25 January 2007

Statement at the 2007 First Regular Session of the UNDP/UNFPA Executive Board

by Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director, UNFPA

Mr. President,

Distinguished Members of the Executive Board,

Colleagues and Friends,

Happy New Year! It is always a pleasure to address you as members of the Executive Board and this session is no exception. We welcome the new President, Ambassador Carsten Staur of Denmark, and the new Bureau and pledge our continued cooperation. And we thank Ambassador Valeriy Kuchinsky and all of you who served the Board so well in the past.

My colleagues and I look forward to our discussions this week, and to working with you throughout the year. This is a time of change for the United Nations and I want to stress that UNFPA, United Nations Population Fund, is ready for change. As you know, we have a challenging and hopefully successful year ahead of us. And we are committed to doing the right things and to doing them right.

During the course of the year, we will engage you as Board members in the articulation and finalization of the strategic plan for 2008 to 2011. This strategic framework guides all aspects of the organization’s work at all levels. It informs our global, regional and country programmes, the new way of delivering technical assistance and capacity-building, our organizational structure, and how we allocate resources.

I would like to stress that all of these elements that are coming forward this year, for a decision by the Board in September, form parts of a whole. Together, they form the basis for results-based programming, management and budgeting for UNFPA. Needless to say, we look forward to working with you as we go forward.

In my statement today, I will focus on my vision for UNFPA, how we will lead the agenda of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and how best we can work together to achieve greater impact. I will highlight elements of our emerging strategic plan for the next four years. I will explain how we plan to take full advantage of the opportunities created by United Nations reform and the new aid environment to achieve our goals to guarantee the right to sexual and reproductive health, to advance gender equality, and to integrate population issues into development processes to reduce poverty. I will give you an update on our financial situation and highlight new initiatives within UNFPA to enhance accountability to ensure that our resources are well spent.

But before we look ahead, I would like to pay a special tribute to our former Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. He led the United Nations through some tough times and remained focused on the Organization’s goals and principles. Mr. Annan is a champion of human rights, including the right to sexual and reproductive health and the rights of women. His support for the ICPD agenda was unwavering. And for that, we remain grateful and remember him with warmth and respect.

I would also like to welcome our new Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and his new team, including the new Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro. My colleagues and I at UNFPA look forward to the Secretary-General’s leadership, and to being part of his team.

I would also like to take this opportunity to pay special tribute to my colleague and good friend, James Morris, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP). It has been a genuine pleasure to work with Jim; he is passionate about providing food relief to children, women and families in need. And he provided tremendous leadership as Special Envoy to address the triple threat of food insecurity, HIV/AIDS, and weakened government capacity to deliver basic services in the southern Africa region. As United Nations agencies, we have gained meaningful insight on how we can work together at the regional level to support countries. I also extend a warm welcome to Josette Sheeran, the new WFP Executive Director and pledge our continued partnership and collaboration.

We also welcome Margaret Chan, the new Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). At UNFPA, we applaud her stated priority to focus on improving the health of women and the African people and strengthening health systems. UNFPA looks forward to continued close collaboration with WHO to advance sexual and reproductive health. I am pleased to have been invited as one of two guest speakers to address the World Health Assembly in May. And I am excited about our current and future collaboration.

Finally, within UNFPA, I would like to pay very special tribute to our Deputy Executive Director (Programme) Kunio Waki, who is retiring this month after seven years of dedicated service to UNFPA. Prior to joining UNFPA, Kunio served with distinction for 26 years at our partner agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). We thank him for his leadership and wish him much happiness in the years to come. We will miss his frankness and forthcoming nature. To his credit, he never said no to any new responsibility that I added to he workload and tried to achieve it as best as he could. I will miss his support and collegiality.

The Way Forward: Field Focus on Results

Mr. President and members of the Board,

When he addressed the staff of the United Nations for the first time, our new Secretary-General said that we have to show that we are ready and eager to change.

I want to assure you that UNFPA is ready and eager to change.

We want to achieve stronger results in the countries and communities we work.

We want less bureaucracy and red tape.

We want innovation and real partnership.

We want to support governments and people in their quest for better living standards in larger freedom.

We want to make greater progress in advancing the ICPD Programme of Action and achieving development goals.

It is in this spirit—in the spirit of advancing human rights, including the right to sexual and reproductive health—that we proposed organizational changes last year to the way we support countries and United Nations Country Teams.

But obviously for our efforts to succeed, we need your support and guidance.

As members of the Executive Board, you have raised questions about the UNFPA plan for regionalization. Some of these concerns were echoed last month by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).

Mr. President,

I would like to assure Member States that we have heard your concerns and suggestions. And we have internalized them. We are committed to further consultation and dialogue with the focus on the strategic plan for 2008 to 2011 as the guiding and unifying vision that drives all the work we do and the way we do it.

For UNFPA, 2007 is a pivotal year. Together, we will work throughout the year to actively shape UNFPA into the organization we want to become to be more effective, efficient, accountable and to achieve greater results. We will work together to maximize our impact in line with United Nations reform and the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.

Today, we have strong performance in some countries and less than optimal performance in others. We face new challenges and opportunities in supporting nationally led development and working together as One UN within the new aid environment. Therefore, we have to become more focused, strategic and systematic, so that we can achieve greater results across the board. At the same time, we have to be flexible, so that we can respond to national and regional priorities and emerging needs. And we have to be innovative.

I would like to assure you that UNFPA wants change not for the sake of change, but for the benefit of the people we are expected to serve.

For us, United Nations reform will be a success and aid will be effective when we have achieved universal access to reproductive health and when maternal mortality rates decline and women survive childbirth.

We can claim success when couples are able to plan their families and individuals have the knowledge and means to avoid HIV infection.

We can declare victory when women can enjoy their rights, and female genital mutilation/cutting, child marriage, maternal mortality, fistula, and gender discrimination and violence are no longer commonplace but rare.

For us, United Nations reform and aid effectiveness have a common goal: to increase the impact of our interventions and to produce positive results in the lives of the people we serve.

To make a greater impact, UNFPA is focusing on further mainstreaming the ICPD agenda. We are working to ensure that the right to sexual and reproductive health is guaranteed in laws and policies, fully integrated in development and humanitarian plans and budgets, and made real through the provision of comprehensive reproductive health services through strengthened health systems.

We are working to mainstream gender in all the work we do with development and humanitarian partners. At the centre of the ICPD agenda is gender equality and equity. UNFPA plays a strong role in numerous gender task forces throughout the United Nations system. Last year, we made progress in the Inter-agency Standing Committee on Humanitarian Affairs in strengthening the gender task force, with UNFPA and WHO as co-chairs, and approving a new gender strategy to take us forward. We are working with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to advance gender budgeting, so that adequate resources are devoted in national budgets to women’s empowerment, male involvement and gender equality. These are a few examples, there are many more.

We are also working to mainstream population and poverty analysis into development processes.

We know that a solid understanding of demographic trends and population dynamics is the foundation for good decision-making. It is absolutely essential to good governance.

UNFPA will continue to provide support to build national capacity for censuses, surveys, and needs assessments—for overall data collection, analysis and use. We are actively involved in the 2010 round of censuses because we know that to make every person count, every person has to be counted. And we are committed to data that are disaggregated by sex, age and other key variables, so we can better support governments in developing policies and programmes that are gender-sensitive, identify disparities and respond to the needs of the poor and marginalized. Good data are key to targeted and effective humanitarian assistance.

We are committed to leading the ICPD agenda because we know that we are dealing with sensitive issues that cut to the core of human existence and are fundamental to human development and freedom. Sexuality, gender relations and reproduction are often difficult even for couples to discuss, let alone governments. But we have made tremendous progress over the years with dedicated partners in breaking the silence and opening up avenues for discussion to improve the health and well-being of people.

We are using culturally sensitive approaches to promote human rights, to build trust, break down barriers and foster local ownership. We do not believe in imposing change from the outside. Our approach is based on listening and supporting change from within. This is a guiding principle for UNFPA as we support nationally led development and community empowerment.

Key to success is building alliances with traditional and non-traditional allies and working through others. Key to success is fostering partnership between government and civil society, including regional institutions, to make our assistance more effective in support of national ownership. Building capacity and promoting South-South cooperation are critical.

Mr. President,

Today, half of all people on this Earth are under the age of 25 and the opportunities they have and decisions they take will determine our common future. If we want to build a more prosperous and peaceful world, we must focus on youth. They are innovators and agents of change. I would like to stress that youth are key to our proposed strategic plan. And their well-being, especially their sexual and reproductive health, is key to the well-being of their societies. We have a global Youth Advisory Panel. We have established national youth panels in many countries and we have a new UNFPA youth framework that guides the way forward.

We are also strengthening partnership with parliamentarians. I am pleased with the outcome of the 3rd International Parliamentarians’ Conference on ICPD Implementation, last November in Bangkok, and I thank everyone who was involved. We count on parliamentarians to represent the public interest and to advance the ICPD agenda in policies, laws and budgets.

In the years ahead, we will continue to expand partnerships with all sectors of society—with women’s groups, with community and religious leaders, with human rights activists, with lawyers’ associations, with persons with disabilities, with people who are HIV positive and living with AIDS, with midwives and health worker associations, with governments and naturally, within the United Nations system—to make greater progress.

We are committed to leading the ICPD agenda because we know, and this has been confirmed by studies and asserted by world leaders at the 2005 World Summit, that reproductive health is central to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

It is now widely accepted that we will not reduce poverty, advance women’s empowerment and gender equality, improve maternal health, reduce child mortality, combat HIV/AIDS, and achieve sustainable development unless greater progress is made to ensure universal access to reproductive health.

The bottom line is that we are committed to leading the ICPD agenda because we believe in it. And we are passionate about our cause. Who among us cannot stand behind an agenda that promotes equality, dignity and opportunity for all?

But we know that this agenda is sensitive and highly politicized. And to make greater progress, we must continue to build broad-based support and ownership for the ICPD agenda at all levels—globally, regionally, nationally and within communities.

Mr. President and members of the Board,

During my tenure as Head of UNFPA, we have taken many steps forward.

We have developed a strategic vision and direction that focuses on national ownership, partnership, advocacy, capacity-building and technical support.

We have rolled out a human resources strategy that is built on staff development, competency, rotation, and learning and training.

We have instituted a knowledge-sharing system to capture knowledge and share it throughout the organization.

We have reinforced internal oversight by modernizing the audit system and moving towards risk management and the prevention of fraud.

We have upgraded business practices and processes and strengthened results-based management.

We have streamlined work processes to build better teamwork across divisions.

We have instituted environmental scanning, so that we can map out opportunities and challenges and find the best way forward.

We have strengthened country offices, which we continue to do. In our budget for 2006 and 2007, a majority of new posts are for country offices. This allows us to better respond to the realities we face and provide better support to governments and the people we serve.

In all that we do, we ask: How does this advance United Nations reform?

We have come a long way. But as I said earlier, we are still not where we want to be. We need to do more. We need to refine our approach.

As I told my colleagues at our regional planning meetings at the end of last year: Times are changing and we have to change with the times to remain relevant and valued.

It is worth quoting the great naturalist, Charles Darwin, who said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent…It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Today, UNFPA is actively adapting to change.

We are working to leverage greater resources and generate greater impact by integrating population, reproductive health and rights, and gender in all national development processes—in poverty reduction strategies, sector-wide approaches, and government budgets. Today, we are involved in 27 sector plans and policies. We have good examples of success in Ghana, India, Malawi and Tanzania, to name a few, where government funding for reproductive health has increased considerably. And today and tomorrow we are meeting with the World Bank to increase a youth focus in poverty reduction strategies. This is extremely important, given the youth bulge in many developing countries, and UNICEF and other partners are also participating.

In every region, we are working to support national leadership and country ownership and to build national capacity, using national systems, personnel and processes, in line with the Paris Declaration and United Nations reform.

And we are working to deliver results together as One UN.

UN Reform

Mr. President,

As I have stated to this Board before, UNFPA is fully supportive of United Nations reform.

We welcome the report of the High-level Panel on United Nations System-wide Coherence, and look forward to decisions in the General Assembly and your guidance in carrying the recommendations forward.

Yesterday, my colleague, Kemal Dervis, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), briefed you on our vision for implementing the report and the actions that are already underway. And we are in agreement on moving forward.

I am pleased to report that all over the world, in more and more countries, United Nations Country Teams are joining hands and working together in line with the Triennial Comprehensive Policy Review.

Today, we are working towards One UN. We are excited about being part of the eight pilot countries that are moving forward with the One UN. We congratulate the governments that have agreed to work with the United Nations system on this important initiative.

UNFPA fully supports these efforts. We know that we need to do things differently and to do different things. And we recognize that this new way of working requires resources, rethinking and time.

We have learned from our experience in Viet Nam, for example, that to advance the ICPD agenda, we need the right personnel with the right mix of expertise involved in the design of the unified programme and its implementation in support of our Representative and the entire United Nations Country Team.

To advance the ICPD agenda, we realize that we have to strengthen country office capacity in countries that are taking forward the One UN joint office and joint programming activities. As you know, we have relatively limited human resources and we are reaching out to all partners for further support. We are also working within the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) to orient Resident Coordinators to the UNFPA mandate.

As the Chair of the High-level Committee on Management, I am pleased to report that we are making progress on the harmonization of business practices across the United Nations system in support of One UN. On Friday morning, the Board will receive an update on the adoption of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards. The implementation of these standards, together with harmonization of financial rules and regulations, will make a major contribution to the harmonization of other business practices across the United Nations system. We will present a proposal for the further harmonization of UN business practices in April to the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB). And naturally, UNFPA is very active in this.

With the secretariat of the Chief Executives Board, we are working on a proposal to map what has been accomplished so far, where we want to be, what we still need to do, and how to go about it. We fully realize that programmatic needs should guide changes in business processes. And we also know that programme coherence cannot be realized until we have coherent business practices in such areas as data, human resources, reporting, monitoring, procurement, financing and payment. The bottom line is we cannot have One UN unless we have one coherent set of business practices.


Mr. President and members of the Board,

Linked to United Nations reform is accountability. UNFPA is very much focused on putting in place a system of checks and balances to prevent and detect fraud and to ensure that our resources are wisely spent and producing results. We are focused on being proactive and preventive rather than merely reactive so that we can continuously anticipate and address gaps and vulnerabilities. And we are committed to communicating our policies and progress to all UNFPA staff members and stakeholders.

We have instituted an Audit Advisory Committee, composed of totally independent experts. The Committee assists me in fulfilling my responsibilities for sound financial management and reporting, external audit matters, risk management, and internal control and investigation. We are leading the way in setting a very high standard that is in line with best practices in the private sector. We have established an online whistle-blower hotline, so that people can anonymously report any offences. And we are conducting workshops in every region this year, so that UNFPA staff members are fully trained to identify and manage risk and prevent and detect fraud. We are also working to improve monitoring and evaluation, which is critical to this process.

UNFPA Financial Situation

Mr. President,

Allow me now to turn to the important subject of resource mobilization. The year 2006 was an inspiring year for UNFPA: We did better than last year on three counts—in total core income, in the number of donors, and in the number of multi-year pledges. A total of 180 countries pledged their support and financial contribution to our organization, eight more than in 2005.

This very high number signifies support for our work and the importance of the ICPD mandate to the United Nations membership at large. Total core income for 2006 was approximately $362 million, slightly higher than in 2005. Non-core income remained at roughly the same level, just below $160 million, which is impressive considering that non-core in 2005 was boosted significantly by resources devoted to the Indian Ocean tsunami and the earthquake in Pakistan. We are very pleased with these results and would like to express our heartfelt thanks to all the countries that pledged.

Among our family of donors we count all countries of sub-Saharan Africa and all countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. We were particularly pleased to see Argentina, Ecuador and Grenada return as donors to UNFPA. First time donors last year were: Monaco, San Marino and Ukraine to whom we are very grateful. On a very personal note, I would especially like to thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for it largest-ever contribution to non-core resources for UNFPA and we look forward to an increase in its core contribution as well. And I would like to thank our top ten donors in 2006: The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, United Kingdom, Japan, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Canada and Switzerland.

Another encouraging sign was the increase in the number of multi-year pledges: 73 in 2006, up from 55 the previous year. This development increases the sustainability and predictability of our funding base. And we hope that the donors in the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) will start to pledge more and more in the multi-year format, following the lead of programme countries. Furthermore, I hope that most countries that pledged will be able to follow-up with an early payment for the current year, which will facilitate our financial planning and cash flow management. For 2007, I hope to be able to report to you later in the year that we have passed the $400 million benchmark for core resources. This is our goal and we believe it is both feasible and reasonable.

Follow-up to the World Summit

Mr. President,

As we look ahead, we have every reason to be excited. The year 2006 saw many achievements on which we must build as we finalize our strategic plan for 2008 to 2011.

Reproductive Health and Rights

At the global level, we now have a target on universal access to reproductive health by 2015 within the monitoring framework of the MDGs.

The new target under MDG 5 to improve maternal health is a big step forward. It will facilitate advocacy, policy dialogue, the expansion of reproductive health services, and better monitoring and accountability.

Together, we must make sure that the new target and its indicators on universal access to reproductive health are fully integrated into development strategies, plans and budgets. I welcome the steps that have already been taken in this regard and thank you for your support. Here I would like to thank the European Union for the adoption last month of the Development Cooperation Instrument, which emphasizes the need to support sexual and reproductive health and rights.

I would also like to pay tribute to the African Health Ministers. They demonstrated unprecedented political support for sexual and reproductive health in the Maputo Plan of Action they adopted last October. The plan to expand sexual and reproductive health services throughout the African continent is bold and ambitious. It focuses on saving the lives of women and youth. But, more importantly, it is solid and practical. The plan contains outputs, targets, costing, a timeline, and mechanisms for monitoring and reporting.

All of us at UNFPA, and our partners, are pleased with the outcome of this ground-breaking meeting. Now the real work begins on national implementation, especially the integration of this plan with the national roadmaps for achieving the MDGs. We all stand ready to support Africa in this clear commitment.

Mr. President,

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Safe Motherhood Initiative and, sadly, the number of women dying during childbirth remains the same as when the campaign began. Although progress has been made in some countries, the global statistics remain unchanged.

UNFPA is committed to making greater progress and there is no better time to do so than now. Experience shows that the surest way to save mothers’ lives is to deliver a full range of reproductive health services and supplies through a strong primary health-care system. The countries that have made the most progress have followed this course, and they are reaping the benefits.

UNFPA is a committed to the New Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. And we are committed to strengthening health systems and the health workforce together with other partners. Last month in Tunisia, we organized the first International Forum on Midwifery in the Community, together with WHO and the International Confederation of Midwives. The goal is to scale up the services of midwives in the community, so that we can improve health and prevent avoidable death and disability.

This brings me to the issue of unsafe abortion. Today, unsafe abortion is claiming the lives of far too many women, an estimated 186 women every day. And it is the poorest women who are dying, those who have the least access to information and services and who cannot afford proper care.

UNFPA is committed to raising awareness about unsafe abortion as a threat to public health, in line with paragraph 8.25 of the ICPD Programme of Action. We are committed to meeting unmet need for family planning to prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place. By providing women and couples with contraceptive information and services, we will reduce rates of abortion. By ensuring that post-abortion counselling, education and family planning services are offered promptly, we will reduce the incidence of repeat abortion. We must also do more to treat the complications arising from abortion. And let us remember that governments agreed in Cairo that where abortion is legal, it should be safe. It is an issue that should be decided at the national level.

Mr. President,

Critical to our collective success is commodity security. The Global Programme to Enhance Reproductive Health Commodity Security is an attempt to do things differently and really work together at the national level. Predictable funds for the Global Programme will foster reliable supplies now and build strong systems for the long-term. This is an integral part of efforts to strengthen national health systems.

We are grateful to the early adopters who have shown faith and provided funds for this initiative in 2006. For those of you who have not yet contributed to the Programme, I encourage you to do so. The Global Programme on Reproductive Health Commodity Security provides a sound foundation for all of our work in reproductive health and HIV prevention.

UNFPA will continue to support countries in HIV prevention, in line with the UNAIDS division of labour, to ensure universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support. I am pleased to report that work is underway in several countries to better link sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS. And progress is being made to advance sexual and reproductive health services and information for youth and adolescents.

Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality

Mr. President,

Gender equality is a guiding principle of the ICPD Programme of Action, and UNFPA remains committed to the goal of gender equality, which is reflected in our proposed strategic plan. At UNFPA, we know that we will not make greater progress in reproductive health and rights, and development at large, unless the status of women is improved.

While significant progress has been made in policy and legal frameworks, much more concerted efforts are needed for awareness-raising, implementation and enforcement. We need to see greater improvements on the ground in the lives of women and families. And we need a strengthened and more coherent United Nations response.

UNFPA believes, as I have already stated, that gender mainstreaming is essential. But it is not enough. We also need to work together as development partners to empower women socially, politically, legally, and economically, and to engage men as agents of change. And we need better monitoring and evaluation. UNFPA has a key role to play in advocacy, policy dialogue, and technical support as we lead the ICPD agenda. Yes, we need a strong coordination body within the UN system that can hold all of us accountable but at the same time each one of our organizations must be held accountable for its share of the gender agenda so that gender becomes clearly stated in our strategies and goals.

One of the cruellest forms of discrimination against women is gender-based violence.

We are working with partners on follow-up to the Brussels Call to Action from the International Symposium on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Beyond. Concrete progress has been made in countries such as Liberia, Haiti, Burundi, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

I am pleased to report that UNFPA is working together with UNIFEM, UNICEF, UNDP, WHO, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and other partners to create much stronger action across the United Nations system to address sexual violence. We are focused very specifically on supporting local and national efforts to prevent and treat gender-based violence and to end impunity.

We are also working with United Nations system partners to harmonize reporting by United Nations Country Teams to the Committee that monitors the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. So far, United Nations Country Teams from 10 countries in all regions have submitted comprehensive reports on the situation of women and girls. The next challenge will be for United Nations Country Teams to help governments address the Committee's recommendations.

It is in countries and communities where the real difference must be made.

Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to many countries and see first-hand the good work that UNFPA and United Nations country teams are undertaking. I would like to pay tribute to the staff members of UNFPA who are creative and dedicated and proactive within United Nations country teams. In every region, there are solid achievements and innovative practices. And I would like to pay tribute to the increasing number of Resident Coordinators who are transforming their roles to embody United Nations leadership and to members of the various United Nations Country Teams that are making this possible in an environment of collegiality, openness and inclusiveness.


Mr. President,

In conclusion, I would like to stress that, during this period of change and transformation, UNFPA is committed to staying focused on its very relevant mandate in partnership with countries and other stakeholders. We are committed to One UN in support of national ownership and leadership. We have a very busy year ahead of us. And we look forward to engaging with you as Board members in open and constructive dialogue, as we have always had, on our strategic plan and the various supporting initiatives to make UNFPA a more effective organization.

As I said at the beginning, we are ready for change. And we are guided by the words of the great leader, Mahatma Gandhi, who said simply: “Be the change you wish to see.”

Thank you.