Statement of the Executive Director to the Annual Session of the Executive Board 2019

03 Jun 2019

Mr. President,
Distinguished Delegates,
Dear Colleagues and Friends,

Good morning! It is a pleasure to join you for this Annual Session of the Executive Board.

There is a saying: Starting is easy, persevering an art.

In this our 50th year, and as we look back on achievements since the landmark International Conference on Population and Development 25 years ago, we have much to be proud of – the result of five decades of passionate perseverance.

Together with our partners, we have made steady progress. I thank you, Members of the Executive Board, and your governments for your continued partnership and support. We appreciate and will continue to seek your strategic guidance on the Fund’s work and priorities.

This year, we celebrate the global movement for reproductive rights and choices that began, like UNFPA, in the 1960s, and gained impetus and inspiration in Cairo in 1994. A movement that has transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of women and girls.

The ICPD, together with other important global conferences in the 1990s, from Rio to Vienna to Beijing and Copenhagen, provided a unique opportunity to recalibrate development, to integrate human rights and social justice into our thinking and planning and to locate women at the heart of the development agenda.  The Millennium Development Goals era followed, and now, there is a real sense that the Sustainable Development Goals are creating the political space to achieve what was envisaged in the mid-1990s through Agenda 2030.

At UNFPA, we were encouraged by the 52nd session of the Commission on Population and Development and its Political Declaration reaffirming the ICPD Programme of Action. Delegates agreed that the principles of the ICPD are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. We at UNFPA could not agree more.

This means that the global community also needs to acknowledge and affirm that sexual and reproductive health and rights, the core of ICPD, must be part and parcel of Universal Health Coverage. There can be no UHC without sexual and reproductive health.

That was my message to the World Health Assembly two weeks ago. It is a message we will continue to make loud and clear as the movement for Universal Health Coverage gains ever greater momentum in the lead up to the high-level meeting on UHC in September.

Together with our partners, including Member States, UNFPA is working for the inclusion of an essential package of sexual and reproductive health services within UHC policies, so that national plans and programmes respond to the needs of their people – all their people.

We want to achieve the “universal” in Universal Health Coverage. This means ensuring that health systems are equipped to deliver sexual and reproductive health services to all, regardless of who they are, where they live, their income level or their circumstances—even when they are displaced by conflict or disaster. 

Two weeks ago UNFPA cohosted the Oslo Conference on Ending Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Humanitarian Crises. There is widespread recognition that we desperately need to turn the tide on such violence, including rape in war. And there is growing global momentum to do so.

UNFPA is committed to strengthening prevention, protecting those at risk and ensuring that survivors get the life-saving sexual and reproductive healthcare and specialized services they need—and that are their right. And we will work with OCHA and all our humanitarian partners, and with governments, to do so.

In February, I was proud to help launch the Spotlight Initiative in the Pacific, on behalf of the core UN partners and together with EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica. Together, with the added impetus and resources Spotlight brings in support of country-led action, I am confident that we can empower a new generation of women and girls to live the lives they choose, free of violence and with full dignity and respect.

I also had the pleasure on a number of occasions, including in the Pacific, to engage with youth activists on protecting the rights of young persons, especially those with disabilities.

And our journey continues….to the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver opening today…to the Youth Ministers conference in Lisbon later this month…to the High-Level Political Forum in July and other important global gatherings in the months ahead…and finally, all roads lead to Nairobi for the Summit on ICPD25 in November.

I thank the Governments of Kenya and Denmark for their political and financial support as co-conveners of the Summit. Partnership is crucial to mobilize the momentum and concrete commitments needed to deliver on the promise of Cairo for all with an urgency commensurate to the task at hand.  We count on the political and financial support of other Member States to make the Nairobi Summit a resounding success. We urge you to join us and to come to Nairobi with strong commitments. The clock is ticking towards 2030. It’s time for everyone to step up the pace.

Universality is a guiding principle of the ICPD Programme of Action: everyone has a right to sexual and reproductive health. Rights and choices for all – our mantra, on the road to Nairobi, to 2030 and beyond.

That’s also why UNFPA’s work on data is so important – so we see who is being left behind and understand their needs. To make the invisible, visible.

It is the poorest women and girls, and those who experience exclusion and discrimination, who bear the greatest burden of ill health and preventable deaths. They are the ones we need to reach to achieve by 2030 the three transformative results at the heart of the UNFPA strategic plan – our three zeros:

  • zero unmet need for contraception;
  • zero preventable maternal deaths; and
  • zero gender-based violence and harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.

All based on a firm foundation of high-quality data to zero in on where needs are greatest and reach those furthest behind.

In the first year of implementation of our Strategic Plan 2018-2021, UNFPA laid a solid foundation for getting to zero and in the years ahead we will accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

We have demonstrated good performance and results as the annual report you have before you shows. We have mobilized more resources than ever in support of our work, while continuing to exercise fiscal prudence and improve efficiencies, cohesiveness and synergies to respond to countries’ needs.  We continue to make strides in our comprehensive change process. This will ensure that we have the organizational culture, structure, systems and skills necessary to maximize our partnerships and resources to deliver on our strategic plan.

We are pleased to note the very positive overall assessment of UNFPA in the 2017-18 MOPAN report. It recognizes UNFPA as a “well-performing organization on a positive trajectory”. The assessment revealed continuous and strong operational, programmatic and managerial improvement and acknowledged UNFPA’s impact in both development and humanitarian spheres. UNFPA is proud of these hard-won achievements.

We are grateful to our donors for the increased volume of support received in 2018, and we appeal to more governments to champion and support UNFPA and our ICPD mandate during this milestone year. This year, help us show that the world stands for rights and choices for all. Investing in UNFPA core resources is one of the best ways to support this vision and the work we do to make it a reality everywhere.

Our work builds on the tremendous progress made in recent decades. Yet, this is no time for complacency. This year’s 50th anniversary issue of the UNFPA State of World Population Report was titled Unfinished Business for a reason. The report offers a timeline of unparalleled history, a half-century replete with steady progress on maternal health and family planning. Work on women’s rights and choices is punctuated by great moments of research and discovery, with census and survey support, UNFPA contributions to policy on sexual and reproductive health, and the type of speedy and compassionate humanitarian assistance that ensures dignity for women and girls, in their time of need.

Our sights are now squarely set on addressing the unfinished business, on achieving the inclusive, equitable, sustainable, people-centred development the ICPD and the Sustainable Development Goals envision. 

I believe we are moving in the right direction

In 2018, UNFPA focused on equipping countries with the programming, policy and advocacy capacities necessary to address the unfinished business and realize our transformative results. We began reorienting our programmes around the world, with a focus on making contraception accessible to women and young people, enabling women to have healthy pregnancies and safe births, and protecting women and girls from harm. As of 2018, 105 UNFPA country programmes – better than two thirds – had prioritized at least one of the three transformative results, leveraging additional resources and expanding partnerships to accelerate our path to zero.

We also strengthened our capacities for data analysis and dissemination to help governments formulate policies to close gaps in services.

We made great headway in our humanitarian work. UNFPA continued to strengthen its capacity to respond quickly in emergencies. We established a Humanitarian Response Office and aim to have it fully staffed in mid-2019. I would like to welcome Shoko Arakaki, who joins UNFPA as Director for the new Office based in Geneva. Shoko has a proven track record in the field of humanitarian action, development, peace and security, and we look forward to benefiting from her extensive experience and her dedication to the principle of “leaving no one behind”.

With UNFPA support, last year 15 million people in humanitarian settings received services for sexual and reproductive health and to prevent and address gender-based violence. Reaching women and girls’ in humanitarian contexts is critical to achieving the three transformative results, with no one left behind.

UNFPA assisted 1 million safe deliveries in humanitarian or fragile settings in 2018. Safe birth – everywhere! It’s more than a rallying cry, and we see the results every day in countries around the world.

Last year, thousands of midwives were trained and deployed with support from UNFPA, helping us bring life-saving services to the women and girls who need such services, wherever they may be. Midwives save lives!

To support countries’ family planning initiatives, in 2018 UNFPA procured the equivalent of a year’s worth of contraception for about 68 million couples in developing countries.

We estimate that family planning commodities provided by UNFPA helped avert more than 30 million unintended pregnancies, nearly 9 million unsafe abortions, more than 6 million sexually transmitted infections, and more than 70,000 maternal deaths.

UNFPA provided over 1 billion male condoms alone in 2018.

Now, I would like to turn to our efforts towards achieving our third zero, an end to gender-based violence and harmful practices.

Thanks to the efforts of UNFPA and our partners, last year nearly 900,000 women and girls subjected to violence had access to medical or psychological support.

More than 1.8 million girls received child-marriage prevention or protection services.

Just under half a million girls and women accessed services to prevent or address the impact of female genital mutilation.

We also saw important policy and legislative action at country level. Armenia developed an action plan to combat gender-biased sex selection. Bangladesh developed a national plan of action to eliminate child marriage. Burkina Faso passed a criminal code law to address violence against women. The Democratic Republic of Congo developed a law to protect vulnerable people, including survivors of sexual violence. Honduras formulated a bill to strengthen comprehensive care for women survivors of gender-based violence and developed policy frameworks for the protection of the rights of indigenous and Afro-Honduran women.

These are just some of the results UNFPA achieved in 2018, together with our partners, with countries and with communities.

And I am very excited to report that, for the first time, UNFPA is now sharing its programme results publicly. The UNFPA Results Portal illustrates UNFPA's commitment to innovation, transparency, accountability, and above all, results, which we report straight from our country offices.

This initiative, a pioneer among UN agencies, is more than an investment in improving transparency and accountability, it is also an investment in engaging the general public in our work. This is a vital strategy for making our goals everyone's goals.

By allowing UNFPA and the communities, governments and partners we work with to monitor progress and efficiency, the results portal will help drive evidence-based decisions, optimize investments and, hopefully, achieve better results faster.  

Collective learning, knowledge sharing, and mutual accountability are crucial to ensuring that we achieve our goals. By revealing what works, under what circumstances and why (and, just as important, what might not work) evaluation plays a central role.

UNFPA appreciates the efforts made by the Evaluation Office to further strengthen the evaluation function, and we welcome the 2018 Annual Report on Evaluation. The implementation rate of corporate evaluations is 100%, and almost half have been joint or system-wide, reflecting a real commitment to the UN reform.

The evaluation of the UNFPA response to the Syria crisis provides evidence and lessons learned that will help UNFPA enhance our response to the needs of populations affected by the Syria crisis and improve response capacity to humanitarian crises elsewhere.  

Mr. President,

As UNFPA works with our partners to achieve strong results and reach those furthest behind, we do so in the face of daunting challenges.

The past year saw an unprecedented rise in the scope, frequency and complexity of humanitarian emergencies. By the end of 2018, 136 million people required humanitarian aid, compared to 128 million in 2017.

Another challenge: climate change. The past four years were the warmest ever recorded. Extreme weather affected 60 million people in 2018. From the Arctic to the Sahel to the Pacific, I have witnessed this with my own eyes.

At the same time, rising populism and extremism continue to affect multilateral policies and institutions, the provision of services, and the progressive realization of rights.

The last mile is always the most difficult.  Leaving no one behind means we all will have to dig deep, to address the social, economic, cultural and political inequalities that are keeping people behind. This is challenging for all of us. 

The majority of those still waiting on the unfinished business reside in countries with some of the most fragile health systems, high rates of poverty, low literacy, high gender inequality, limited access to modern transport, and populations in some of the hardest-to-reach areas.

We have ambitious aims to end unmet need for family planning, end maternal death, and end gender-based violence and harmful practices by 2030. This will require more innovation, better mapping and estimation of needs, new partnerships and funding, and the interdisciplinary approach of One-UN. 

Our collective success in these areas is integral to the success of the 2030 agenda. So how do we bring in new voices and a broader range of partners, and above all, the robust financing we need to deliver bold, integrated, innovative solutions that drive transformative change for the women and girls still waiting for all that the ICPD and the SDGs promised? This is the task ahead.

In the current era of reform, UNFPA is working with our partners to pioneer new solutions, deliver better together and enhance financing for transformative results. This work includes a costing and financing initiative for sexual and reproductive health and rights that will support efforts to fill the tremendous financing gap for the Sustainable Development Goals. With just 11 years left to the 2030 deadline, it’s time for urgent action and ambitious financing commitments, based on the best available evidence and data.

To this end, UNFPA is also working with countries and the UN system to build stronger population data systems that can find the furthest behind, a foremost priority of ICPD that the entire 2030 Agenda depends on.

In this milestone year, we have a collective opportunity to recommit to ensuring that everyone everywhere reaps the benefits of this transformative agenda, whose implementation is essential for accelerating progress across all 17 SDGs. The High-level Political Forum and other high-level UN events throughout this year will help galvanize political and financial commitments and action commensurate with our ambitious global goals.

Many countries are also facing issues related to low fertility and population ageing.  These, too, are real challenges, even as they represent gains of development, including greater human life expectancy and greater freedoms for women and girls. 

More and more governments have been requesting advice and support from UNFPA on policies and programmes to address and prepare for population ageing and low fertility.  Our challenge is to do so in a way that does not undermine the advances countries have made, with UNFPA’s support, in providing family planning information and services worldwide, and advocating for women’s reproductive rights. If the last 50 years have taught us anything, it is that demographic challenges cannot be confronted by limiting choices, but rather by enhancing rights and expanding choices.

Ensuring rights and choices for all at all ages requires working across sectors. No more silos! This means bringing the health sector together with the education, gender, population, and development sectors, with ministries of the treasury and finance, and providing integrated support to national planning ministries for coordinated action across sectors. This holistic approach is also at the heart of our efforts to help countries achieve the demographic dividend.

UNFPA is committed to assisting countries in addressing all these challenges via a life cycle approach that ensures that every young person today can fulfil her potential as she transitions from childhood to adolescence to adulthood and, finally, into old age. Because the evidence shows that when all people attain the empowerment, education, and employment vital to harmonize their reproductive and productive lives, individuals, societies and countries prosper.

The midterm review of the strategic plan in 2020 will provide an opportunity for UNFPA to prioritize addressing these very complex challenges, which do have solutions, as we scale up our efforts to ensure that the three transformative results can be achieved globally by 2030.

Mr. President,

In 2018, UNFPA continued to harness innovation and partnership, including with the private sector, to create and scale up data-driven, sustainable, open solutions to bring about transformative change for and with women, adolescents and young people. From mHealth solutions to data innovations and more, UNFPA is committed to expanding the possible to transform the lives of those we serve.

Our approach to innovation can be seen in Burkina Faso, where 6 million people lack proof of identity. UNFPA is partnering with the Government and a tech start-up to help parents register their newborns digitally so that they can access basic services. We are also partnering with the World Food Programme’s Innovation Accelerator to support UNFPA’s in-house entrepreneurs in launching new ventures that can help us deliver even greater change.

Innovation also contributes to UNFPA efforts to strengthen our relationships with United Nations partner agencies so that we all deliver more and deliver better together. The empowered, independent Resident Coordinator (RC) system is central to the repositioning of the UN development system. UNFPA is taking partnerships with the RC system to the next level to advance progress towards the ICPD, the Sustainable Development Goals and other collective results. This includes implementation of the common chapter of the strategic plans of UNFPA, UNDP, UNICEF and UN Women.

A dedicated UNFPA strategy focused on engaging with Resident Coordinators is helping our staff and Representatives add strategic value within the broader UN context. It also defines our value proposition at the country level and the cross-cutting nature of our work.

In many countries we see Resident Coordinators championing UNFPA priorities, keeping the focus on rights, advocating for UNFPA’s engagement in joint resource mobilization, and supporting UNFPA’s leadership role in the UNSDCF and Joint Work Plans.

Our objective is to capitalize on the repositioning to mobilize the UN system around UNFPA’s three transformative results. In this context, we see the RCs as amplifiers and enablers of our work on the ground.

We are pleased to note that the UNDAFs developed in 2018 put our three zeros front and centre, with 50 per cent prioritizing ending the unmet need for family planning; 69 per cent prioritizing ending preventable maternal deaths; and 85 per cent prioritizing ending gender-based violence and harmful practices.

The RC system’s ability to deliver more strategic and better integrated results is interlinked with the redesign of UNDAF, now known as the UNSDCF or the “Cooperation Framework” – a process UNFPA is proud to have co-led. UNFPA will proactively support the RCs and UN Country Teams to coordinate and lead the cooperation framework planning process.

We are committed to the implementation of UN development system reform. As discussed during the Joint Meeting of the Executive Boards last Friday, we are working together with UNDP, UNICEF, UN Women and others to build on the lessons we have learned and to strengthen our impact on the ground.

As I stated last Friday at the joint session on the topic of prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse, we also continue to strengthen our capacity to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment, and we made significant strides in this direction in 2018. We have strengthened victim support and accountability, and revised our policy on the prohibition of harassment and abuse of authority, in line with UN system best practices.

A joint external review, together with UNDP and UNOPS, confirmed the overall adequacy of our institutional framework for ensuring a victim-centered approach to the prevention of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment. Our priorities for 2019 include further strengthening of in-country mechanisms for safe reporting, quality survivor assistance and accountability. 

We are committed to creating a respectful organizational culture and work environment, free of any kind of harassment or abuse, where everyone feels safe and free to raise concerns without fear of abuse or reprisal.

Mr. President,

Since 1994, governments, activists, civil society organizations, academia and institutions such as UNFPA have rallied behind the Programme of Action and pledged to tear down barriers that have stood between women and girls and their rights and choices. Yet, too many women and girls still are not enjoying their rights.

Not the more than 800 women who die every day in pregnancy or giving birth…

Not the more than 200 million women who want to prevent pregnancy but lack access to modern contraception...

Not the one woman in three subjected to physical or sexual violence...

Nor the 200 million girls and women who have been subjected to female genital mutilation or the 33,000 girls forced to marry every day.

Making reproductive rights and choices a reality for all is going to take each and every one of us. We’re all part of this tapestry of actions. All countries, all donors, all civil society and multilateral organizations, all community and youth leaders, all parliamentarians, all international financial institutions and the private sector.

I urge all of us to arrive in Nairobi with concrete commitments. This is not a conference, it is a launching pad for commitments about what really matters to the millions women and girls who depend upon our advocacy and material support. Let’s recommit to meeting women’s urgent need for contraception; to ending preventable maternal deaths; to stopping sexual and gender-based violence and ending female genital mutilation and child marriage, including during humanitarian crises.

Yes, let’s look at how far we’ve come. Much more important: let’s recommit to completing the unfinished business that will bring us to where we want to be by 2030 — a world of rights and choices for everyone, no matter who you are, in full equality and in all our beautiful diversity.

I close with the words of Dr. Nafis Sadik, former Executive Director of UNFPA who presided over the International Conference on Population and Development. Describing the path to sustainable development, she said:

“People are at the heart of the process, as agents and as beneficiaries. We have it in our power to lighten their burdens, remove obstacles in their path and permit them the full flowering of their potential as human beings. That is the moral and ethical basis of the ICPD.”

People, their rights and their choices, these remain the moral and ethical basis of UNFPA’s work. And we are committed to bringing the promise of Cairo to every person on the planet. 

I am confident that together we shall do so, with your support, with your commitment and your partnership, and with our collective and passionate perseverance. Thank you very much.

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