The work of UNFPA encompasses a wide range of issues, ranging from the most intimate and personal decisions to the impact of those decisions on global population and development trends.
Reproductive health in the broadest sense is the very heart of the UNFPA mandate. It is also an issue that lies at the intersection of human rights, gender equality and population dynamics. Lack of access to reproductive health and rights, including the ability to freely choose the number and spacing of births, places a disproportionate burden on two groups in particular: women and young people, especially those who are marginalized by poverty or other circumstances.
The interlinkages among the many issues that comprise the work of UNFPA are outlined in the graphic (above) of the UNFPA Strategic Plan. But they are spelled out in detail in the document that guides UNFPA. The Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo 1994) lays out a far-sighted 20-year plan for advancing human well-being. It emphasizes the crucial role of sexual and reproductive health and addresses almost every aspect of population and development, from the importance of primary education and health care to the impact of urbanization, migration, ageing and climate change.
The ICPD Programme of Action was a foundation for the Millennium Development Goals, which were endorsed by world leaders at the beginning of this century and have been instrumental in guiding and tracking progress since then.
The importance of population issues was spotlighted in 2011 when world population surpassed 7 billion. The media attention and dialogue the milestone fostered generated a wider understanding of the way in which human rights-based policies - such as universal access to reproductive health care and family planning, investment in education, and the empowerment of women and youth - can impact population trends.
The need to focus on population dynamics as a component of sustainable development is becoming more urgent as environmental pressures mount. It is also a key concern in the lead-up to the high-level Rio+20 Conference in 2012. The global contract to improve lives, especially for the 1 in 7 living in extreme poverty, coupled with a burgeoning global population, will result in mounting environmental pressures. It is paramount that policy makers give attention to population dynamics if they are to effectively address the sustainable development challenge.