Statement of the Executive Director to the First Regular Session of the Executive Board 2023

02 February 2023

Good morning. As we are all painfully aware, millions of women and girls around the world are denied fundamental rights and freedoms. I invite you to watch a brief video prepared by UNFPA that gives voice to an adolescent girl in Afghanistan.

We all hope for that bright morning for Mursal and for countless others.

Madam President,
Distinguished Members of the Executive Board,
Dear colleagues, dear friends,

It’s a new year, and I wish you a very happy and healthy one.

I congratulate Ambassador Martin Kimani on his election as President of the Executive Board. A warm welcome to Ambassadors Muhammad Abdul Muhith of Bangladesh, Maritza Chan of Costa Rica, Sergiy Kyslytsya of Ukraine and Feridun Sinirlioğlu of Türkiye. We at UNFPA look forward to working closely with all of you in the Bureau.

Our profound thanks to Ambassador Yoka Brandt and the outgoing Bureau for their leadership as we commenced our Strategic Plan for 2022-2025.

May I welcome, from our staff, the new UNFPA Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Ms. Susana Sottoli. She brings a wealth of experience to UNFPA, and we look forward to her contributions.


Madam President,
Distinguished Delegates,

Let us acknowledge that peace is the most pressing issue of our time and in women’s lives.

We at UNFPA and our partners who work with us, in both development and humanitarian settings, rely on Member States. You help create the conditions for peace so that we can do what we do best. Peace is a key part of the nexus. Peace, human rights and sustainable development are interdependent; they are mutually reinforcing – and the necessary foundation for that better tomorrow envisioned in the United Nations Charter and indeed in the 2030 Agenda and the Cairo Programme of Action.

UNFPA knows that the work of building and sustaining peace is complex. Obviously, peace is fragile. It requires our continuous attention, dialogue, compromise and cooperation. Without it, the global goals become unattainable.

True, lasting peace requires addressing the root causes of conflict and fragility. It requires building societies where women, young people and everyone can live in dignity, exercising their rights and flourishing in nothing less than full equality.  

Our Secretary-General has called for peace in the home, so that women and girls escape the harm and fear of harm that gender-based violence represents; so that everyone can realize their full potential. Today, human rights seem to be in reverse gear, the rights of women and girls in particular.

We witness women and girls in distress, like Mursal in the video, denied their fundamental right to education. We must all speak up when women are barred from life-saving humanitarian work in Afghanistan or anywhere else. This is a recipe for neither peace nor sustainable development. That is why UNFPA continues to stay and deliver in Afghanistan, in Ukraine, in Haiti, in the Sahel, in Yemen and in other humanitarian hotspots. There are many things you can do remotely, but delivering a baby is not one of them.

It is in this context that the work of the Board is so important, to provide UNFPA with the guidance and space we need so that we can plant the seeds of development wherever we work, even in emergency settings. That work is more important than ever.

Climate, conflict, Covid and economic crisis are increasing global food insecurity and pushing more people into hunger and poverty. The number of people forcibly displaced is skyrocketing, and women and girls are bearing the brunt.

In November, I visited Somalia where I spoke to women who had walked, sometimes for weeks, in search of food, water and safety, crying in worry for their hungry children. Just one example, among many, of conflict and climate converging in a perfect storm of hunger, hardship and harm. All made worse by a lack of willingness among the parties for peace and compromise and a winner-take-all approach that we see in far too many places today.


Madam President,

As we meet, UNFPA is one year into our Strategic Plan for 2022-2025. The plan reflects our changing world and calls for urgent action and acceleration to advance equality, the empowerment of women and girls, and the realization of sexual and reproductive health and rights for all – essential building blocks of peace and prosperity.

This level of ambition requires new ways of working and thinking. And, one year in, we are off to a good start. We have revamped our programming, making it more evidence-based, data-driven and tailored to local settings, more focused on our normative role, more innovative – and we are building capacity and shifting mindsets to move from a development funding model to a development funding and financing model.

Our new UNFPA People Strategy, co-created with UNFPA personnel across the globe, and our investment in leadership and upskilling at all levels, will support us in these efforts, ensuring that we have the right capacity in development and crisis settings to deliver on our three transformative results with our partners.

We have encountered challenges, including pushback against the rights agenda. To address this, UNFPA is building alliances and bringing data and evidence forward to build greater understanding and promote dialogue on difficult questions relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

UNFPA welcomes the formative evaluation of UNFPA’s engagement in the reform of the United Nations Development System. The evaluation found that UNFPA has capitalized on the reform for the benefit of our stakeholders and those we serve. Working with and strengthening the UN Development System is a key investment in our collective efforts to expand rights and choices and deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. The evaluation provides UNFPA with lessons and evidence to advance that work even further, as we broaden ownership of the reform within UNFPA as an integral part of our organizational culture.

The 18 Country Programme Documents before the Board were carefully prepared with leadership from national governments in response to national priorities.

Quantum, our new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, developed in conjunction with a consortium of UN partners, is live, and the rollout is going well. I am confident that the new system will help us become even more efficient and accountable. There were a few budget challenges, and we gave the Board early notice of this last year when we decided to join the consortium. We will report back to the Board in June once the books are closed.

We have a new Enterprise Risk Management policy, new internal structures and an enhanced spotlight on risk ethos and culture. Our new – and first – risk appetite statement is, in part, a response to our discussions with the Board on the importance of accountability, ensuring that wise decisions are made and that we have proper safeguards in place, and importantly, that good innovation isn’t stymied. We will continue to ensure we get that balance right.

I am pleased to report that UNFPA has received an unqualified audit opinion on our financial statements from the Board of Auditors for 12 years running – a record we are intent on maintaining. UNFPA has fully implemented 80% of the 30 outstanding recommendations open at the beginning of the 2021 financial year. In its report, the Board of Auditors recognized management’s efforts and encouraged the Fund to continue implementing recommendations at this pace.

UNFPA is firmly committed to accountability and transparency – to the women and girls we serve; to Member States; to our partners and to our staff.

The prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse remains a priority, and we are putting in place the right metrics to track and improve our work on this score.

Our efforts to create a culture of openness, trust and respect across the organization are ongoing – a culture that celebrates diversity and inclusion and encourages staff to speak up against racism, discrimination and any form of harassment or abuse. I well know how important the tone at the top is in creating a speak-up culture, where everyone feels safe to express their concerns and is confident that those concerns will be heard. We continue to make strides in fostering greater ethics awareness and ownership across UNFPA. All of this is part and parcel of our accountability to our own people and their wellbeing, which is essential to continue delivering life-saving and life-changing results in the communities we serve.


Madam President, Distinguished Delegates,

To get to UNFPA’s three transformative zeros, it is not enough for us only to work on development. At a time of soaring humanitarian needs, UNFPA continues to strengthen our humanitarian response.

As you know, the current strategic plan includes for the first time a specific output on humanitarian action. This offers an opportunity to further adapt and systematically strengthen our humanitarian response, effectiveness and efficiency; it also holds us accountable for doing so.

Over the past five years, UNFPA’s humanitarian revenue has grown by 150% and now accounts for more than 40 percent of our co-financing revenue. Last year, our life-saving assistance reached over 30 million women, girls, and young people in more than 60 countries facing humanitarian crises.

This growing humanitarian role also necessitated changes in our internal structure. With renewed terms of reference and a new name, our Humanitarian Response Division is leading efforts to make UNFPA a more agile and accountable humanitarian leader, by strengthening capacity, harmonizing programming and putting our experts closer to the heart of humanitarian action and decision making.

UNFPA’s ability to respond at scale at the onset of a crisis is critical. Successful scale-up depends on preparedness and prevention. As part of our preparedness efforts, we are increasing the budget for prepositioning and stockpiling of our humanitarian supplies and equipment by an additional US$10 million, allocated from regular resources and the Humanitarian Thematic Trust Fund.

UNFPA estimates that 70 million people will need gender-based violence prevention and response this year. This figure will likely continue to rise, as the residual impact of Covid, conflict, climate change, and soaring food insecurity, hunger and poverty exacerbate risks for women and girls.

To identify and better track violence prevention and response needs in the locations where we operate, UNFPA has invested in GBV data experts in five regions, as part of our leadership of the gender-based violence area of responsibility within the Protection Cluster. By mapping services and identifying gaps that require action, we can connect more women and girls with the support they need.

UNFPA continues to lead global advocacy efforts to protect and promote bodily autonomy, contributing to the knowledge base through our State of World Population reports, data and expertise. This work is bringing more allies to the movement to end violence against women in all spheres, including violence committed online and with the help of technology.

Our ‘bodyright’ campaign continues to gain traction and reach, and we are developing technical expertise, convening experts, and driving advocacy among policy makers and technical specialists to tackle technology-facilitated GBV. I continue to meet with tech executives and experts, as I did in Silicon Valley in October last year, and again recently in Davos in January, because these are the players who can really help us move the needle on this issue.

In December, in partnership with the Grace Farms Foundation, UNFPA hosted a symposium – “The Virtual is Real” – where survivors, civil society organizations, cybersecurity and legal experts shared best practices in law and policy and strengthened partnerships to prevent technology-facilitated gender-based violence.

Of our three transformative zeros, ending gender-based violence and harmful practices remains the most contentious, the most sensitive and the most challenging.

What we know, from years of experience, is that men and boys are essential partners in changing the harmful gender norms that underpin these issues – a point the Secretary-General and others will make as we mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on February 6 under the theme #MenEndFGM.

Boys and men need information and the skills to navigate healthy sexual lives and to develop gender-equitable attitudes and a commitment to consent and respect. Timely, age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education helps young people develop these skills. This equips them to make healthy choices throughout their lives so that they can fulfill their dreams and realize their power to transform their countries and our world.

Last September, world leaders made commitments for transforming education, and the upcoming 56th session of the Commission on Population and Development will build on this momentum as it convenes around the theme of “Population, education and sustainable development”.

During their deliberations and as they endeavour to make good on their education commitments, UNFPA urges Member States to recognize the important impact of comprehensive sexuality education. We look forward to engaging with Member States on these issues during the CPD and as we move towards the SDG Summit in September and the Summit of the Future next year.

Sexual and reproductive health, education, gender equality, population – these are not standalone issues. The ICPD agenda is deeply integrated into the larger 2030 agenda and inextricably linked to the peace equation.

As we approach the upcoming ICPD30 review in 2024, we expect to capture – in consultation with Member States and in collaboration with our UN partners, civil society, academic institutions and experts – insights from national, regional and global sources, offering an authoritative account of the state of implementation of the ICPD agenda. We look forward to engaging with the Board throughout the review process and sharing the review’s findings on emerging challenges, trends and opportunities for accelerating progress on both the ICPD and 2030 agendas.


Madam President,

To shift from a funding to a funding and financing model, UNFPA needs to tap a full range of sustainable development financing instruments. We are doing this by leveraging our own funding and expertise to catalyze far greater sums of domestic and international, public, and private finance in support of the ICPD agenda.

Working with international financial institutions is central to this effort, and we continue to build capacity in house to increase our engagement with IFIs, enhancing support to country offices to take this forward. We know this is the only way we will get to scale on this transformative agenda.

Let me reiterate, however, that our collaboration with IFIs is in no way a substitute for traditional donor assistance, especially core resources, which remain so vital, allowing us to plan ahead and react nimbly when it counts.

In early 2022, in a highly uncertain global environment, we were concerned about sustaining the needed support for UNFPA’s work to implement the first year of our Strategic Plan.

While our books are not yet closed, I am happy to report that UNFPA received record-level support of nearly US$1.5 billion in 2022.

We note several important new partnerships, including major support from the European Commission for the UNFPA Supplies programme and from the United States for our work in Afghanistan, and a significant effort by a diverse coalition of 20 donors, which has helped us achieve about 80% of our appeal target for Ukraine.

We are grateful for the additional generous core funding from several key donors. Core support last year was around US$442 million, slightly above our funding target, and co-financing is likely to be over US$1 billion again in 2022. The sobering reality, however, is that this is largely due to a continued increase in humanitarian funding. It is also still not nearly enough to meet rising needs. Moreover, the risk of a shrinking level of core resources and the decline in the number of core donors keeps us up at night, and we are working hard to diversify UNFPA’s funding sources and expand our coalition of core funders in 2023.

We remain concerned about how global economic stressors will impact 2023 funding. We urge Member States to protect UNFPA funding levels and provide the flexible core funding that enables us to deliver the sexual and reproductive health services and support women and girls need.

We are deeply appreciative of the support for UNFPA’s humanitarian mandate, which enables us to deliver in often difficult and dangerous circumstances, and I salute our valiant humanitarian colleagues. We regret, however, that women and girls remain more and more vulnerable in the world's growing and deepening humanitarian crises.

As a member of the UNAIDS Committee of Cosponsoring Organizations, we remain keenly attuned to the need to deliver on the global AIDS strategy. This affects women we serve, especially young women and adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa, who are disproportionately affected by HIV.


Madam President,

Fostering an innovation mindset is critical to our efforts to reach the last mile and leave no one behind. Allow me to quickly highlight just a few examples, among many, of our work in this area.

In Benin, UNFPA is we are working with a private sector partner on prototyping the use of drones to deliver essential medicines and supplies to remote regions.

In Türkiye, we are exploring the use of blockchain technology to establish efficient financing mechanisms for family planning in humanitarian settings, and in Bangladesh we are using it, in partnership with the World Food Programme, to deliver food, menstrual supplies and information in informal settlements in Dhaka.

UNFPA-supported mobile maternity units provide life-saving reproductive health care and enable women to give birth safely, whether in the aftermath of natural disaster in the Philippines or in the middle of the war in Ukraine.

In Turkana County, Kenya, a new motorcycle ambulance provided by UNFPA is bringing life-saving maternal health to women in drought-affected areas unable to access health facilities.

UNFPA-supported telehealth initiatives are bringing sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence services to women and adolescent girls in the most remote communities, from the Brazilian Amazon to small island developing states in the Pacific and beyond.

Through our partnership with the popular pregnancy tracking app AMMA, we are reaching tens of millions of women around the world with accurate, user-friendly information on safe pregnancy, prenatal care and sexual and reproductive health.

And innovations don’t need to be high-tech to be effective. In Cameroon, where fear of Covid was keeping pregnant women from visiting health facilities, UNFPA provided “Baby Boxes”, containing baby clothes, diapers, a baby towel, basin, soap and other items, as an incentive to increase the use of pre-and postnatal care. As word of the boxes spread, one participating hospital saw monthly births at the facility increase 20-fold. Simple solutions can save lives.

Partnerships, too. In 2022, UNFPA signed more than 100 new agreements with strategic partners.

Our recently launched Equity 2030 Alliance is working to close the gender gap in science, technology and finance so that the needs of women and girls are integrated into the design of solutions.

Why is this important? Here’s why. Historically, women’s exclusion from pharmaceutical research and development has resulted in a dearth of data and evidence about their concerns. Ultimately, that results in a worse standard of care for women.

We are also building a Coalition for Reproductive Justice in Business to encourage more companies to support women as employees, customers, suppliers, and communities by investing in sexual and reproductive health programming.


Madam President,

While we face considerable challenges, it is my duty and honour to signal some of the highlights of 2022.

As the world marked the 8 billion population milestone, UNFPA influenced the narrative, keeping the focus firmly where it belongs: on the promotion and protection of sexual and reproductive health, rights and choices. Our focus remains on helping countries build resilience to demographic change, whether in ageing societies and those experiencing low fertility or in countries with large youth populations.

A big honour for UNFPA was the conferral of the 2022 United Nations Heroes Award by the UN Foundation. The award recognizes the courage and dedication of our staff working on the frontlines to deliver for women and girls.

At the International Conference on Family Planning in Thailand, UNFPA’s leadership, know-how and results were front and centre in discussions on expanding access to contraceptive services and information.

The High-Level Commission on the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 Follow-up, launched their second report, titled Sexual and Reproductive Justice as the Vehicle to Deliver the Nairobi Summit Commitments. It highlights progress against the voluntary Nairobi commitments and offers insights for advancing sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice as we move towards ICPD30.

UNFPA was pleased to feature during the inaugural session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent in Geneva and pledged our support.

Also last year, UNFPA had the privilege of addressing the Security Council, in marking the seventh anniversary of Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security.

UNFPA supports and invests in young people’s leadership towards peace, sustainable development and human rights for all. 

Whether an adolescent girl in a war-torn country desperate to stay in school; a young woman living in a refugee camp who fears daily for her safety, or a young activist forced to flee from their home, they all have a right to live in peace and dignity.


Madam President, Distinguished Delegates,

In keeping with our efforts over the past year to bring voices from the field to you here in New York, I now turn the floor over to Florence Bauer, Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, who will provide a brief update on some of UNFPA’s activities in the region.


Thank you, Florence.

Again, I thank you, Madam President, Distinguished Members of the Board, for all your support and engagement. I look forward to our discussion.

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