Frequently Asked Questions

What is UNFPA's goal?

UNFPA promotes the right of all individuals to develop to their fullest potential. To exercise this right, all people, especially women, need access to information and services on reproductive health, including family planning and sexual health, to enable them to make informed and voluntary choices and decisions. As reflected in our mission statement, "UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, delivers a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person's potential is fulfilled" .

What is the UNFPA mandate?

The mandate of UNFPA, as established by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1973 and reaffirmed in 1993, is (1) to build the knowledge and the capacity to respond to needs in population and family planning; (2) to promote awareness in both developed and developing countries of population problems and possible strategies to deal with these problems; (3) to assist their population problems in the forms and means best suited to the individual countries' needs; (4) to assume a leading role in the United Nations system in promoting population programmes, and to coordinate projects supported by the Fund.

At the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994) these broad ideas were fleshed out in greater detail and developed to give more emphasis to the gender and human rights dimensions of population issues. UNFPA was given the lead role in helping countries carry out the Programme of Action, which was adopted by 179 governments at the Cairo Conference. Subsequent international agreements at ICPD+5, the Millennium Summit (2000) and the World Summit (2005) have linked UNFPA’s mandate with specific, time-bound goals, and given greater emphasis to the Fund’s role in HIV prevention and poverty reduction.

The three key areas of the UNFPA mandate -- reproductive health, gender equality and population and development strategies -- are summarized in its Mission Statement - "UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, delivers a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person's potential is fulfilled" .

What does UNFPA stand for?

The United Nations Fund for Population Activities was established as a trust fund in 1967 and began funding population programmes in 1969. In 1987, it was officially renamed the United Nations Population Fund, reflecting its lead role in the UN system in the area of population. The original abbreviation, UNFPA, was retained.

For general communications, UNFPA is used as the Fund’s working title in all languages. The full name is spelled out after the first reference. Official UN documents use the full written out name.

Who funds and governs UNFPA?

UNFPA is entirely supported by voluntary contributions of donor governments, intergovernmental organizations, private sector groups and foundations and individuals, not by the UN regular budget. In 2005, most UN Member States – some 172 countries – contributed to UNFPA.

The Fund is a subsidiary organ of the UN General Assembly. It reports to the UNDP/UNFPA Executive Board of 36 UN Member States on administrative, financial and programme matters and receives overall policy guidance from the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The Executive Board is composed of 36 members: eight from Africa, seven from Asia and the Pacific, four from Eastern Europe, five from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 12 from Western Europe and other developed countries.

Does the United States fund UNFPA?

The United States was one of the founders of UNFPA and continues to sit on the 36-member Executive Board that approves its programmes. In UNFPA's early years, the United States contributed as much as half of the Fund's budget. Over the last two decades, US funding has been intermittent. Funds appropriated by the United States Congress from 2002 - 2008 -- some $34 million annually -- were withheld by the administration. In January 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that funding would be restored.

What is World Population Day?

World Population Day, which seeks to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues, was established by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989. It was an outgrowth of the interest generated by the Day of Five Billion, which was observed on 11 July 1987.

Each year on 11 July, a number of UNFPA Country Offices and other organizations and institutions mark the day with a variety of activities to bring attention to population issues. UNFPA, which sponsors the observance, publishes posters and other advocacy materials for this purpose.

What is reproductive health?

Reproductive health can be defined as a state of well-being related to one’s sexual and reproductive life. It implies, according to the ICPD Programme of Action, “that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.” (para. 7.2)

The concept of reproductive health is the outcome of an evolution in thinking about health and family planning. The experience of countries all around the world has shown that to meet the reproductive and sexual health requirements of individuals, family planning services need to be integrated into a wider framework that addresses their overall health and well-being. UNFPA programmes seek to offer integrated reproductive health services, including interventions to address maternal mortality, gender-based violence, harmful practices, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and adolescent reproductive health, as well as family planning.

Although universal access to reproductive health by 2015 is an international goal that has been affirmed at the highest level, we have a long way to go to achieve that aim. Reproductive health concerns – including AIDS – are the leading cause of death and illness in women worldwide (15-44 years of age). Because reproductive health problems are borne disproportionately by women, the issue has gender and human rights dimensions.

Reproductive health, including family planning and sexual health, remains the cornerstone of UNFPA assistance and the area in which we invest the highest proportion of our resources.

What is UNFPA’s involvement in the Millennium Development Goals?

The Millennium Development Goals focus the efforts of the world community on achieving significant, measurable improvements in people's lives and establish yardsticks for measuring results.

The MDGs are also closely related to, aligned with, and, in many cases, inspired by the ICPD and ICPD+5 agreements that guide UNFPA. The work of UNFPA is very directly related to five of the MDGS, especially MDG 5 (improving maternal health) and MDG 3 (promoting gender equality and women's empowerment. UNFPA plays an indirect role in assisting countries to meet all eight of them. The Fund's work is directly related to the goals dealing with poverty reduction, gender equality and the empowerment of women, child mortality, maternal health, and HIV/AIDS.

The crucial linkages between reproductive health and the achievement of other development goals was reaffirmed at the highest level at the 2005 World Summit, which led to the adoption of new targets, including universal access to reproductive health by 2015.

How does UNFPA’s work on population issues relate to its focus on reproductive health and gender issues?

Population dynamics, including growth rates, age structure, fertility and mortality, migration and more – influence every aspect of human, social and economic development. The other core areas of UNFPA’s work, including reproductive health and women’s empowerment, powerfully influence population trends and dynamics.

Until 1994, population planning often took the form of reaching specific demographic targets. The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, however, underscored and reaffirmed the idea that individuals and couples are at the heart of development and enjoy the basic human right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children. These decisions, multiplied across communities and countries, are what create population trends.

Knowledge of countries’ demographic situations has increased significantly over the years, and there is evidence that investments in education and reproductive health reduce poverty. During the past four decades, fertility rates have declined dramatically, and the use of contraceptives increased from 9 per cent in 1960 to more than 60 per cent today.

For most families and countries, lower birth rates allow for greater investment in each child, healthier mothers and children, and better prospects for the future.

Does giving sex education to adolescents encourage sexual activity?

No. Many studies show that sex education promotes responsible attitudes and behaviour. These studies also show that providing adolescents with information and services on reproductive and sexual health enables them to postpone the onset of sexual activity and encourages them to have fewer partners. When these young people do engage in sex, they are more likely protect themselves from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. This was reaffirmed by UNAIDS findings released in May 2006 showing that education has led to delayed sexual debut and increased use of condoms in several areas, which is tied to a decrease in HIV prevalence in young people.

Does UNFPA promote abortion?

No. Guided by paragraph 8.25 of the Cairo Programme of Action, UNFPA does not support or promote abortion as a method of family planning. It accords the highest priority and support to voluntary family planning to prevent unwanted pregnancies so as to eliminate recourse to abortion. UNFPA supports governments to strengthen their national health systems to deal effectively with complications of unsafe abortions, thereby saving women’s lives (every year, an estimated 8 per cent of maternal deaths result from  unsafe abortions).

How does emergency contraception work?

According to the World Health Organization, emergency contraceptives prevent unintended pregnancies. Since they do not terminate pregnancy, their use is not a form of abortion. Women have the right to information and services on emergency contraception just as with all other safe and effective methods of family planning.

Are condoms effective protection against HIV?

The male latex condom is the single, most efficient, available technology to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, according to the UNAIDS Position Statement on Condoms and HIV Prevention. Condom use is a critical element in a comprehensive, effective and sustainable approach to HIV prevention and treatment, and condoms have played a decisive role in HIV prevention efforts in many countries. In some countries, female condoms are also beginning to play a larger role in HIV prevention.

What is fistula and what is UNFPA’s role in the Campaign to End Fistula?

Obstetric fistula is a devastating injury of childbearing that affects the lives of millions of women – mostly those who are poor, young and living in remote areas. Addressing this injury relates to many aspects of UNFPA’s mission, including ensuring that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect. For this reason, UNFPA spearheaded the global Campaign to End Fistula.

Because the issue is complex, a separate campaign website, with its own set of Frequently Asked Questions specific to the issue, is available.

Is UNFPA involved in the issue of female circumcision?

The accepted term for this practice is female genital mutilation/cutting. UNFPA considers it to be a harmful practice that violates the rights of girls and women. UNFPA and UNICEF cosponsor the Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Accelerating Change. The goal of the Joint Programme is to contribute to the accelerated abandonment of female genital mutilation/cutting in 17 countries in Africa by creating a rapid shift in social norms. In the ‘Gender Equality’ section of our website, you will find a separate set of Frequently Asked Questions related to this topic.

Where can I get the latest statistics on world population trends?

The website of Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs provides the latest world population data and projections used by the UN system in a variety of formats.

Where can I get more specific information about what UNFPA does in specific countries?

The Worldwide section of this website can link you to specific information about UNFPA programmes in each country, as well as to population and demographic data and indicators related to that country. You can also use our search engine to find feature stories, news items and reports that provides details about programmes and activities in specific countries.

What can I do to support the work of UNFPA?

A financial contribution is a great way to show your support and enable UNFPA to help more people. Our donations page provides a number of ways to give, including different currencies, campaigns and ways of paying. It also gives you an idea of how far your money can go.

Simply staying informed about the issues and sharing what you learn with others also makes a big difference. Increased public awareness of issues often leads to greater political support to address them. Visiting this website frequently is a good way to stay abreast of our work.

The UNFPA-sponsored Campaign to End Fistula provides additional suggestions about ways to get involved in this aspect of our work to save mothers’ lives.

Where do I find information about doing business with UNFPA?

If you are a potential supplier or client, see our section on procurement. If you are a job seeker, check the employment section.

This section of the web, Frequently Asked Questions, was last updated in November 2008.