United Nations Conference on Financing for Development. "Invest in Women, Invest in Change"

18 March 2002

Mr. Secretary-General, Chairman, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to address you. We are gathered in Monterrey to try to resolve a paradox: the paradox of a world where wealth is being created faster than ever before, but inequalities are widening faster then ever before; where the 10 richest individuals are richer than the 10 poorest countries; where education and health care are universally valued, but where illiteracy and ill-health are still the norm for half the world.

We have emerged from a century of paradox: a century of systematic destruction and soaring achievement; a century of ethnic strife and emerging democracy; a century of assaults on basic humanity and universal agreement on human rights.

Are we ready now to tip the scale towards humanity: to use human resources and ingenuity to end poverty, to promote human rights and to work towards a satisfying and sustainable life for everyone on the planet? Or will we allow the new century to continue the way it has begun?

There are reasons to think that we cannot continue in this way and expect our civilization to survive. There are four times as many people as there were in 1900. Among us, we wield terrible power. In the last hundred years, we have altered the planet more than in the whole of human history. We have drastically reduced the available margin for error.

Action to end poverty is more than a matter of mere survival. It is a matter of morality. It is simply unacceptable that one fifth of humanity commands more than four fifths of the world's resources, while more than a billion people subsist on a dollar a day. Most of the world's men and women live with the consequences of poverty-malnutrition, chronic ill-health, exposure to communicable disease, and maternal death during childbirth. Largely because of poverty, and our failure to address it, 40 million people are now living with HIV/AIDS - and this is only the beginning. The sad end of this story is that these consequences are all preventable.

We can end poverty, at least extreme poverty. We all know what needs to be done, and to a large extent, we know how to do it. We know that economic poverty has social roots and that poverty is intergenerational. The consensus reached at international United Nations conferences of the 1990s and at the Millennium Summit of 2000 converged around the same practical and affordable goals in several areas, including health, education, population, as well as and gender equity and equality. Achieving these goals would lay a solid foundation for ending poverty in many of the poorest countries over the next generation.

It is encouraging that we can point to success in at least one of these areas. Population has been a success story, where women and men have taken their decisions to plan their families and to contribute to slowing population growth. Today, women in large numbers are making their own choices regarding birth spacing and family size.

Today, women in Bangladesh have chosen to have one half as many children as they did 20 years ago. In India, the average woman has three children today compared to five children two decades ago. In Indonesia, average family size has decreased from more than four children in 1980, to between two and three today. Here in Mexico, in the late 1960s, when UNFPA began its work, total fertility peaked at nearly seven children per woman. A concerted national effort was started in 1974 with UNFPA cooperation. Now, women have on average fewer than three children. Mexico's population profile is beginning to look like that of an industrial country, with a higher proportion of people of working age compared to children and the elderly.

UNFPA has worked for three decades in close partnership with developing countries in all regions. Everything we have learned shows that when women are empowered-through laws that ensure their rights, health care that ensures their well-being and education that ensures their active participation - the benefits go far beyond the individual- they benefit the family, the community and the nation.

While we work to close the poverty gap, we must also close the gender gap. When women are left out of development, families, societies and nations suffer-economically, socially and culturally. We have seen this in many parts of the world. Women are key to development, and therefore, we must invest in their participation in development.

In Mexico and many developing countries, the drop in fertility is much quicker than most experts had expected. One of the results is a smaller cohort of school-age children, a transition that will have its own effect in liberating resources for development-allowing for enhanced investment in the current bulge of young people, the biggest in history; meeting the needs of the growing generation of older people, and building economic strength.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the limited success we have had so far in the area of population and development is a resounding testimony to the wisdom and vision displayed eight years ago by the countries that attended the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. It is a success for the United Nations consensus-building process. It is the success of each country that has invested in population programmes, including population policies and reproductive health.

But, let us not be carried away with this success. In those countries, like Mexico, where early population investments were made, the demographic transition is in process, creating the preconditions for faster economic growth through the demographic bonus. However, investments in women and reproductive health must be sustained or earlier gains can be reversed. Furthermore, there are many poor countries where this process is still at a very initial stage and unmet needs in reproductive health continue to cause too many unwanted pregnancies, unchecked spread of HIV/AIDS and high population growth. For recent optimistic scenarios from experts' projections to materialize, the financial and technical assistance to this group of countries must be increased and sustained in order to achieve universal access to reproductive health by 2015. In spite of successes, the challenges are still daunting.

In Cairo, 179 governments agreed, as a matter of human rights, that they should advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, eliminate violence against women and girls, and ensure women's ability to control their own fertility. Countries also agreed that this was the only way to achieve desired population outcomes. I must underline that: Only if individuals can make their own choices, can both human rights and population goals be achieved.

The success of the Cairo Conference process is a triumph for consultation and partnership, of discussion and negotiation among all countries and all cultures, on one of the thorniest and most divisive subjects on the United Nations agenda. But agreement isn't everything, as we have learned. Eight years ago in Cairo, governments agreed to take a giant step forward and provide universal access to reproductive health services by the year 2015. They also agreed on goals in the area of infant and maternal mortality, and on education.

Governments also explicitly agreed on costs. So far, the Cairo goal of mobilizing $17 billion in 2000 for population activities has only resulted in just over $11 billion in 2000. The developed countries have not reached 50 per cent of the required $5.7 billion in 2000 while the developing countries have reached about 80 per cent of the required $11.3 in domestic funding.

It is a tribute to the governments and the people of the developing countries that they have done so much with so little. Now, it is time for the developed countries to act on their commitments and raise development assistance in line with the Cairo agreement. Commitments to fight poverty and inequality must be matched with resources. The decline in official development assistance must be reversed. Failure to meet agreed financial targets is derailing the achievement of international development goals, especially in the poorest countries.

UNFPA has committed itself to work hard to ensure that population is the context in which national policy dialogues are set, for it is only by identifying the characteristics of the people to be served can we identify what specifically needs to be done and how much it costs. It has also committed itself to participate in a more systematic and effective way in the various national policy dialogues. Besides the United Nations Development Assistance Framework, UNFPA will ensure that it contributes to other national policy dialogues, especially the Sector-Wide Approaches (SWAPs) and PRSPs, so that reproductive health can be mainstreamed in health sector reforms and be well placed in primary health care. This would allow a more effective channelling of domestic resources and would also leverage more and better-invested external resources.

Your investment in the human future will brighten the present and give hope for the future. This year, UNFPA is $50 million below its projections because some countries had to decrease their voluntary contributions to the Fund, because a major donor has not yet decided to release its voluntary contribution and because of losses due to currency conversion.

Mr. Chairman, $50 million contributed to the United Nations Population Fund for 2002 helps prevent nearly 3 million unwanted pregnancies, over 1 million abortions, 7,000 maternal deaths, 90,000 serious maternal illnesses, more than 100,000 infant deaths and countless new cases of HIV infection.

It is time for change. Here in Monterrey, let us pledge once more to support women around the world and free them from poor health and illiteracy. Let us keep the commitments we made in Cairo and reiterated in the Millennium Summit. Let us make that very good investment. The returns are known, and they are very high indeed.

Thank you.

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