Statement of the Executive Director to the Annual Session of the Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS

05 Jun 2020

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

Greetings! Before we begin, I would like to share a brief video. It highlights the tremendous efforts of midwives, bravely risking their own lives to bring new life into the world in the face of COVID-19.


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

It is a pleasure to be with you today for this annual session of the Executive Board and to continue the very fruitful dialogue ongoing with you, in recent weeks and throughout the Strategic Plan and Integrated Budget midterm review process.

A proverb from Ghana tells us: ‘One person alone does not constitute a council.’ Consultation is vital, and we at UNFPA greatly value the active engagement and guidance of the Executive Board.

With the Board’s support and counsel, UNFPA has sharpened its purpose with a results orientation that propels our mandate forward during this Decade of Action on the Sustainable Development Goals. My annual report to you today details the cumulative progress UNFPA has made in achieving results of our Strategic Plan 2018-2021, thereby improving the lives of millions of women and girls.

Progress and key results

Together with our partners, we are mobilizing the political will and financial means to help enable women to determine their own paths and girls to transform their lives. That is what is proven to happen when women and girls have access to sexual and reproductive health and can exercise their reproductive rights.

Our staff and partners are working with great ambition towards achieving our three transformative results:

  • zero unmet need for family planning,
  • zero preventable maternal deaths, and
  • zero gender-based violence and harmful practices.

All of our efforts based on high-quality population data so that no woman or girl is left behind.

The results speak for themselves. In 2018-2019, the first two years of the current strategic plan, family planning supplies provided by UNFPA helped avert an estimated 44 million unintended pregnancies, nearly 13 million unsafe abortions, more than 120,000 maternal deaths, and 280,000 new HIV infections. With UNFPA support, almost 230,000 girls were rescued from female genital mutilation, and others escaped child marriage. Continued advancements in organizational effectiveness and efficiency, and innovation and broader strategic partnerships contributed to this success.

As part of our commitment to maximum transparency and accountability, country-level strategic plan results are publicly available on our online results portal. The story of our work in more than 150 countries last year will be told in a forthcoming publication, the Orange Book of Results – from new initiatives to collect data and make visible vulnerable populations, to new laws and policies to secure rights and choices for marginalized women and young people, to achievements in Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean and the Pacific. The book also highlights the wonderful partnerships, solidarity and perseverance that underpin this progress.

Midterm review

The midterm review process has been transparent and consultative. It has validated our strategic direction and confirmed that we are on track towards achieving the Strategic Plan results.

The review focused primarily on how to ensure continued progress. The “what” – or results in terms of goal, outcome, and outputs – remains as relevant as ever to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). Driven by evidence, the review identified opportunities to accelerate achievement of the three transformative results. We now have laid the foundation for the next strategic plan, and we look forward to another consultative process, tailored to country objectives and based upon lessons learned, including recent experience from the COVID-19 response.

UNFPA prioritizes learning and adaptive management, and we are strengthening business practices to advance results-based management within the organization.

Our now largely Geneva-based Humanitarian Office is meeting the ever-growing need for sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence services, including mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian settings.

Last year alone, UNFPA humanitarian assistance reached over 19 million people in 64 countries. Distressingly, this year, more than 168 million people will require humanitarian assistance – tens of millions of them being women and adolescent girls who need protection and life-saving services.

Going forward, UNFPA is stepping up efforts to address demands for quality population data, in all contexts.

We will invest in further understanding and developing strategies for important areas such as population ageing, low fertility, climate change and SRHR, and mental health in humanitarian settings.

Integrated Budget

For its part, the integrated budget midterm review focused on making the right investments to allow us to scale up and accelerate implementation over the remaining two years of our Strategic Plan. We propose prudent, strategic investments to strengthen UNFPA capacity in advocacy, resource mobilization and risk management, as well as investments in the capacity of least developed countries, who benefit from the largest proportion of total resources.

We are proud that the majority of integrated budget resources, US$3.2 billion or around 82 per cent, would go to directly to programmes, and we will increase our investment in evaluation and oversight functions, as a priority for UNFPA.


Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of the Executive Board,

Our mandate, and sexual and reproductive health and rights more broadly, continue to come under pressure. However, make no mistake – the worthwhile work we do is saving and changing lives.

At this moment of intense polarization in the world, we count on your support to uphold the rights of the ten-year-old girl in Algeria or Azerbaijan, Bolivia or Botswana, Nepal or Niger. Wherever she may be, we all want her to grow into womanhood with dignity and reach her full potential. Let us continue to stand strong for her and her sisters, in particular the poorest and most marginalized among them.

In the world around us, we hear the calls for urgent action to correct inequalities, to improve the quality and reach of essential services, to strengthen social protection, and to ensure opportunities for all. I join the Secretary-General in speaking out against racism and systemic discrimination. We at UNFPA strive to retain our optimism, as we work with stakeholders from every walk of life to fulfill our noble mandate and to advance the global Sustainable Development Goals.

Whatever the context, whether COVID or a climate-related disaster or any other crisis, our focus remains on protecting women and girls by upholding sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights for all. Our sights remain fixed upon those three zeros. Even in shifting political sands, we stand securely on the foundation of data and evidence, shoulder to shoulder with our partners and with the communities we serve.

COVID-19 has unmasked the extent to which such crises exacerbate inequalities. And always, who is likely to suffer most? Women and girls.

UNFPA with academic partners recently analyzed how the pandemic could undermine progress on our agenda globally. For every 6-month period of COVID ‘lockdown’, more than 47 million women could lose access to contraception; we project 7 million unintended pregnancies; and 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence, above an already violent baseline. And as the video showed, access to life-saving maternal health services, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for female health workers, is absolutely crucial.

UNFPA’s global response aligns fully with the humanitarian, health, and socioeconomic pillars of the United Nations response. We will employ our response to the COVID-19 crisis, with its unprecedented focus on strengthening health systems, to build back better, and to do so as part of an integrated UN response.

A few examples:

  • new domestic violence hotlines, survivor-support programmes and policy work to categorize gender-based violence response services as essential;
  • surveillance and response systems that disaggregate health data and information about the impact COVID-19 is having on older persons, young people, people with disabilities, indigenous peoples, those of African descent and migrants;
  • rapid socio-economic impact assessments with partners in the Asia-Pacific region;
  • teaming up with youth-led movements from Eastern Europe to East Africa to Latin America and elsewhere regarding COVID-19 risk communication and outreach;
  • working with countries in West and Central Africa to secure uninterrupted availability of modern contraceptives and other reproductive health supplies;
  • partnering to deliver telemedicine and counselling services in 13 countries of the Caribbean;
  • establishing laboratory testing capacity for COVID-19 in Somalia;
  • mobilizing additional resources to help women and girls in Yemen survive the world’s worst humanitarian crisis;
  • within Venezuela, scaling up reproductive health services and supplies, and across the region, for refugees and migrants;
  • campaigning with UN partners and the League of Arab States for gender-responsive budgeting.

And the list goes on, thanks to governments’ support on the ground and the generosity of all our donors.

Today, we launch the revised UNFPA Global COVID-19 Response Plan. This update reflects changing needs, full alignment with the wider UN response, and the lessons we are learning from UNFPA actions that were immediately under way. The funding requirement for the global COVID response to year end is now estimated at US$370 million. Already US$93.5 million has been mobilized, allocated or repurposed, leaving a funding gap of US$276.5 million. I sincerely thank all donors who generously contributed to the first round of the global appeals, and we desperately need that assistance now.

We have strengthened a number of areas:

  • Actions to address gender-based violence and COVID, linked to the new research I just mentioned that demonstrates the devastating impact of the pandemic;
  • A stronger youth focus; and
  • Enhancement of our work on data and COVID: data continuity, population mapping, and assessing impact and response measures for the most vulnerable.

UNFPA will continually review the COVID response plan against evolving operational needs.

Commitment to UN reform and strategic partnership

Mr. President,

UNFPA long has been steadfast in our commitment to UN reform and to working together. We see this paying off now in real time.

UNFPA continues strong collaboration with partners, including the World Health Organization and the World Food Programme, to maintain supply chain continuity. We are an active contributor to the joint tender, led by UNICEF on behalf of 13 organizations, to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) and other essential supplies.

We believe the value of reform is shown through actions not just words. With Resident and Humanitarian Coordinators leading country teams in the reformed development system, UNFPA moved rapidly to deliver on the necessary COVID response, always keeping our eye on the 2030 target. In this, our partnerships with civil society, the private sector and philanthropy helped us galvanize action.

We observe that the system still struggles with continued imbalance between core and non-core funding.  This poses tremendous challenges to flexibility and speed of deployment. That said, we fortunately also see shifts towards less restrictive earmarking, and modalities in support of coherence and joint action.

Quality, multi-year core is more important than ever. Core funding gives UNFPA the ability to support rapid responses that save lives, and allows us to address immediate needs on the ground. We urge flexibility from Member States who generously fund our programmes, and we look to you, as Executive Board members, to raise public awareness of the unique value of the multilateral system in responding to COVID.

Funding situation

UNFPA’s financial situation, at present, appears relatively stable. We are ever grateful for the early payment of core contributions by a number of member states. Happily, so far, 85% of core contributions projected for 2020 already have been recorded, with core revenue projected at US$364 million, most reassuring.

However, I must express my concern about the outlook for 2021 and beyond, with tightening of fiscal space, and projected economic contraction that would reduce official development assistance. We appeal to all Member States to again prioritize early payment of core for next year, 2021.   

For our part, UNFPA commits to maintaining prudent financial planning and forecasting, and to taking a “whole of organization” approach, to effectively respond programmatically in every country context.


Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates

Life must go on, and the work must go on – even with COVID-19, natural disaster or political pushback. UNFPA has moved adeptly to leverage the huge momentum of the Nairobi Summit to strengthen our advocacy and policy dialogue.

During this Decade of Action – the homestretch to 2030 – we have more than 1,250 stakeholder commitments coming out of Nairobi. Just six months after the Summit, Governments are incorporating these voluntary commitments through national development plans and the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks. We are currently piloting assessment studies in the Lao PDR, Morocco, Palestine and Sri Lanka to identify legal gaps and pave the implementation path.

There is convergence between the Nairobi Summit follow-up and the responses required to achieve the three zeros and address the COVID pandemic. The High-Level Commission I am establishing will provide guidance and political advocacy for meaningful follow up to the 12 Global Commitments in the Nairobi Statement. As an independent advisory body, reporting annually to the Executive Director of UNFPA, this multi-stakeholder Commission will be one of the many ways in which we advance the vision of the Cairo Programme of Action. Indeed, even as we strive to adapt to new realities, the ICPD Programme of Action remains our north star.

This year, UNFPA joins UN Women and others in taking stock of progress on gender equality and women’s rights, as the world commemorates Beijing+25. UNFPA co-leads the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy and SRHR with France, Denmark, Burkina Faso and Argentina.


Mr. President,

On behalf of UNFPA, I offer a word of heartfelt condolences to those who have lost loved ones during the past months of the pandemic.

And if I may end on a note of thanks.

I am joined today by Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov, Deputy Executive Director (Management) ad interim, and Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, Deputy Executive Director (Programme) ad interim. UNFPA is fortunate to count upon their extensive experience within the Organization during this challenging time.  The recruitment process for the two Deputy Executive Director positions is well under way, and as usual we shall keep the Board apprised.

UNFPA daily lives up to its charge of fulfilling our duty of care. You can count on us to put staff safety and security first. And you can count on us to continue to uphold our pledge of zero tolerance for any form of sexual exploitation, harassment or workplace abuse.

Allow me to appreciate all our UNFPA staff around the world for delivering for women and girls in this ‘Covidian’ era, logging long hours either at home or under precarious conditions, despite intense challenges and personal risks, including in conflict and humanitarian settings. I thank them.

It’s true, ‘One person alone does not constitute a council.’ Therefore, I thank you, members of the Executive Board, for your faithful stewardship, for your financial and political support, and for your continued strategic and action-oriented engagement and dialogue. I look forward to our discussion.


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