UNFPA: The path forward

05 September 2014

Statement by UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin at the Second Regular Session of the Executive Board

Excerpt of remarks, as prepared for delivery

Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of the Executive Board,
Colleagues and friends,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. Our meeting today comes at a historic moment, as we prepare to mark the 20th anniversary of the groundbreaking International Conference on Population and Development.

UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin highlights key achievements and priorities. Photo credit: UNFPA

Twenty years ago, 179 governments from all regions and cultures recognized that empowering women and girls and advancing gender equality was both a question of human rights and one of the surest paths to improved well-being for all.

Twenty years ago, governments called for universal primary education, for universal sexual and reproductive health, including family planning, for major reductions in maternal and child deaths, and for prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

These goals laid the groundwork for the Millennium Development Goals, and we have made real progress. More girls are in school. Fewer women are dying in childbirth. More people are able to exercise their reproductive rights. More women are able to have babies by choice, not chance.

Since 1990, the global total fertility rate fell by 23 per cent and nearly 1 billion people have advanced out of extreme poverty.

The ICPD review points to much progress over the past two decades, but it also shows that stubborn inequalities continue to leave far too many of us behind and discrimination continues to keep too many from realizing their human rights, including their reproductive rights.

Fortunately, armed with the review’s data, we have a better idea of where we need to focus our efforts to complete this unfinished business, face emerging challenges, and accelerate action to fully implement the Cairo agenda.

We also know that in order to make progress, in order to advance a universal sustainable development agenda beyond 2015, we must work towards a common understanding of the universality of human rights.

Development can only succeed when human rights are respected. This emphasis on the rights of individual women, men and young people underpins the ICPD Programme of Action, guides UNFPA’s work and must be the cornerstone of the Sustainable Development Goals. There can be no development without human rights.

In just a few weeks, Member States will meet at the highest level during the UN General Assembly Special Session on the ICPD Programme of Action and its follow-up beyond 2014. Our hope is that the lessons learned over the past 20 years will inform their work to define sustainable development goals for the future and that they will keep in mind the most important message of the ICPD – that development is about people, about human well-being, about dignity and human rights.

It’s about the power of people to find sustainable solutions, the power of people to move from crisis to recovery, the power of people to support each other and uphold human rights, the power of people to be entrepreneurs, and agents of change, the power of people to drive green and inclusive economic growth with benefits that are widely shared across society. It’s about resilience – empowered, resilient people building resilient societies.

Let me turn now to some of the key areas where we will be focusing our efforts going forward.

Path forward

As you know, of all the MDGs, we have made the least progress on MDG 5 and its two targets – to reduce maternal mortality and increase access to reproductive health.

To address this challenge and ramp up our efforts, UNFPA and its partners, including governments, the United Nations system, civil society and the private sector, recently launched a roadmap aimed at speeding up progress to save an additional 140,000 women and 250,000 newborns and significantly increase access to reproductive health services, including modern contraception, by the end of 2015.

UNFPA is also working with partners to reach 120 million women and girls by 2020 with modern contraceptives, as agreed at the 2012 London Family Planning Summit. We continue to commit around 40 per cent of our programme resources to family planning, so that individuals and couples can decide whether to have children, and if they choose to do so, when and how many. In 2013, this enabled us to help 95 countries improve the availability and choice of contraceptives.

Fulfilling the promise of youth

Part of this commitment means working to reach those with the least access, including young people, particularly adolescent girls, and the most marginalized, disadvantaged and under-served populations, including women and girls in crises.

The largest generation of adolescents is now entering their sexual and reproductive lives, as well as their economically productive lives.

Yet lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services and information, including contraception and comprehensive sexuality education, continues to limit young people’s opportunities. Early marriage and early pregnancy jeopardize the health and well-being of far too many adolescent girls, closing the door to education and opportunities for a better life. Too many girls continue to be subjected to gender-based violence and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation – heinous violations of their human rights. Violations compounded by the fact that far too few of these girls, particularly the poorest and most marginalized, have access to the support, services and protection they so desperately need.

To take just one example of the high costs they pay, although HIV-related deaths are down overall, among adolescents they are actually going up and the rates of increase are highest for girls.

Every young person has the right to health, to education, and to live free from violence, coercion and discrimination.

Every young person deserves the skills they need to compete in the labour market. Every young person deserves equal opportunity, to have a fair chance to reach their innate potential. Every young person has the right to sexual and reproductive health, to reproductive rights, to know how to protect themselves and their futures.

And UNFPA will continue stand by the world’s young people, particularly the most marginalized adolescent girls, and promote their access to youth-friendly services and information, to education and skills development opportunities, and to a voice in decisions affecting them and their societies.

Now more than ever, it is time to invest in and unleash the power of young people to create the future we want – a sustainable world where everybody has equal opportunities.

Work in crises

UNFPA’s efforts to reach the most marginalized and unreached extends to our humanitarian work to provide life-saving commodities and services to women and girls under some of the most challenging and dangerous circumstances.

As the international community struggles to respond to larger, more complex and frequent emergencies, UNFPA has strengthened its humanitarian response and increased by 50 per cent the implementation of life-saving programmes between 2012 and 2013.

UNFPA is currently responding to an unprecedented number of large-scale disasters simultaneously. While we continue to respond to humanitarian emergencies in Syria, Iraq, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, among other crises, we are also working to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health care – including safe deliveries – in countries struggling to cope with the Ebola outbreak.

Ebola is devastating health systems and threatening the political, social and economic stability of affected countries and regional security in West Africa. Greater political engagement and resources are urgently needed to help mitigate these risks.

UNFPA will continue to support countries’ efforts, not only in ensuring maternal health services, but also in contact tracing, technical support and social mobilization to support health advocacy strategies and prevent further spread of the disease.

Women form the backbone of families and communities. When emergencies strike, their important contributions become even more vital, but their particular needs and vulnerabilities are often overlooked. And, as we have seen tragically in the case of Ebola, women, who bear the burden of care, have been the hardest hit. UNFPA will continue to work to ensure that women’s needs are factored into the planning of all humanitarian assistance and that their urgent reproductive health needs are not forgotten.

Increasing understanding

Let me turn now to another significant focus for us – population data and the use of this data to understand population dynamics – how many people are living today and how population numbers will change, how old people are and how age structures will change, and where people are living and how geographic distribution will change in coming years.

Without the systematic collection of population data and use of population projections countries cannot understand and meet the needs of their people or hope to benefit from a potential demographic dividend arising from their changing population structures.

This is a critically important area, and UNFPA will continue to assist countries in building their capacity for generating population data, including developing or strengthening civil registration and vital statistics systems, and using this data to guide policymaking and national development strategies. We also stand ready to leverage our partnerships with national statistical offices to advance UN system action in this area.

I believe that UNFPA is better equipped than ever to meet the challenges we face and firmly committed to stepping up our efforts and mobilizing the broadest possible support to promote the sexual and reproductive health of all people, to ensure that no woman dies giving life and to enable everyone everywhere to live in dignity and realize their human rights.


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