Statement of the Executive Director to the 1st Regular Session of the Executive Board 2021

03 Feb 2021

Good morning! Before we begin, may I invite you to watch a brief video. It shows that despite the challenges of the past year, our march continues to make sure promises made to the world’s women and girls at the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development are promises kept.

Madam President,
Distinguished Members of the Executive Board,
Colleagues and friends,

A very happy and healthy new year to everyone. Congratulations, Ambassador Stoeva, on your election as President of the Executive Board, and a warm welcome to the rest of the Bureau: Ambassadors Rabab Fatima of Bangladesh, Lang Yabou of the Gambia, and Yoka Brandt of the Netherlands. We at UNFPA look forward to working closely with all of you in the year to come.

I offer our deepest thanks to Ambassador Walton Webson and the outgoing Bureau for their superlative guidance in 2020 – a year that tested all of us.

We are not out of the woods yet. COVID-19 and its consequences will be with us for a while, and so we continue to learn and adapt, to look for opportunities to innovate and to work smarter.

As requested by the Executive Board, this morning I will be addressing the impacts of COVID on our work.

One year on, there are some clear takeaways:

First and foremost, we mustn’t take our foot off the accelerator. The pandemic shows just how relevant and vital UNFPA’s mandate remains – and it shows the terrible things that can happen when access to essential sexual and reproductive health services is undermined.

As all too often, when crisis strikes, it is women and girls who bear the brunt, and COVID is no exception.

As rates of domestic violence soar, it is their safety at risk – their human rights. When sexual and reproductive health care is deemed inessential, and access to contraception and life-saving maternal health care becomes constrained, the health of women and girls falls into jeopardy. As children stay home and family members fall ill, it is women who bear the burden of care.

Girls under so-called ‘lockdowns’ who are out of school are highly vulnerable to harm. UNFPA has documented surging adolescent pregnancy. Child marriages and female genital mutilation are on the rise, and as always, it is the poorest girls who are victimized. History sadly teaches us that many of those girls, once forced to drop out of school, will likely never return.

The pandemic is likely to reduce progress towards ending gender-based violence and female genital mutilation before 2030 by fully one third. Disruptions in interventions to end child marriage could result in an additional 13 million child marriages that otherwise would not have occurred between 2020 and 2030.

We have to stop this tragedy in its tracks. We can’t afford not to.

Our COVID response has reaffirmed the centrality of the three UNFPA transformative results: zero unmet need for contraception; zero needless deaths during pregnancy and childbirth; and an end to gender-based violence, including harmful practices such as child marriage and FGM—all based on good population data. It underscores the need for a human rights-based approach, adaptive programming and universal health coverage that leaves no one behind.

The rights and needs of women and girls are not negotiable. UNFPA is committed to keeping these rights front and centre on the international development agenda, even in the face of headwinds.

Sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights: that is the driving force behind our new strategic plan – and our intention to use it for acceleration and scale up. Yes, the pandemic has set us back, yet we will continue to raise our ambition to deliver on the promise of Cairo.

We have a choice to make:  Fall back? Or step up? For UNFPA, the choice is clear: full steam ahead. This means we adapt. We innovate. We partner.

Power of partnership

The power of partnership is key to our efforts to accelerate progress. This includes valuable longstanding partnerships with the World Health Organization to advance Universal Health Coverage agenda, featuring universal sexual and reproductive health. We partner with UNICEF to end child marriage and female genital mutilation, and with the European Union and Spotlight Initiative partners to end gender-based violence and make the Secretary-General’s call for ‘peace in the home’ a reality. UNFPA co-leads the Beijing+25 Generation Equality Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. We and our coalition partners are committed to advocacy and action to defy practices that harm women and girls and undermine gender equality and human rights.

As we continue to leverage these collaborative efforts, we also seek new, diverse partnerships that can help take our results to scale.

UNFPA and academic partners estimate that it will take an investment of around US$26.4 billion per year through 2030 to achieve the ‘three zeros’. This is far in excess of current investment. Realistically, these resources may be even harder to come by as countries grapple with the economic fallout of COVID-19. Achieving our transformative results, therefore, will require accelerating a shift from funding to financing.

That is why getting the partnerships piece of the equation right is so essential. This includes building on our relationships with governments and international financial institutions to help countries unlock and implement the financing needed.

The renewed UNFPA Supplies Partnership is one example of how we are helping to reinvigorate and strengthen engagement by a wide range of partners to bring the benefits of family planning to every woman who wants it over the next ten years.

Last year, the private sector more than doubled its contributions to UNFPA. We mobilized just over $41 million, of which $8 million went towards our COVID-19 response. 

Overall in 2020, we signed 114 new partnership agreements and attracted 70 first-time partners from corporations, foundations, civil society, academia and other sectors. This is due to the results orientation, hard work and creative joint endeavours in our Country Offices, Regional Offices and at Headquarters.

We need to go further still. The new UNFPA Strategic Plan 2022-2025 will be a global call to action. To this end, we are building on the success of the current plan.

While we continue to seek efficiencies and improve our operational performance, investing in our capacity to bring others to the table, mobilize the innovative financing and investments needed, and agree on a common way forward will be game-changing for women and girls.

That is perhaps the biggest takeaway from the pandemic: We have to work together, guided by evidence and data. That drives our commitment to innovate and be results-oriented. No country, organization or entity can address a crisis of this magnitude alone. As the Secretary-General said in his Nelson Mandela lecture: “We stand together, or we fall apart.”

UN Reform and QCPR

This requires greater UN cohesion, too. The COVID-19 response shows that a “reformed” UN system can collectively deliver in times of crisis, under the leadership of the Secretary-General and the Resident Coordinators.

On behalf of the UNSDG Core Group, UNFPA leads efforts to develop a common approach to policy and technical support to multi-country offices. We look forward to continued engagement with the Executive Board on this.

UNFPA welcomes the adoption of the 2020 Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR). We especially welcome the resolution’s focus on leaving no one behind, in language that reaffirms the relevance of the UNFPA mandate, vis-à-vis gender, data and human rights, as well as on young people, people with disabilities, universal health care and climate and the environment.

UNFPA is already working closely with our UN partners to ensure appropriate alignment and sequencing of the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework and country programme document processes. We have taken deliberate steps over the past year to enhance the quality of our CPDs and to implement corporate commitments to the UNDS reform and the QCPR in regards to programming.


Madam President,

COVID-19 is deepening inequalities — and putting hard-earned gains achieved over decades at risk. Yet we believe that it also offers opportunities for innovation and transformation. 

We are implementing various change and realignment initiatives to ensure we continue to function in an integrated, results-focused, agile and innovative way. The enterprise resource planning (ERP) project will streamline important processes and greatly improve efficiency, effectiveness and integration with our partners.

I am pleased to report that UNFPA once again received a clean audit from the Board of Auditors for the year ended 31 December 2019. We successfully implemented 22 out of 27 recommendations, and we are making progress on pending items. We continue to aim for top-notch operational performance and to further strengthen and learn from proactive oversight and monitoring activities, including the UNFPA audits and evaluations, such as the formative evaluation of UNFPA support to South-South and triangular cooperation which the Board will take up later today.

COVID-19 and the Strategic Plan 2022-2025

Madam President,

As the video we saw earlier highlights, UNFPA is committed – together with our partners – to making the voluntary Nairobi Commitments real in the lives of women and girls everywhere, so that we can deliver on the Cairo consensus.

The period of the next Strategic Plan, 2022-2025, will be pivotal. Women and girls across the globe deserve an ambitious plan. We must build on the energy and momentum from ICPD25, using strong evaluative evidence and the lessons we are learning from the pandemic response to build forward better.

I am pleased to report that Mr. Arthur Erken, former Director of the Division of Communications and Strategic Partnerships, has taken up the reins as Director of the Policy and Strategy Division (PSD). His skills, experience and vision will be instrumental in shepherding the new strategic plan to fruition in close consultation with the Executive Board and other stakeholders. I thank Ms. Jaqueline Mahon for having ably stepped in as Acting Director of PSD during a challenging year last year. Mr. Klaus Simoni-Pedersen, Chief of the Resource Mobilization Branch, will serve as the Director ad interim of the Division of Communications and Strategic Partnerships.

Innovation for impact

We know a lot about what works and we are taking lessons from our COVID response about what is needed, and what is possible, to accelerate progress.

Innovation is another important accelerator.

Today, innovations in digital health and population data are helping UNFPA to identify and reach those furthest behind. Our entrepreneurial country teams are designing and testing new ways to empower communities, enhance midwifery skills and improve maternal health services.

We are scaling up investment to improve population data quality, usability and accessibility, and building country capacities in the use of geo-spatial information to map vulnerability. Our COVID-19 Population Vulnerability dashboard, with information from more than 200 countries, and the Intimate Partner Violence Dashboard, covering over 100 countries, with subnational data, are two examples.

We are embracing every opportunity to leverage these technologies and predictive tools to transform the way health data are collected and used so that health systems work better for everyone. And we are working with WHO and SDG3 Global Action Plan partners to do so.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. The COVID pandemic has forced us to respond in new ways to continue the provision of life-saving services in countries with weak health systems and in difficult conditions.

Digital technologies are enabling doctors, midwives, nurses and other health professionals to reach people who faced difficulty obtaining medical care even before the pandemic.

In Brazil, El Salvador and so many other countries, telemedicine is helping us reach pregnant women unable to access health services due to lockdown measures, financial pressures or their fear of contracting the virus.

Hotlines are providing lifelines for domestic violence victims. 

Together with WHO, we are supporting self-care and home-based interventions for sexual and reproductive health.

Mobile rescue brigades are providing information, case management and referral pathways to women affected by gender-based violence in hard-to-reach communities.

In Moldova, an innovative partnership with the telecommunication company Moldcell is mobilizing young people to help older persons access social services during the pandemic while developing older people's digital skills.

When pandemic restrictions curtailed in-person life skills programmes for adolescent girls, messages shifted to radio in Uganda, Ghana and Yemen and to television in Mozambique.

Social media and messaging services became main communication channels for the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage in a number of countries.

Outreach workers in Egypt called women to make sure they kept family planning on track. In Nepal, quarantine centres were turned into family planning centres, and Eswatini deployed messaging services to address family planning needs.

In 2020, adaptive programming enabled UNFPA and our partners to reach nearly 50 million women and young people with sexual and reproductive health services. We supported training of over 470,000 health workers to provide COVID-19 related services. And as a result of our advocacy efforts, 87 per cent of country COVID response plans prioritized action to address gender-based violence.

These innovations offer a roadmap for expanding access to services post-pandemic.


Madam President,

I applaud UNFPA personnel across the globe, who continue to deliver despite intense challenges and personal risks, including in conflict and humanitarian settings. We pay tribute to those whose lives have been lost and mourn with those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic. Staff well-being is a priority for the organization, and UNFPA continues to take our duty of care obligations seriously.

Humanitarian action

Amid a global pandemic, UNFPA continues to meet the needs of women and girls in complex crises in Yemen, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Venezuela, the Central Sahel region and the Horn of Africa.

In December, UNFPA launched our 2021 Humanitarian Action Overview, appealing for $818 million to help the world’s most vulnerable women and girls access contraception when they wish to avoid pregnancy, receive the care they need to deliver safely, and benefit from services to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. The size of this appeal speaks to the unprecedented humanitarian need around the world, now exacerbated by COVID-19. The proportion of UNFPA humanitarian funding continues to grow as well, increasing to around 38 per cent of co-financing received in 2020.  Of approximately $270 million received for humanitarian action, about $94 million was for COVID-19.

UNFPA remains at the forefront of major crises, with anticipatory actions that allow for a rapid, effective response. In addition to championing protection from sexual exploitation and abuse this year, we are advancing our work on localization, case management, community-awareness and safe reporting mechanisms.

We continue to develop new humanitarian partnerships aligned with our priorities, including those emerging from the recent Humanitarian Capacity Development initiative and exercise.

With growing resources, we recognize the importance of demonstrating our effectiveness, agility, relevance and capacity to deliver results and impact.

Moving forward, UNFPA is working to implement the recommendations of the humanitarian capacity evaluation, and we will report back on progress in more detail at the annual session of the Board.

One highlight is our new humanitarian supplies strategy, which will strengthen our capacity to deliver lifesaving supplies to the right place at the right time.

UNFPA is working closely with OCHA and other partners to bolster financing to address gender-based violence in emergencies.

Addressing inequalities, racism and discrimination

Despite challenges, UNFPA stayed the course in 2020, standing strong to assist women and girls in their time of need. Since the outset of the pandemic, UNFPA has been vocal in highlighting the increased risks facing women, adolescent girls, the elderly, indigenous peoples, people of African descent, and other marginalized groups.

I am very proud to lead an agency with a solid track record of hiring and promoting a diverse and competent staff. That said, I am aware that numbers don’t tell the whole story and we are engaging in candid internal conversations on the issue of racism and discrimination in our workplace.



Let me be absolutely clear: UNFPA has a zero tolerance policy towards any misconduct or abusive behavior, zero tolerance policy towards all forms of harassment and zero tolerance towards discrimination, which includes any discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation or disability. And let me also be unequivocal: zero tolerance means zero tolerance – no matter what the grade or nationality is of any guilty member of staff.  

As we work to address the widening inequalities COVID-19 has laid bare, we will continue to work to address discrimination and structural inequalities at UNFPA, to counter racism, and to foster a culture of civility, respect for diversity and inclusion. Our success in advancing equality and inclusion within UNFPA will determine our success in universally achieving our ambitious goals as UNFPA.

Preventing harassment, exploitation and abuse

Preventing sexual exploitation, harassment and all forms of abuse both within UNFPA and among those we work with remains a top priority.

Last month, I assumed the Inter-Agency Standing Committee for Humanitarian Affairs, or IASC, Championship on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Sexual Harassment.

My focus is on three core priorities:

  1. Bolstering country mechanisms
  2. Improving access to quality assistance and information
  3. Strengthening coordination and coherence.

This is a unique opportunity for UNFPA to advance the PSEAH agenda across the humanitarian system and to place the rights and dignity of victims and survivors at the centre of our efforts.

Resource outlook and Integrated Budget


Madam President,

Allow me to turn next to the UNFPA funding situation. For 2020, while we await a final count of contributions, I am pleased to report that UNFPA exceeded 2020 funding targets. Overall, resource contributions are expected to come in at over US$1.2 billion, fully 21 percent above our $1 billion target.  Core funding is expected to come in at around $416 million and co-financing at $793 million – both exceeding 2020 targets.

We are extremely grateful to all our steadfast donors, without whom our vital programmes would not be able to continue. We remain firmly committed to supporting our Member State partners, providing increasing transparency, showcasing results, and ensuring visibility for their contributions. Core funding remains the organizational bedrock for the results we collectively achieve, and as we have seen in the pandemic, core funds enabled our agile response.

Last year, however, UNFPA’s coalition of core contributors fell below 100 for the first time in a decade. To achieve the target that Member States have set in the UN Funding Compact and Structured Funding Dialogues, we will need to further expand and diversify our donor base. Contributions from programme countries are critical in this endeavor.

Today, I launch our UNFPA 2021 core donor campaign. Our objective is to regain ground lost and reach the aspirational target of 150 countries as core contributors. Therefore, we humbly ask all Member States this year to translate your support for the UNFPA mandate into concrete financial terms, even if modest. To achieve this, we count on all countries to once again make early contributions.

The 2022-2025 Integrated Budget, just like the Strategic Plan, is under preparation in times of unprecedented uncertainty, especially with regards to income projections. At the same time, UNFPA has an ambitious and highly relevant mandate, vitally underpinning the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Getting early indications from our key donors on their contributions will best enable us to develop the budget.  


Madam President,

Distinguished Members of the Executive Board

Our forward march that began in Cairo in 1994 continues. Even amidst the COVID crisis, I am encouraged. I look to the horizon, optimistic about the unlimited possibilities when we see governments and advocates rally behind sexual and reproductive health and rights.

I am confident that the lessons UNFPA is learning will help us embrace the values, attitudes and action we need to make good on our promise to every 10-year-old girl, wherever she may be.

During the coming year, UNFPA will be called upon once again to stand strong in upholding her rights. You may count upon UNFPA to be there to advocate and provide sexual and reproductive health services for her, her family and her community. In turn, we count on the Executive Board’s continued partnership, guidance and support to help us make sure that she is not left out or left behind, that she lives her life healthy, free of harm, and in control of her destiny.

Thank you.

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