UNFPA and the MDGs

MDG Linkages to UNFPA’s Work on Population, Reproductive Health and Women’s Empowerment

The eight Millennium Development Goals are interconnected and interdependent. UNFPAs’ work on population issues, reproductive health and women’s empowerment affects each of them. For some of the goals, especially goals 3, 4, 5 and 6, the connections are very direct. For others they are less so. The following list clarifies the centrality of UNFPA’s mandate to each and all of the goals.

In addition to the linkages mentioned, improving demographic and health system data is essential to monitoring and building on progress towards the attainment of the MDGs. Knowledge about the size, composition and movements of populations allows better planning for maximal impact and to ensure that the benefits of programmes are more widely shared.

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

  • Countries that support desires of their citizens for fewer children and longer time between their birth,  while simultaneously reducing mortality, reap benefits in social and economic development.  At the household level, this includes increased savings, better quality investments and greater upward social mobility. At the social level, the demographic bonus (a larger proportion of young workers relative to older and younger dependents) means that investments in their education, health and job creation can greatly accelerate economic growth and social progress.
  • As family sizes fall, the gains in household welfare exceed those provided by many social transfer schemes.
  • Youth and women’s employment opportunities are advanced by education and by their ability to control the number, timing and spacing of their children.
  • Births spaced at least 24 (or even 36 months) apart reduce the nutritional depletion of mothers, increase children’s birth-weights and improve the survival prospects of both.
  • Smaller family sizes increase the ability of parents to provide adequate nutrition to their children and reduce inequalities between girls and boys within the family.

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

  • Quality education, including education that builds life skills and addresses relationships and sexual and reproductive health, is a sure route to individual, community and national development.
  • Large families are hard pressed to meet the costs (both from direct fees and transport and opportunity costs) of school participation.  This often disadvantages girls’ continuation rates.
  • Meeting the physical safety and hygiene needs of young women will increase their participation at higher levels of education. Zero tolerance of gender based violence against women contributes to their participation and continuation.

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

  • Girls’ and women’s social participation is fortified when they can determine the number, timing and spacing of their children.  The inability to do so undermines other rights.
  • Empowerment in basic family decision-making increases women’s skills in negotiating for their interests.  Advancement in familial, educational, social and political spheres are intertwined and mutually reinforcing.
  • Avoiding early marriage increases women’s opportunities for personal and social development.
  • Gender-based violence is an all-too-common barrier to progress for women. Poor access to information and services about sex and reproduction increase the associated risks and costs.

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

  • Child survival is dramatically improved by avoidance of short intervals between births.
  • Attention to the full continuum of care (from  antenatal and delivery services, including skilled attendants at births, emergency obstetric care, newborn healthcare and post-partum services) will strengthen health systems and improve maternal and child survival.

Goal 5: Improve maternal health

  • Meeting unmet need for family planning services and expanding coverage of quality services for maternal and newborn health can reduce maternal mortality by over 70 per cent and child mortality by over 40 per cent.
  • Simply meeting unmet need for modern family planning can reduce unintended pregnancies by more than two-thirds and unsafe abortion by more than 70 per cent.
  • All of these benefits could be achieved with a doubling of available resources from international and domestic sources.
  • Investments in family planning and maternal and newborn health more than pay for themselves in saved later resource needs and in progress on other MDGs. However, progress on family planning has stalled in the last 10 years compared to the preceding decade, coinciding with a reduction in funding levels and political priority. 
  • Adolescent fertility rates have declined as part of a dynamic process increasing education, delaying age at marriage and expanding contraceptive use. However, they remain high and stable in countries with already elevated levels.  Differentials based on rural/urban location, education level and wealth remain dramatic.  Education, including comprehensive sexuality education, can narrow the differentials.
  • Coverage of antenatal care has improved. But too many pregnant women do not get the recommended four or more checkups.  Attention to sexual and reproductive health as part of the full continuum of care will save lives and reduce later costs.

Goal 6: Combat AIDS, malaria and other diseases

  • Many sexually transmitted infections exact a heavy burden in illness, infertility, cervical cancers and susceptibility to HIV.  Sexual and reproductive health information and services can reduce the incidence of unsafe sex, encourage voluntary testing and counselling, and speed treatment.
  • As HIV is transmitted mainly by heterosexual relations in most regions, better information on modes of transmission and means to prevent it, along with access to male and female condoms, will reduce individual and collective risk.
  • Sexual and reproductive health education that improves negotiating skills for safe sex reduces risk.
  • Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is based on primary prevention of the disease (condoms, safer sex), sensitive counselling on family planning for persons living with HIV, as well as programmes of treatment and care.
  • Integration of sexual and reproductive health and AIDS services can increase efficiencies and increase cost-effectiveness and impact.

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

  • Over generations, family landholdings are diminished by repeated division through inheritance. Thus, preventing unintended pregnancies can decrease the stress on fragile environmental areas and slow unplanned urban growth.  These local environmental stresses are further compounded by the impact of larger scale global climate change issues.
  • Smaller family sizes may enable households, including vulnerable and female-headed households, to use natural resources in more sustainable ways and adapt more quickly to climate change.
  • Migration within countries can be a powerful force for development but requires pro-active planning to ensure that the benefits of increased opportunity are not overwhelmed by the inadequate provision of infrastructure and services.  Improved information about the dynamics of migration and the situation of migrant populations can encourage positive responses.

Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development

  • ODA support for family planning and reproductive health will be essential for accelerating progress towards the MDGs.
  • A growing number of countries are including budget lines for reproductive health commodity security in their national plans and programmes.  Stronger partnerships with civil society, the private sector and donors can speed the reliable availability of essential supplies and equipment.
  • Increased political commitment and improved harmonization of efforts are central to the Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health.