fragile settings.

In 2019, the UNFPA surge team deployed 129 personnel to 29 countries – up 35 per cent from the previous year.

Notably, we were among the first responders after Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, and we had a fully functional team on the ground within just 72 hours after Cyclones Idai and Kenneth stormed Mozambique.

None of these humanitarian actions would be possible without the tremendous support of Member States for the unique role UNFPA plays. I also acknowledge with gratitude our colleagues working in hardship settings, who continually provide capable and selfless service to women and girls in their time of need.  

Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

Protection from sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment remains a key priority for UNFPA and the UN system. With robust tools and procedures now in place, our focus is to ensure that systems work effectively. UNFPA upholds zero tolerance for sexual harassment, abuse of authority, or disrespectful behavior in our workplace.

In September, I will be pleased to assume the role of Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Champion on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) and Sexual Harassment, promoting survivor-centered approaches and increased investment in sustainable, quality service delivery. 


Mr. President,

I am heartened to report that last year UNFPA received record financial support. While we are still counting contributions, combined 2019 revenue currently stands at over $1.3 billion US dollars.

I am encouraged to note that for 2019 core funding should exceed our target of $350 million US dollars.

Co-financing for 2019 also stands at a record $940 million US dollars.

Going forward, UNFPA will continue to collaborate with international and regional financing institutions, in making the case for increased investments in the health and wellbeing of women, adolescents and young people.

We are immensely grateful to all our longstanding, consistent donors, without whom our vital programmes would not be able to forge ahead. I also thank programme countries for their increasing contributions.

Today, we launch the UNFPA 2020 Core Mobilization Campaign. Our donor partners are proudly listed in the brochures you have before you. We attach great importance to the structured funding dialogues and the UN Funding Compact as vehicles to expand our donor base. We will remain in harmony with other UN agencies in further improving such dialogues and progressing towards fulfilling Funding Compact commitments. In this, further to the 2018 decision, continued guidance from the Board will be essential and we remain at your disposal, counting upon every country’s engagement and support to kickstart the Decade of Action.

2020 Census

The 2020 population census round is under way. The aim? To ensure that everyone is counted. With just 10 years to go to transform our world, our efforts must be based on high-quality data and evidence. So far, 33 UNFPA programme countries have finished census enumeration, with 46 to follow this year and another 39 countries in 2021.

Such a huge undertaking is not without challenges.  UNFPA enjoys the trust of government statistical and planning divisions, and we offer all we can by way of strong technical support to governments in these census efforts.

The new Population Data Thematic Fund will build much-needed capacity for the modern electronic census and ensure that these data inform development in a timely way.

Staff movements

Mr. President,

I am pleased to welcome back into the UNFPA fold Mr. Harold Robinson, who rejoined the Organization as Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean in October. I also welcome Ms. Leanne Kinsella, who joined UNFPA as Ethics Adviser in October.

Finally, I offer our profound thanks to our outstanding Deputy Executive Director (Management), Ms. Laura Londén, who departs UNFPA this month, having made enormous contributions, particularly through her leadership on change management and UN reform. It has been a great pleasure to work with Laura over the past four years. She helped steer the agency skillfully and safely through unforeseen developments, and on occasion difficult times, with her signature level-headedness and optimism. I know I speak on behalf of us all in saying that we’ll miss you, Laura. We wish you the very best in your exciting next chapter.

Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Executive Board,

I’d like to close with this favorite proverb: The bird soars through the air ... yet its eye is on the ground.

As UNFPA soars on the wings of the Nairobi Summit, as we aim ever higher towards our ambitious goals for women and girls, we keep our eyes steadily focused on the ground – upon what is needed to uphold the rights and dignity of the women, adolescent girls, young people and families we serve.

Our blueprint for action, based on the UNFPA strategic plan, couched in the SDGs and the ICPD Programme of Action, is clear. We know what we have to do — now, we know how much it will cost, and most of all we know why we do it.

Women can’t afford to wait another 25 years. Nor should they have to.

All eyes, all efforts, and all our energy are fixed on a single number and a simple vision: zero.

Zero barriers to contraception and reproductive health care.

Zero preventable deaths in pregnancy and childbirth.

Zero gender-based violence. Zero child marriages. Zero cases of female genital mutilation.

Zero is closer than ever before — thanks to UNFPA’s worldwide work on high-quality data and evidence; thanks to the strategic support and unwavering commitment shown by you, our Executive Board; and thanks to our collective resolve and insistence on fighting for a better future for girls, for women, for young people, to not leave anyone behind who is marginalized anywhere in the world.

Uplifted and inspired by the galvanizing force of the Nairobi Summit, situated within the ICPD and SDG agendas, I am most confident that together we will make the next ten years, years of results – to transform our world and the lives of the millions of women and girls who depend upon us for action.

I thank the Board, and you, Mr. President, for your constant and thoughtful stewardship, and I look forward to our interaction this morning.

Thank you.

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