Speech

Statement of the Executive Director to the First Regular Session of the Executive Board 2022

03 Feb 2022

Greetings! For UNFPA and for me, protection against sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment is a priority expressed in our mandate and by the women and girls we serve. I invite you to watch a brief video highlighting some of the priorities and achievements of my humanitarian championship last year. Based on the independent review UNFPA commissioned, along with other activities, the humanitarian sector now has a better understanding of what is needed to collectively bring a decisive end to sexual exploitation and abuse. 
 
 
Madam President,
Distinguished Members of the Executive Board,
Colleagues and friends,
 
A very happy and healthy new year to everyone. Congratulations once again, Ambassador Yoka Brandt, on your election as President of the Executive Board, and a warm welcome to the rest of the Bureau: Ambassadors Martin Kimani of Kenya, José Manuel Rodríguez Cuadros of Peru, Alya Al-Thani of Qatar, and Sergiy Kyslytsya of Ukraine. We at UNFPA, look forward to working closely with all of you in this pivotal first year of implementation of our new strategic plan.
 
Our profound thanks go to Ambassador Lachezara Stoeva and the outgoing Bureau for their guidance, support and leadership, which was instrumental in ensuring the endorsement of UNFPA’s Strategic Plan and Integrated Budget for 2022-2025.

To succeed you need a compass and you need a destination. In this new strategic plan, we have both. It is an ambitious, inspirational roadmap that brings important changes to UNFPA’s effort to reach millions of the world's most vulnerable people. We have unity of purpose, unity of vision, and we are united in action. In unity, there is strength. As the Swahili saying goes, Umoja ni nguvu.

Now the hard work begins of turning the plan’s ambition into reality in the lives of women, girls and young people around the world. 
 
Accelerate. Transform. Reach whoever is furthest behind.
 
Our strategic plan is a call to accelerate, not to retreat. As we step up our efforts, transform our programmes, and motivate new partners, we will prioritize the needs of people left furthest behind. 

What is the secret to UNFPA’s conviction that we will succeed? It’s our people, our creativity, our partnerships.
 
That is how, despite challenges, we continue to deliver for women like Firoza, a young Afghan mother of five in Herat Province. Firoza came to a UNFPA-supported Family Health House in severe pain from obstructed labour. The midwife discovered that she was pregnant with twins. 

Transferring her to another facility was out of the question. The security situation was deteriorating, and her condition was precarious. Fortunately, the skilled doctors and nurse-midwives of UNFPA’s 24-hour Midwifery Helpline in Afghanistan were there to guide Firoza’s local midwife through her difficult birth and then, a life-threatening postpartum haemorrhage. I am very happy to inform you that mother and twins all survived in good health. 

The new strategic plan contributes directly to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. How should you judge the plan’s success?  It offers pathways for tackling harmful gender norms and deep-seated inequalities, investing in young people, and protecting the bodily autonomy of women and girls, as is their bodyright. It prioritizes prevention and preparedness as well as our work in humanitarian settings. 

The framework will enhance our engagement with United Nations partners and leverage the United Nations Development System reforms to support the achievement of the ICPD agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. It is wholly reflective of the intent and spirit of the Secretary-General’s “Our Common Agenda”, to eliminate inequalities, which UNFPA is eager to co-lead.

Even in an era of great stressors – a pandemic, economic woes, political turmoil, climate-related disasters – UNFPA intends to move forward. We will stay and deliver, strengthen our performance, and expand collaboration with partners, such as business, academia, women- and youth-led organizations and international financial institutions (IFIs). 

In developing our strategic plan, we heard from programme country governments and civil society that their expectation is tailored assistance. The strategy responds accordingly. 

This is reflected in the thirteen Country Programme Documents the Board will consider today. In response to declared national priorities, all the CPDs will be operationalized in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework. UNFPA assures collaboration with our United Nations and other partners to ensure coherent, coordinated and efficient delivery of results. 

Baselines and targets for the integrated results and resources framework will be presented to the annual session of the Board in June. These are critical metrics, and we look forward to briefing the Board as this work progresses. 
 
UNFPA places emphasis on our normative role. We deliver on what women and girls say they want and desperately need in their communities, where it counts: 

  • access to family planning services, 
  • reproductive health care and 
  • protection from all forms of violence and abuse.  

I am proud to report that UNFPA remains a field-focused organization. Eighty-eight percent of the Fund’s budget is allocated to the field and 84 percent is expended on programme. 

With our commitment to good stewardship of the financial resources entrusted to us, I am pleased that the Board of Auditors certified UNFPA with a clean bill of health – an unqualified audit for the financial year ended 31 December 2020. We achieved a high implementation rate of recommendations over the past two years, and we are further strengthening proactive oversight and monitoring activities as we implement remaining recommendations.

High-quality evaluations provide UNFPA with important lessons for more effective programming. We look forward to the Evaluation Office’s presentation of the four-year evaluation plan this afternoon.  

The budget that was approved in September includes ongoing investments in the Office of Audit and Investigation Services and the Evaluation and Ethics Offices, reflecting UNFPA commitment and welcoming of oversight and accountability.
 
 
Madam President, Distinguished Delegates, 
 
The transformative results UNFPA seeks to achieve require looking within and asking ourselves: do we have the structure, systems, processes and organizational culture we need? What changes do we need to make so that we are able to react, adapt and innovate to deliver on the Strategic Plan? 
 
One example is our Enterprise Resource Planning project, which will ensure UNFPA has an up-to-date and flexible information technology infrastructure. Now as we enter the final stretch of this work, the aim is to begin operating on the new system later this year. This project is a complex one, and like many IT endeavours, it has not been without its challenges and unforeseen delays. At this time, however, we are confident that the end product will deliver a solid working system, together with a strong capacity-development component. We will assure that the Board is kept abreast of this important work as we attain relevant milestones.
 
Another example is the new UNFPA Supply Chain Management Unit to consolidate our leadership role as the largest multilateral provider of contraceptives and in ensuring reproductive health commodity security. We expect the new arrangement will result in better preparedness, increased efficiency and reduced costs.
 
Yet another innovation is the new Reproductive Health Bridging Fund – a short-term, interest-free financing product. It is available to qualified governments interested in allocating domestic resources to procure reproductive health commodities through UNFPA, when advance payment is not possible. 
 
The Reproductive Health Bridging Fund will create a sustainable pathway for countries to become self-sufficient in meeting their sexual and reproductive health procurement needs. We invite and look forward to donor support to kickstart this initiative.

Was 2021 a challenging year? Yes, it was. Precisely because of that, UNFPA hit the road. We communicated our results. We demonstrated our deep resolve to accelerate, to step up our efforts to provide the additional support women and girls will need to get through this pandemic.

Covid-19 has brought to the fore many hidden crises, especially the global surge in domestic violence, and striking increases in marriage of underage girls, female genital mutilation and adolescent pregnancy. 

In Mexico, the Government estimates that unintended pregnancies in adolescents increased by fully 30 percent last year. In Kenya, girls out of school for 6 months due to the pandemic were twice as likely to become pregnant.

Once conditions allowed, I personally visited 15 countries last year. Many are facing complex humanitarian situations, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Sudan and Yemen. I assure you that I saw the difference additional resources can make on the ground. 

Resources are key to UNFPA success. While we are still awaiting a final count of contributions, total funding in 2021 rose to over US$1.4 billion – a record high. Co-financing contributions totaled US$994 million dollars, and we expect core funding at near-record levels. 

Thank you! Pledges by donor governments increased by 10% last year, and programme country contributions went up more than 130%. 

UNFPA also mobilized nearly US$56 million in partnership with the World Bank and other IFIs, and private sector funding was up as well.

In response to the dire conditions that conflict, climate-induced disasters and a pandemic have created in our world, UNFPA humanitarian funding also came in at an all-time high – US$332 million, representing about one-third of total co-financing resources. 
 
Total contributions to UNFPA Supplies for 2021 reached US$165 million, ensuring that progress continued. The UNFPA Supplies Partnership aims to end the unmet for family planning in more than 50 partner countries by 2030. 
 
UNFPA was extremely fortunate that a strong alliance of dedicated donors stepped in to help cover the extreme cut to the Partnership early last year.  
 
Through the Supplies Partnership, UNFPA support helped reach marginalized and underserved women and girls, strengthen sustainable domestic financing of family planning programmes, and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on supply chains. New family planning methods were introduced in several countries to expand the choice and range of supplies available. While the additional funding support in 2021 came at a critical time, sustained longer-term funding for UNFPA Supplies is not a given. I appeal for the desperately needed support required for partner countries to address the reproductive health needs of their growing youth populations. 
 
Such support can transform the life of a young women. In Zambia, UNFPA met Cristabel after she became pregnant at age 16. Our programmes helped her return to school while caring for her infant. Today, she uses a long-acting contraceptive method provided by the UNFPA Supplies programme. Cristabel no longer worries about another unintended pregnancy derailing her dream of completing her education. 
 
I thank Member States for your generous contributions, which UNFPA uses to save and improve lives. Your help sends a message of hope to women, girls and young people, like Firoza and Cristabel, that they are not alone in their time of need; that their rights and choices matter. 
 
Core funding, in particular, anchors our work and offers UNFPA flexibility to mount an agile response to unforeseen challenges like the Covid-19 pandemic.
 
Already, two years of pandemic threaten two decades of progress for women and girls, thus making the path to 2030 a lot steeper. As a global community, to get back on track in this decade of action, will now require deeper, smarter, more sustainable investments – in health; in education; in innovation and digital solutions; and in infrastructure. 

These are interconnected investments that would save millions of lives and that we know yield economic benefits many times their cost. Investments that must occur now – if we are to recover from Covid, transform the rhetoric of resilience into reality, and keep moving forward. 

The UNFPA Strategic Plan aims to shift development “funding” into a “financing” model. By leveraging relatively modest amounts of UNFPA core resources catalytically, our new Strategic Investment Facility will bring projects to scale by mobilizing far greater sums from domestic government resources, concessional loans by IFIs, in-country donor contributions, and investments from the private sector. For example, through the Strategic Investment Facility we could more easily create and manage development impact bonds, something we are currently exploring in Kenya. Such blended financing innovations could accelerate improvements in the reproductive health and rights situation of women and girls. 

Madam President, Distinguished Delegates,

No discussion of resources would be complete without mentioning UNFPA’s greatest asset – our committed and dedicated personnel. To deliver on the ambition of the new strategic plan, we need to make sure that our staff are supported with the knowledge, skills and resources to succeed. 

Through enhanced orientation programmes, leadership training, professional development, and succession planning, UNFPA’s new People Strategy will help us recruit, nurture and retain a talented workforce. Our staff will be ready and able to contribute fully, with collective hard work and an innovative mindset: 

  1. To reverse the trend that we are now seeing for the hundreds of millions of women and girls whose need for family planning increasingly goes unmet, resulting in untold unintended pregnancies. 
  2. To save the lives of the over 800 women and girls who die every day in pregnancy and childbirth from largely preventable causes; and
  3. To protect the 1 in 3 women around the world who experience sexual and gender-based violence, the 1 in 5 girls forced into early marriage, and in communities where female genital mutilation is prevalent to defend the 1 in 3 girls who might suffer that harmful practice. 

Our efforts and our energy are focused on achieving zero unmet need for contraception, zero preventable maternal deaths and a definitive end to all forms of gender-based violence.

This work, indeed everything we do, is based upon population data and evidence. Governments, researchers and service providers need access to quality data so that they know where to direct programmes, policies and resources. I am happy to report that, after some Covid-related disruptions to the 2020 census round, we have the largest number of countries ever planning censuses – 56 countries in 2022 and 20 in 2023. 

In the past two years, even with a pandemic raging, UNFPA staff across the globe found innovative ways to deliver better, and they have achieved impressive, tangible results. 

Now, the question is: how do we build on this can-do spirit? Covid-19 is challenging us. Yet it has also been instructive. The lessons learned will help us rise to new challenges as we promote sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights and aim to reach those furthest behind. 

Leaving no one behind will mean making the vulnerable visible. 

Therefore, UNFPA’s Geospatial Dashboard on Intimate Partner Violence, for example, provides access to disaggregated data at the local level to help policymakers better understand and pinpoint solutions.

Reaching those furthest behind will require complementarity across the humanitarian-development-peace continuum – in other words, the nexus.

With the world now facing its highest number of conflicts since 1945; with violence, political instability, displacement and climate-related disasters taking a massive toll and exacerbating humanitarian needs; with erosion of international law threatening human rights; and rising populism, racism and extremism adding fuel to the fire, global solidarity is needed now more than ever. 

And let us never forget that all these crises hit women and girls disproportionately hard.

Poverty rates for women and girls continue to rise, and worsening food insecurity is devastating for millions of people already struggling to survive, with a catastrophic impact on the nutrition and health of women, adolescents, and newborns.

Let us remember that women don’t stop giving birth in times of crisis. Nearly 60 percent of preventable maternal deaths occur in countries with humanitarian and fragile contexts. An estimated 1 in 5 forcibly displaced women in humanitarian crises has been subjected to sexual and gender-based violence. And girls in these settings are 90 percent more likely to be out of school and vulnerable to harm. 

The new UNFPA strategic plan for the first time has a specific outcome on humanitarian action. Our humanitarian interventions are mission critical, and we therefore are strengthening our preparedness and response capacity and systems. This work is showing results and it is saving lives. 

Last year alone, more than 29 million women of reproductive age received sexual and reproductive health services, such as contraceptives, supplies for safe deliveries and personal protective equipment. 
 
More than 2 million survivors of gender-based violence accessed services through 12,000 safe spaces. Innovative ways of working during the pandemic helped us reach over 75 million people, both in person and remotely, with vital information about sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence. 
 
This Executive Board can be proud of this success. Yet the SRHR needs are so much greater. 
 
In response, UNFPA is in the midst of our largest humanitarian appeal to date. We are calling for US$835 million to provide life-saving sexual and reproductive health and protection services to more than 54 million women, girls, and young people in 61 countries this year. 

UNFPA is committed to fulfilling our leadership role in the Gender-based Violence Area of Responsibility and to ensuring, with our partners, that every woman and girl may enjoy ‘peace in the home’, even if that home is a tent in a refugee camp. 

Madam President, 

UNFPA engages with and invests in women-led organizations to address the acute needs of women and girls. In the past two years, notably, UNFPA allocated 38% of our humanitarian funds to women-led community-based organizations, and we commit to increasing this figure to 43% by the year 2025.

We ask for Member States’ support and stronger shared accountability for delivering the full protection and dignified humanitarian assistance that women and girls need.

Madam President, Distinguished Delegates,

With this Strategic Plan 2022-2025, UNFPA takes a giant stride forward. Data and evidence, digitalization and innovation, and strategies aimed at inclusion – of women and women-led organizations, of persons with disabilities, of adolescents and youth, of LGBTIQ+ individuals, people of African descent and indigenous peoples, etc. – will ensure that we reach our destination and that no one is left behind.

Leaving no one behind will mean removing all barriers to fundamental rights.

As part of our leadership of the Generation Equality action coalition, I challenged our leadership and our communication colleagues to redefine bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights — not as jargon but as the game-changer it becomes when a girl understands her human rights and the respect that is indeed her birthright. The results were a historic State of World Population report, My Body is My Own, and a viral campaign that is reaching millions with the ©bodyright message. 
 
In some places, rising concern about low fertility and population ageing is putting pressure on women’s reproductive rights. In other places, a youthful population is opening the window of opportunity towards a demographic dividend. UNFPA is equipped to help countries on both ends of the spectrum to find opportunity in demographic change. The Decade of Demographic Resilience, launched in Bulgaria in December last year, is an example of countries galvanizing joint action to understand and fully harness these opportunities to thrive. 
 
UNFPA partners with innovators around the world to accelerate progress and advance sexual and reproductive health and rights.

For example, the Burkina Faso Country Office adapted our digital toolkit, YouthConnect, to create a civil registration tool that enables midwives to register births in real time via mobile phone. Other adaptations include an app in Nepal that delivers health messages to pregnant women; a case management platform for community healthcare workers in Nicaragua; and an app supporting the learning needs of adolescents with autism in North Macedonia.

Leaving no one behind means protecting the most vulnerable from harm. 

Mobile platforms developed with UNFPA support are linking FGM survivors and at-risk girls in Uganda with the urgent services they need and survivors of gender-based violence in Armenia, Georgia and Iraq with a supportive online community. 

Leaving no one behind means leaving no room for discrimination or exclusion. 

In Latin America and the Caribbean, UNFPA’s Youth Leadership School for young people of African descent equips them to understand and exercise their rights and strengthen their technical and entrepreneurial skills so that they and their communities can thrive. 

UNFPA also wants to ensure that persons with disabilities are meaningfully engaged in all we do. Our new Disability Inclusion Strategy will guide us in becoming an organization that welcomes human diversity and ensures equality and non-discrimination of persons with disabilities, in line with the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy. 
 

Madam President, Distinguished Delegates,
 
I thank the Board for the confidence you have placed in me, and I look forward to your continued guidance, support and partnership as we forge ahead together over the next four years towards those three transformative zeros.
 
Allow me now to turn the floor over to Mr. Bjorn Anderson, UNFPA Regional Director for the Asia Pacific, based in Thailand, who will provide a brief update on some of UNFPA’s humanitarian activities in that region.
 

[brief statement by Bjorn Anderson]

 
Thank you, Bjorn, for the presentation and more importantly for the work your team is spearheading.
 

Madam President, Distinguished Delegates,
 
At UNFPA, we are committed to bring more regional voices into our Executive Board sessions to demonstrate how the Board’s support and guidance helps UNFPA make a difference on the ground. UNFPA is there to accelerate progress and transform the lives of the women, girls and young people we serve. Again, my thanks to you, Distinguished Members of the Executive Board, for your strong engagement. I look forward to our discussion today.

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