Statement of the Executive Director to the Annual Session of the Executive Board 2018

5 June 2018

Mr. President,
Distinguished Delegates,
Dear Colleagues

Good morning! It is a pleasure to join you for this Annual Session of the Executive Board. I am very appreciative that the discussions since last Friday have been so constructive and forward-looking. And I am also very appreciative to Member States for yesterday’s touching moment of remembrance and celebration of the life of Dr. Babatunde.

Mr. President,

The UNFPA strategic plan for 2014-2017 set ambitious targets for increasing access to sexual and reproductive health services, including – and especially – in parts of the world torn apart by war or devastated by natural disasters.

These services have empowered millions of women to make their own decisions about whether, when or how often to become pregnant. They have enabled millions of teenagers to avoid unplanned pregnancy, and to make safe and healthy transitions to adulthood. And they have slowed the unnecessary and cruel tide of maternal death.

I had a chance recently to see firsthand the tremendous humanitarian response by UNFPA during my visit to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh last month. The services UNFPA is providing to Rohingya refugees in the camps are truly a lifeline for women and girls – many of whom have suffered unimaginable hardship, brutality, and often, sexual violence.

One by one the women and girls I met spoke to me about the difference our “Shanti Khana”, or havens of peace, that we have in the camps have made in their lives.

As one woman said to a case worker upon arrival at one of the UNFPA women-friendly safe spaces: “I walked for 30 minutes to reach this ‘peace house’, not for food, not for medicine, but to find inner peace so I can continue with my life.”

This is the life-transforming work UNFPA is doing in humanitarian settings around the world, helping restore peace of mind, health and well-being for countless women and girls, creating safe spaces, providing psychosocial support, handing out hygiene and protection items in our dignity kits, setting up health clinics and deploying midwives.

Ensuring, in the words of our campaign, Safe Birth…Even Here. Even here in a refugee camp, or in conflict, or on the move.

The annual report that you have before you highlights our accomplishments over the past four years. And I am proud to say that UNFPA made steady progress towards achieving the results that we set for ourselves in our previous strategic plan. 

Overall, 58 million women and young people in UNFPA priority countries utilized integrated sexual and reproductive health services during the strategic plan period 2014 to 2017.

Contraceptives provided by UNFPA during this period helped avert nearly 49 million unintended pregnancies, 15 million unsafe abortions, 125,000 maternal deaths and 200,000 new HIV infections.

All regions made progress towards achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health and realizing reproductive rights. And the fastest progress was seen in regions that included primarily UNFPA priority countries, except for those regions affected by active humanitarian crises. This was particularly true for the least developed countries – countries that utilized 54 per cent of the UNFPA programme budget.

Globally, the maternal mortality ratio declined by 37 per cent between the year 2000 and the year 2015. And the decline in the least developed countries and in countries in East and Southern Africa was steepest in the latter years, between 2010 and 2015.

Adolescent childbearing fell by 21 per cent globally between 2000 and 2015, with a particularly sharp drop in Southern Asia, where adolescent births fell by more than half. And again, we saw the pace of decline accelerate in the latter five years, between 2010 and 2015. So this is very good news.

We also have good news on child marriage, which declined in all regions. Around 2010, one in three women between the ages of 20 and 24 had been married before the age of 18. By around 2017, that ratio had dropped to one in five.  For girls under age 15, the decline was four times faster between 2010 and 2017 than in the preceding five years.

Progress in satisfying unmet need for family planning also accelerated between 2010 and 2017 in the least developed countries and sub-Saharan Africa.  And partnerships have been one of the keys to this success.

Thanks to the Family Planning 2020 partnership, for example, whose reference group UNFPA co-chairs, along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, more than 309 million women and adolescent girls in 69 of the world’s poorest countries were using modern contraception by 2017.

And births by skilled attendants increased by 12 per cent between 2010 and 2016. Here again, the increase was fastest in the least developed countries. In Southern Asia, it almost doubled.

We saw significant progress in our key results for adolescents and youth – progress in laws, policies, advocacy and programming. As one example – 38 countries aligned national comprehensive sexuality education curricula with international standards. Another example – 1.3 million marginalized girls in UNFPA programme countries benefited from life-skills programming in 2017.

With regard to gender equality, women’s and girls’ empowerment and reproductive rights, we saw a change in awareness and attitudes in several programme countries. In a number of countries, for example, the perception that a man would be justified in hitting or beating his wife or partner was well on the decline.

The prevalence of female genital mutilation also declined. With support from the UNFPA-UNICEF joint programme on female genital mutilation/cutting, nearly 9,000 communities publicly declared the abandonment of female genital mutilation over the past four years. This translates into more than 800,000 girls, who are now growing up free from this harmful practice.

Finally, when it comes to population data and analysis, which is the bedrock of UNFPA programming, 90 per cent of the national development plans developed during the strategic plan period addressed population dynamics. A number of countries integrated the demographic dividend into their national plans, while other countries developed strategies and policies on ageing and integrated the rights of the older persons into their national policies and programmes.

And 135 countries implemented the 2010 census round, strengthened their population data systems, and most importantly, used census data to inform policies and programmes. 

I hope you will be able to join us for the special briefing on Population Dynamics and Sustainable Development in the Europe and Central Asia Region, which will follow this morning’s session.

UNFPA is pleased to co-host this event because this region is at the forefront of a global demographic transformation, which has big implications for sustainable development, as well as individual health, rights and wellbeing.

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates,

As I said, partnerships played a very important role in the achievement of these results. That includes our partnership with you and your governments, and I thank you for your support, collaboration and guidance.

As a result, year on year, millions of women, adolescents and young people around the world have been progressively able to exercise their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

It is clear that we have made concrete progress. This is a testament to the work of our teams on the ground and also to our partnership with you as Board members. You have given your time and have patiently worked with us to build an organization that is more responsive, efficient, effective and innovative. Yet, we know we still have a ways to go to achieve all the results we have set for ourselves.

Untold millions of women and girls are still at risk of unintended pregnancy, of death in pregnancy or childbirth, or practices that keep girls from realizing their full potential.

In 2018, this is simply unacceptable.

And that is why, as we move forward, we are using the lessons learned over the past four years to strengthen and expand our efforts to deliver even stronger results during the current strategic plan period, 2018 to 2021. Where there are gaps, we are addressing them through an integrated programme support initiative, already under way and connecting country, regional and headquarters colleagues.

This has been possible also thanks to a strong evaluation function, as reported by the Director of Evaluation. In 2017, 95 per cent of UNFPA evaluations were rated as of good quality or above; 100 per cent of evaluations had management responses, of which 84 per cent were implemented. By investing in good quality evaluations, and making sure that they are used for decision making, we are making UNFPA stronger and better able to deliver strong results.

We continue to be ambitious, and we are guided by our overall goal of universal access to sexual and reproductive health and the realization of reproductive rights.

UNFPA held its senior leadership meeting in March, where we had a series of energizing and strategic discussions. Our leadership is passionate, committed and focused on working in true partnership to achieve by 2030 the three transformative results outlined in our new strategic plan.

Together we are determined to end preventable maternal deaths, end unmet need for family planning, and end harmful practices and violence against women and girls, basing our efforts on quality population data and analysis to leave no one behind. And we are using these three results to drive partnership, advocacy and resource mobilization.

Currently, we are doing so through a private giving campaign for Rohingya refugees with our Goodwill Ambassador Ashley Judd, part of our “Safe Birth Even Here” initiative. I invite you to turn now to a very brief video about the campaign from Ashley’s trip to Cox’s Bazar earlier this year.

We are enormously grateful to Ashley Judd for shedding light on the plight of Rohingya women and girls and the strong need for increased support. We also thank her for generously committing to match the individual donations received. 

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates,

On the subject of funding, let me say how pleased and grateful we are for the support provided by Member States to UNFPA in 2017. And I thank those who have already committed to funding UNFPA in 2018.

We are hopeful that we will meet our targets this year, but more efforts are needed to ensure the Strategic Plan is fully funded for its entire four-year duration. This is key to set UNFPA on the path to meet our three transformative results by the year 2030. To this end, we are intensifying our Funding Dialogue, and we encourage all Member States to engage.  

We would also like to encourage Member States to make their contributions early in the year to enable better planning. Moreover, multi-year core commitments are truly the best investment you can make in UNFPA to ensure sustainable, lasting results.

We applaud all donors who so far have been able to increase support to UNFPA in 2018 – among them, Norway, Italy and New Zealand. In particular, I would like to thank Sweden for its new multi-year commitment of more than 278 million USD over the duration of the strategic plan from 2018 to 2021. The downward trend in core funding remains a challenge, and Sweden's contribution will go a long way towards ensuring UNFPA is fit to deliver on our three ambitious results and the achievement of universal sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. We hope that Sweden's example, and Belgium’s example, will inspire others to commit to multi-year core funding.

Every contribution is important, and is a sign of political support for the rights of women and girls. We hope that this year we can reach 150 contributors to core funding.

For non-core funding, many donors have stepped up. I particularly want to thank Canada and Australia for significant new support. Canada has increased support to UNFPA’s humanitarian response, and UNFPA and Australia have concluded a new transformative agenda in support of women and girls in the Pacific.

Mr. President,

We are hard at work to ensure the UNFPA funding architecture is best equipped to deliver our strategic plan results. This evening, we are introducing a new Humanitarian Action Thematic Fund. Humanitarian funding needs remain high, and we continue to face a gap in funding of around 50 per cent.

The past four years witnessed unprecedented increases in the scope, frequency and complexity of humanitarian emergencies. By 2017, 128 million people needed humanitarian services, in comparison to 76 million people in 2014.

In the midst of complex and challenging crises, in Syria, Yemen, northeast Nigeria, and other countries, we at UNFPA were able to ramp up our humanitarian operations and achieve significant results between 2014 and 2017. With UNFPA support, 41 million women and adolescent girls in more than 70 countries were reached with services for sexual and reproductive health and to prevent and address gender-based violence.

A continuing source of pride for me is the humanitarian leadership being demonstrated by UNFPA humanitarian teams in some of the most complex and dangerous settings on earth, and I know that with your support our teams will continue to stand and deliver for women and girls everywhere.

Another thing that we’re proud of is UNFPA’s unwavering commitment to advancing young people’s health, well-being and rights, including their right to participation. As part of the UN-wide initiatives on youth, UNFPA is committed to continue co-leading the work on Youth, Peace and Security, and the Compact on Youth in Humanitarian Action. These will be embedded in the overarching UN Youth Strategy with its scope reflecting the consensus of the United Nations system on the collective agenda for young people.

We at UNFPA are very proud to have supported, in partnership with the Peacebuilding Support Office, the development of “The Missing Peace: Independent Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security”, which was mandated by Security Council resolution 2250 in 2015.

Last month, the Security Council organized an Open Debate on the study, whose findings reinforce the call of the ICPD Programme of Action and its reviews for meeting the needs and aspirations of youth, and ensuring their participation in the political process and their preparation for leadership roles.

This study amplifies the voices of young people and highlights the multiple ways that young people are working for peace and security, and I commend our staff for their work in bringing this important and timely endeavor to fruition. 

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates,

Advancing the ICPD and 2030 agendas requires action and stronger partnerships. And this is exactly where we are focusing our efforts so that we – working together with United Nations, with civil society, and with private sector partners – can better support countries' national development, humanitarian action and peacebuilding.

Implementing the new strategic plan, while navigating the shifting funding environment and the ongoing UN Reform, will also require a change in the way that UNFPA supports intergovernmental and multilateral processes.

Over the past several months, we have heard the very valuable views expressed by many of you, calling for a more coherent, systematic approach to this work, an approach informed by evidence, data, multi-disciplinary thinking and national practices.

I have also heard your calls for us to further support national institutions to strategically engage in intergovernmental processes, ensuring the nexus between these processes and programme implementation at the country level.

This has led to a decision to revisit the way that UNFPA is structured to carry out this work. As I alluded to earlier this month during my meeting with the Bureau of the Board and during last week’s informal session, this will entail realigning the current structures of the Division of Governance and Multilateral Affairs (DGM) within the broader structures of the Fund, including – for example – the transfer of the Executive Board Branch from DGM to the Executive Office.

Last week, I circulated – one month ahead of schedule - my vision for this work. The envisaged changes will be fully implemented by September of this year, by which time I will provide additional updates on this aspect to the Board.

As we implement these changes, our top priority is to ensure continuity in our work and in our support to Member States. As I have stated before, the Comprehensive Resources Review was not intended as a simple cost-cutting exercise. Rather, we have striven to ensure that UNFPA is fit for purpose.

We count on the Board’s continued engagement and support, as we work to equip UNFPA to deliver on the expectations of the new Strategic Plan, of the 2030 Agenda and of the UN Reform – all while implementing changes to ensure optimal use of UNFPA resources at Headquarters, at regional offices, in our liaison offices and country offices.

I would also like to add that, at our recent leadership meeting, senior staff across all levels of the organization pledged to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse at UNFPA. This is something we are taking seriously, and I am personally committed to making zero tolerance a reality. Towards this end, as many of you will know, I have designated Laura Londén, Deputy Executive Director (Management), as the senior focal point for Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Sexual Harassment at UNFPA.

At this juncture, I would also like to formally welcome Dereje Wordofa, our new Deputy Executive Director (Programme), to his first Executive Board session. Dereje joined in April, and we are very pleased to have him on board.

I would also like to warmly welcome our new Chief of Staff, Pio Smith, who joined UNFPA in March.

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates,

There is no denying that the sexual and reproductive health and rights agenda is under threat.  And we are doing our best to stand strong and tell a powerful story, backed by strong results, about the impact being made to save lives and to uphold human rights.

We know that our work in advancing this agenda makes a major contribution to sustainable development. This was backed most recently by the new report of the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission – which is a collaboration of global health, development and human rights experts from around the world – and it calls for accelerated progress towards sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.

UNFPA launched this report with the Commission Chairs in Johannesburg on May 9th this year, and its findings galvanized forces at the recent World Health Assembly in Geneva with the focus on health and human rights for all – and for more equitable development.

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates,

Fifty years ago last month the world proclaimed family planning a basic human right at the first International Conference on Human Rights. We have seen significant progress since then.

For the first time in history, ​nearly 700 million women and adolescent girls in developing countries now use modern contraceptives – the best means of exercising the right to determine the number and spacing of one’s children.

And yet, with more than 200 million women who want to avoid pregnancy still lacking modern contraceptives, it is clear that we cannot take this right for granted. We still need to defend it every day. All of us at UNFPA are committed to being bold, vocal and visible in defending sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights for all.

Next year marks another 50th anniversary. In 2019, UNFPA will celebrate five decades of operations, as the world also marks 25 years since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. This presents a historic opportunity for the global community to recommit to, to celebrate and to advance the groundbreaking Cairo agenda to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

In the coming months, the United Nations Regional Economic Commissions, with the support of UNFPA and other partners, will undertake reviews of the implementation of the ICPD since the adoption of their respective regional review outcomes in 2013.

The results of the reviews will guide implementation in the regions for the next five years and are therefore important for our work to achieve our three transformative results.

The regional reports and outcomes will also inform the Secretary-General’s report for the 52nd session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) to take place in April 2019. That session will be devoted to the global review and appraisal of the implementation of the ICPD and will also contribute to the High Level Political Forum later on in 2019.

The ICPD agenda is central to the efforts of the United Nations to leave no one behind. Therefore, we all have a special responsibility to ensure that the issues, the principles, and the work that underpin the agenda are safeguarded and advanced.

These efforts and more are put more at risk when the Commission on Population and Development is unable to find consensus and support our life-saving work. We need your support to ensure that the decisions of next year’s Commission on Population and Development reinforce the ICPD consensus and enhance the health, well-being and opportunities of women, girls and young people everywhere.

For our part, I do assure you that we at UNFPA will not stop until every woman and every girl, across the globe, has the power, information and means to shape her own destiny. A cause worth fighting for, and a mandate that UNFPA defends every day, everywhere.

Thank you.