The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), formerly the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, is a UN organization. The UNFPA says it “promotes of the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity.” This is done through major national and demographic surveys and with population censuses. The data generated are used to create programmes to reduce poverty and address issues concerning the rights of particular minority population groups. One of their aims is to ensure that “every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect”. Their work involves the improvement of reproductive health; including creation of national strategies and protocols, and providing supplies and services to these minority groups, as well as internal migrants and refugees, the elderly and the handicapped. The organization has recently been known for its worldwide campaign against obstetric fistula and female genital mutilation.
The UNFPA supports programs in more than 150 countries, territories and areas spread across four geographic regions: Arab States and Europe, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and sub-Saharan Africa. Around three quarters of the staff work in the field. It is a member of the United Nations Development Group and part of its Executive Committee.
UNFPA began operations in 1969 as the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (the name was changed in 1987) under the administration of the United Nations Development Fund. In 1971 it was placed under the authority of the United Nations General Assembly.
Its stated mission is to promote the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of “health and equal opportunity.” UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programs to “reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.” The agency’s main goals are:
- Universal access to reproductive health services by 2015
- Universal primary education and closing the gender gap in education by 2015
- Reducing maternal mortality by 75 per cent by 2015
- Reducing infant mortality
- Increasing life expectancy
- Decreasing HIV infection rates
Executive Directors and Under-Secretaries General of the UN
2011–present Dr Babatunde Osotimehin (Nigeria)
2000–2010 Ms Thoraya Ahmed Obaid (Saudi Arabia)
1987–2000 Dr Nafis Sadik (Pakistan)
1969–87 Mr Rafael M. Salas (Philippines)
The Fund’s Patron is Crown Princess Mary of Denmark.
Its goodwill ambassadors are:
Areas of work
UNFPA is the world’s largest multilateral source of funding for population and reproductive health programs. The Fund works with governments and non-governmental organizations in over 150 countries with the support of the international community, supporting programs that help women, men and young people:
- voluntarily plan and have the number of children they desire and to avoid unwanted pregnancies
- undergo safe pregnancy and childbirth
- avoid spreading sexually transmitted infections
- decrease violence against women
- increase the equality of women
According to UNFPA these elements promote the right of “reproductive health”, that is physical, mental, and social health in matters related to reproduction and the reproductive system.
The Fund raises awareness of and supports efforts to meet these needs in developing countries, advocates close attention to population concerns, and helps developing nations formulate policies and strategies in support of sustainable development. Dr. Osotimehin assumed leadership in January 2011. The Fund is also represented by UNFPA Goodwill Ambassadors and a Patron.
How UNFPA Works
UNFPA works in partnership with governments, along with other United Nations agencies, communities, NGOs, foundations and the private sector, to raise awareness and mobilize the support and resources needed to achieve its mission.
UNFPA’s income in 2009 totaled $783.1 million, including $469.4 million in voluntary contributions from governments and private donors.
Campaign to end fistula
- This UNFPA-led global campaign works to prevent obstetric fistula, a devastating and socially isolating injury of childbirth, to treat women who live with the condition and help those who have been treated to return to their communities. The campaign works in more than 40 countries in Africa, the Arab States and South Asia.
Ending female genital mutilation
- UNFPA has worked for many years to end the practice of female genital mutilation, the partial or total removal of external female genital organs for cultural or other non-medical reasons. The practice, which affects 100–140 million women and girls across the world, violates their right to health and bodily integrity. In 2007, UNFPA in partnership with UNICEF, launched a $44-million program to reduce the practice by 40 per cent in 16 countries by 2015 and to end it within a generation. UNFPA also recently sponsored a Global Technical Consultation, which drew experts from all over the world to discuss strategies to convince communities to abandon the practice.
Relations with the US government
UNFPA has been accused by different groups of providing support for government programs which have promoted forced-abortions and coercive sterilizations. Controversies regarding these allegations have resulted in a sometimes shaky relationship between the organization and the United States government, with three conservative presidential administrations, those of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, withholding funding from the UNFPA.
UNFPA provided aid to Peru’s population control program in the mid-to-late ’90s. When it was discovered the Peruvian program had been engaged in carrying out coercive sterilizations, UNFPA called for reforms and protocols to protect the rights of women seeking assistance. UNFPA was not found directly involved in the scandal, but continued work with the family planning program after the abuses had become public to end the abuses and reform laws and practices.
From 2002 through 2008, the Bush Administration denied funding to UNFPA that had already been allocated by the US Congress, partly on the grounds that the UNFPA supported Chinese government programs which include forced abortions and coercive sterilizations. In a letter from the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns to Congress, the administration said it had determined that UNFPA’s support for China’s population program “facilitates (its) government’s coercive abortion program”, thus violating the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which bans the use of United States aid to finance organizations that support or take part in managing a program of coercive abortion of sterilization.
UNFPA says it “does not provide support for abortion services”. Its charter includes a strong statement condemning coercion.
UNFPA’s connection to China’s administration of forced abortions was disputed by investigations carried out by various US, UK, and UN teams sent to examine UNFPA activities in China. Specifically, a three-person U.S State Department fact-finding team was sent on a two-week tour throughout China. It wrote in a report to the State Department that it found “no evidence that UNFPA has supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in China,” as has been charged by critics.
However, according to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, the UNFPA contributed vehicles and computers to the Chinese to carry out their population control policies. Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), criticized the State Department investigation, saying the investigators were shown “Potemkin Villages” where residents had been intimidated into lying about the family-planning program. Dr. Nafis Sadik, former director of UNFPA said her agency had been pivotal in reversing China’s coercive population control methods, but a 2005 report by Amnesty International and a separate report by the United States State Department found that coercive techniques were still regularly employed by the Chinese, casting doubt upon Sadik’s statements.
A 2001 study conducted by the pro-life Population Research Institute (PRI) claimed that the UNFPA shared an office with the Chinese family planning officials who were carrying out forced abortions. “We located the family planning offices, and in that family planning office, we located the UNFPA office, and we confirmed from family planning officials there that there is no distinction between what the UNFPA does and what the Chinese Family Planning Office does,” said Scott Weinberg, a spokesman for PRI.
President Bush denied funding to the UNFPA. Over the course of the Bush Administration, a total of $244 million in Congressionally approved funding was blocked by the Executive Branch.
In response, the EU decided to fill the gap left behind by the US under the Sandbaek report. According to its Annual Report for 2008, the UNFPA received its funding mainly from European Governments: Of the total income of M845.3 M, $118 was donated by the Netherlands, $67 M by Sweden, $62 M by Norway, $54 M by Denmark, $53 M by the UK, $52 M by Spain, $19 M by Luxembourg. The European Commission donated further $36 M. The most important non-European donor State was Japan ($36 M). The number of donors exceeded 180 in one year.
In America, nonprofit organizations like Americans for UNFPA worked to compensate for the loss of United States federal funding by raising private donations.
In January 2009 President Barack Obama restored US funding to UNFPA, saying in a public statement that he would “look forward to working with Congress to restore US financial support for the UN Population Fund. By resuming funding to UNFPA, the US will be joining 180 other donor nations working collaboratively to reduce poverty, improve the health of women and children, prevent HIV/AIDS and provide family planning assistance to women in 154 countries.”