Statement of the Executive Director to the Second Regular Session of the Executive Board 2022
31 August 2022
31 August 2022
Greetings! As we begin, I invite you to view a video we’ve prepared.
Distinguished Members of the Executive Board,
Dear colleagues, dear friends,
I am pleased to be here with you for this Second Regular Session of the Executive Board. I thank the President and the rest of the Bureau for all their support and guidance in preparing for this session.
May I note also that once again our meeting takes place on August 31st, the International Day for People of African Descent. It is a reminder to all of us to look below the surface and beneath the averages, to celebrate diversity, to speak up – against racism and discrimination, and to stand up – for equality, justice and development for all.
The imperative to leave no one behind assumes new urgency this year. As you heard, the world stands on the threshold of reaching a population of 8 billion, a milestone expected in mid-November.
Good news – increased life expectancy and reduced infant and maternal mortality are the result of reductions in poverty and remarkable advancements in healthcare.
This is also a moment that calls for action and solidarity, for humanity to find solutions to the challenges we face – from Covid, conflict and climate change, to food insecurity and poverty, to the roll-back of progress on women’s rights in many countries. We can only tackle these challenges together – beginning with people-centred population policies, with sexual and reproductive health and rights at their core.
After all, the resounding consensus of all Member States gathered at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo was to support governments to confront their demographic challenges by enhancing rights and choices and investing in the capacity of all people.
This vision remains at the heart of all we do at UNFPA even as we adapt to a changing world.
Demographic diversity is the current world reality with sweeping implications for societies and economies – with low fertility and ageing in some countries and rapid population growth in others. Unfortunately, we know from experience that population concerns — whether about a ‘population boom’ or about a shrinking population – too often devolve into fights over women’s bodies and attempts to undermine their rights and agency.
To this I say: not on our watch. We cannot allow women’s health and rights to be used as political footballs.
Earlier this month, sadly, we lost an icon of the sexual and reproductive health and rights movement, Dr. Nafis Sadik, former UNFPA Executive Director and architect of the ICPD Programme of Action. Addressing the Beijing Women’s Conference in 1995, she said: “The first mark of respect for women is support for their reproductive rights. Reproductive rights involve more than the right to reproduce. They involve support for women in activities other than reproduction, in fact liberating women from a system of values which insists that reproduction is their only function.”
With so much at stake, UNFPA will continue to push forward to achieve our ‘Three Zeros’ and to provide hope for that ten-year-old girl in a refugee camp, in a slum, in rural poverty.
Inspired by this vision and Dr. Sadik’s legacy, UNFPA is helping governments anticipate and build resilience to demographic change. Right now, more than 80 UNFPA programme countries are racing to complete the 2020 census round after COVID delays, and we are working with national statistical departments and partners to ensure high-quality censuses that meet international standards.
We encourage governments to confront demographic challenges not through fewer choices, but rather through more options.
All of us want every girl to be able to stay in school, avoid early marriage and childbearing, and gain the skills she needs to succeed. We want her parents to have the number of children they want and can support. We want her mother to receive the care she needs to give birth safely.
And we want every young person to be educated, empowered and employed. These are critical investments in the future we all want.
If we make the right investments now, 8 billion people could mean 8 billion opportunities to build more peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable societies.
Access to sexual and reproductive health is a precondition for women and girls to take control of their bodies and chart their own destiny.
Yet, more than 200 million women and adolescent girls still cannot readily access contraceptives they want.
Far too many women are still unable to participate fully in society.
Young people are fast approaching a quarter of the world’s population. Yet over 175 million young people in low-income countries cannot read a full sentence.
So, this is a time for action, for governments, the United Nations system, civil society, the private sector and others to invest in equal rights and opportunities for all.
The 8 billion population milestone, and the 30-year review of the International Conference on Population and Development, ICPD30, coming up in 2024, offer opportunities to raise awareness and to accelerate progress on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Recently, Small Island Developing States came together for the Wadadli Action Platform meeting in Antigua and Barbuda.
SIDS are literally on the frontlines of the climate crisis – a bellwether for the challenges to come globally and a source of valuable lessons learned.
UNFPA is committed to helping SIDS build on their experiences to increase resilience to current and future challenges. This includes integrating age-appropriate life skills sexuality education into school systems and community-led programmes. This equips young people to make healthy choices and to visualize themselves as future leaders.
Quite remarkably, Antigua and Barbuda cut their teen pregnancy rate by half in recent years, with tremendous social and economic benefits. How did they do it? By reaching out to girls, boys, parents, teachers, religious leaders and communities. By connecting evidence, policy and practice in the implementation of their National Action Plan to Reduce Adolescent Pregnancy.
This September, led by the Secretary-General, world leaders will make their commitments for transforming education. UNFPA urges countries to recognize the irreplaceable impact of age-appropriate, timely life skills and comprehensive sexuality education for preventing gender inequalities, HIV, early and unintended pregnancy, and harmful practices, and for unleashing the power of young people to transform their countries and our world. Such programmes increase the confidence of young people so that they can support each other to make good decisions that strengthen them in later life. That is why UNFPA works to foster intergenerational dialogue and nurture young people’s leadership in humanitarian, development and peacebuilding action.
Also very important are our efforts to engage men in changing harmful gender norms. Sexual and reproductive health is not just a women’s concern. Boys and men need information and the skills to navigate healthy sexual lives and develop gender-equitable attitudes and a commitment to consent and respect.
Distinguished Board members,
In response to multiple and intersecting crises, UNFPA is more and more frequently called upon to rush in, usually within the first 48 hours, to provide humanitarian assistance, which we are doing in more than 60 countries.
Afghanistan remains in deep economic and humanitarian crisis. Despite the challenges, in the past 12 months, UNFPA reached more than 4.3 million people. We delivered lifesaving reproductive health services and psychosocial support through family health houses, mobile and static clinics, and mobile health teams. However, less than a third of our 2022 appeal for Afghanistan has been met so far, leaving a funding gap of US$172 million.
In Ukraine, six months since the war began, already UNFPA has delivered 97 metric tons of sexual and reproductive health supplies and reached more than 6 million people with protection and health services. More than a hundred mobile psychosocial support teams are now operating in Ukraine, bringing support to gender-based violence survivors in 21 regions.
The overall humanitarian situation in Ethiopia has deteriorated significantly since the beginning of the year. More than 25 million people in the country are estimated to need humanitarian assistance, nearly three quarters of them women and girls. And the conflict in northern Ethiopia is fueling sexual violence against women and girls.
In June alone, UNFPA and our partners reached more than 25,000 individuals with reproductive health services and distributed reproductive health kits to support more than 1 million people affected by conflict. We are also providing multipurpose cash support to gender-based violence survivors.
Somalia is facing widespread displacement, food insecurity, and increasing poverty, with millions of people at risk of famine. Women and girls continue to pay the highest toll. This year, an estimated 7.7 million Somalis need humanitarian assistance and protection. Of those, nearly 4 million are women of reproductive age.
To align with the humanitarian IASC system-wide scale up, UNFPA is expanding its capacity to deliver integrated sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence services at health facilities, mobile clinics, and GBV one-stop centres.
In Somalia alone, UNFPA urgently needs US$130 million to provide gender-based violence protection services, reproductive health services for nearly 2 million women and girls, and to meet the needs of over 300,000 newly displaced individuals.
Somalia risks becoming one more forgotten emergency. And let us remember emergencies elsewhere, from Yemen to Haiti to Syria and beyond. The devastating floods in Pakistan remind us that more people need humanitarian assistance than ever before, and without adequate and flexible funding, these needs will go unmet. As a global community we need to do more to address lifesaving needs and to build resilience.
In June, UNFPA and WHO launched a Sexual and Reproductive Health in Emergencies Task Team, as part of the Global Health Cluster. UNFPA is leading this effort because sexual and reproductive health services must be integral to every humanitarian response. They are a must, not a nice-to-have.
Over the past two years, the need for gender-based violence response in humanitarian settings increased by 120%, but only 20% of these needs are funded. We are working with partners to address this gap and to strengthen GBV prevention and response across the humanitarian system, including increasing funds available for local women-led organizations. We ask for your support. I count on your support.
UNFPA also continues working to address gaps in humanitarian supply chain management and other bottlenecks through regional prepositioning, product updates, and increased staff capacity.
As I pointed out in our last session, UNFPA has committed to the highest standards of accountability and transparency. We are making sure that commitment is reflected in our work and deeply embedded in our organizational culture. We also take seriously our accountability to the women, girls and communities we serve, who depend on us to deliver on the promise of Cairo and on the Sustainable Development Goals. And we know full well that our ability to deliver for that 10-year-old girl depends upon transparency and accountability – to the Executive Board and Member States and to all our partners – and the trust and confidence they place in us as a result.
As part of our commitment to oversight, UNFPA continues to reinforce zero tolerance for all forms of wrongdoing. Over the years, we have deepened our investments in our audit and investigation, evaluation and ethics offices, whose independence we value and respect and whose advice and recommendations strengthen us as an organization.
As such, we welcome the recent report assessing the independence of the UNFPA Office of Audit and Investigation Services. We are pleased that the assessment reconfirms that independence. We welcome the suggestions to strengthen its independence further and will keep the Board apprised as we move forward in response.
With respect to protection from sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment, we have taken important steps, and we are working to increase trust and to empower those experiencing or witnessing abuse to speak up. Progress will depend, in great part, on further bolstering a ‘speak-up’ culture across the organization and, led by myself and the two Deputy Executive Directors, we are firmly committed to doing so.
I have announced a new Enterprise Risk Management policy and institutional set-up that incorporates best practices both to help management take risk-informed decisions and to equip and empower our staff more holistically with the tools and knowledge they need. Our internal controls and risk management will be further automated and improved with the introduction of the new Enterprise Resource Planning system (Quantum), which, as we recently informed the Board, will now be launched in January 2023.
I thank the Board for your support of this once-in-a-generation exercise, which will help UNFPA and our allied agencies become even more effective and efficient.
This is in keeping with our continued strong support of UN development system reform to enable more effective system-wide assistance to countries to advance the ICPD agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals and “Our Common Agenda”.
Allow me to express the immense gratitude of UNFPA to our partners for their generous contributions, which enable us to deliver lifesaving services to those in urgent need. While we can all be proud of what we have achieved together, this is no time for complacency.
Getting to zero unmet need for family planning, zero preventable maternal deaths and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices by 2030 will take innovative thinking, partnerships and financing. It will also require that we continue to invest in development results even as we respond to emergencies.
As you can imagine, I am pleased to report that, once again, UNFPA had its strongest financial performance to date last year, 2021, reaching US$1.464 billion, well above our Strategic Plan targets.
Yet, the funding picture remains mixed. On a positive note, we saw growth in our non-core revenue, thanks to continued support from steadfast donors, and increases in funding from programme country governments, international financial institutions, private sector foundations, and for humanitarian assistance. We are building on these efforts.
For example, the UNFPA Supplies Partnership, one of our main vehicles for expanding contraceptive access and choice, is supporting governments to mobilize increased domestic resources for sexual and reproductive health.
Already, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo are making use of our new matching fund, which complements domestic contributions for family planning commodities and maternal health medicines.
The largest single source of funding to UNFPA continues to be UN pooled funds and other UN entities, demonstrating our commitment to working with partner agencies.
Funding from international financial institutions grew to US$73 million, thanks to top-ups to the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend programme, SWEDD, and new contributions in Bangladesh.
During a recent visit to Bangladesh, some Board members saw how UNFPA is implementing World Bank funding to support health facilities at all levels, from community clinics to the district hospital and beyond.
Humanitarian funding reached nearly US$350 million in 2021, representing one-third of UNFPA non-core revenue.
UNFPA core funding, however, did not increase. The overall decline in the ratio of core to non-core funding is a growing concern and puts our global impact and progress towards our ‘Three Zeros’ in peril. I appeal to Member States to remember their commitments to the Funding Compact. I encourage all Member States to please contribute to UNFPA core funding as an expression of your support for our ICPD mandate and for multilateralism.
While I expect UNFPA will be able to meet its targets this year, I cannot be certain that we will be able to match 2021 funding levels. We are ever more concerned about how global economic stressors will impact 2023 funding. We call on Member States to protect UNFPA funding levels and to meet official development assistance commitments.
UNFPA is facing increasing need around the world. Even as we strive to expand our funding base, let us remember that core resources provide the bedrock for our work. Now more than ever, we rely on Member States’ support and your commitment to provide the flexible funding needed to safeguard the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls. We count on your early payments to core resources to enable us to plan and deliver efficiently.
UNFPA recently announced the winners of our first-ever Joint Innovation Challenge. Ten women-headed social enterprises were selected, pitching innovations ranging from a portable system to detect potentially deadly pre-eclampsia in pregnancy to a board game that tells players about sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.
Financed by UNFPA’s Equalizer Innovation Accelerator Fund and implemented in cooperation with the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Telecommunication Union, and the International Trade Centre, the 10 winners will receive equity-free investments to take their solutions from pilot stage to scale.
The Accelerator Fund continues to grow its base of strategic supporters, with the pharmaceutical company Bayer recently becoming the first business to join the Fund.
In Dhaka, UNFPA showcased some of the innovations under way there to the Executive Board. In partnership with the World Food Programme, we use blockchain technology to deliver food, menstrual supplies and relevant information to women and adolescent girls.
Our next step? Scale up. That will include innovative financing to reach even more women and girls. As always, we remain mindful of the need for due diligence and risk assessment.
UNFPA’s people are key to our ability to deliver results and to support governments in developing policies, plans and capacity to ensure the sustainability of those results.
We aim to attract and retain high-calibre staff and to foster an inclusive workplace culture. We build upon principles of trust, respect, teamwork, commitment and accountability, imbued with a spirit of innovation.
The 2021 global staff survey showed that UNFPA staff are highly engaged. They are committed. They understand and are proud to contribute to UNFPA’s mandate, often going above and beyond the call of duty.
We are aware that the survey also pointed to areas for improvement, including strengthening work-life balance, and enhancing learning and development.
UNFPA’s new People Strategy, co-created with the participation of over 600 UNFPA personnel, will directly respond to these issues, and is borne from our recognition that staff are at the core of everything we do.
Allow me to welcome the three Regional Directors who are the latest members of our senior management team: Ms. Florence Bauer, Eastern Europe and Central Asia; Ms. Lydia Zigomo, East and Southern Africa; and Ms. Laila Baker, Arab States.
They bring impressive experience to UNFPA, and I look forward to their contributions. I would also like to acknowledge Mr. Harold Robinson, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, who is retiring in the coming weeks. We were fortunate to have his leadership and the leadership of Dr. Luay Shabaneh in the Arab States region in recent years. And I thank Ms. Giulia Vallese of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region and Dr. Bannet Ndyanabangi of the East and Southern Africa region for their able service as Regional Directors ad interim.
I am now pleased to turn the floor over to Ms. Argentina Matavel Piccin, Regional Director for West and Central Africa to provide a snapshot of UNFPA activities in the region.
Obrigada, Argentina. We appreciate your leadership and the accomplishments of the West and Central Africa team.
Madam President, Distinguished Board members,
As the Sustainable Development Goals progress report makes amply clear, we need to do much more – and faster. The 2030 Agenda and humanity itself are in danger.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights are the foundation upon which women’s full participation in their societies is built. If a girl stays in school, she acquires skills that will raise her lifetime earnings, benefiting her children and future generations, increasing her resilience, and reducing vulnerability to violence, various forms of inequality, and climate-related shocks.
Let’s give women and young people the power and opportunities to drive change, determine the course of their own lives and transform their communities, countries and our world.
With the right investments, 8 billion people could mean infinite possibilities for building the more just, equitable and sustainable future we all desire.
The time to act is now.
I look forward to our interaction.