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United Nations Population Fund

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United Nations Population Fund
Legal statusActive
HeadquartersNew York City, United States
Natalia Kanem

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), formerly the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, is a UN agency aimed at improving reproductive and maternal health worldwide.[1] Its work includes developing national healthcare strategies and protocols, increasing access to birth control, and leading campaigns against child marriage, gender-based violence, obstetric fistula, and female genital mutilation.[1]

The UNFPA supports programs in more than 144 countries across four geographic regions: Arab States and Europe, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. Around three-quarters of the staff work in the field. It is a founding member of the United Nations Development Group, a collection of UN agencies and programmes focused on fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals.[2]


In December 1966, 12 heads of state made a declaration urging the United Nations to work on population issues. The Secretary-General created a trust fund for population in 1967.[3] The agency began operations in 1969 as the United Nations Fund for Population Activities under the administration of the United Nations Development Fund.[4] In 1971 it was placed under the authority of the United Nations General Assembly.[5][6][7] Its name was changed into United Nations Population Fund in 1987. However, the shortened term of UNFPA has been retained.

UNFPA and the Sustainable Development Goals[edit]

In September 2015, the 193 member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 goals aiming to transform the world over the next 15 years. These goals are designed to eliminate poverty, discrimination, abuse and preventable deaths, address environmental destruction, and usher in an era of development for all people, everywhere.

The Sustainable Development Goals are ambitious, and they will require enormous efforts across countries, continents, industries and disciplines, but they are achievable. UNFPA works with governments, partners and other UN agencies to directly tackle many of these goals – in particular Goal 3 on health, Goal 4 on education and Goal 5 on gender equality – and contributes in a variety of ways to achieving many of the other goals.[8]


Executive Directors and Under-Secretaries-General of the UNFPA:

Executive Director Country Period
1 Rafael M. Salas  Philippines 1969–1987
2 Nafis Sadik  Pakistan 1987–2000
3 Thoraya Ahmed Obaid [ar]  Saudi Arabia 2001–2010
4 Babatunde Osotimehin  Nigeria 2011–2017
5 Natalia Kanem  Panama 2017–present

Areas of work[edit]

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:

UNFPA uses a human rights-based approach in programming to address three "transformative goals":[10]

  1. Zero preventable maternal death
  2. Zero gender-based violence
  3. Zero unmet need for family planning.

The Fund raises awareness of and supports efforts to meet these goals, advocates close attention to population concerns and helps nations formulate policies and strategies in support of sustainable development.[9] Osotimehin assumed leadership in January 2011. The Fund is also represented by UNFPA Goodwill Ambassadors and a Patron.

How it works[edit]

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 to promote the rights and health of women and young people. For instance, it is one of the co-sponsors of the Special Programme on Human Reproduction.[11]

Contributions from governments and the private sector to UNFPA in 2016 totaled $848 million. The amount includes $353 million to the organization's core resources and $495 million earmarked for specific programs and initiatives. As a result of the economic impact of coronavirus pandemic, United Kingdom imposed 85% aid cut to UNFPA.[12]

Examples of campaigns:

Campaign to end fistula[edit]

  • 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.
  • The leader of the campaign to end fistula, Erin Anastasi, decided to start this campaign in 2003 in hopes of ending deaths of new mothers after developing fistula. This campaign is now active in over 50 countries working not only to prevent fistula, but also to give fistula survivors a sense of reforming their life after overcoming this burden. Nearly 800 women in Africa and Asia die after childbirth and more than 2 million young women live with untreated obstetric fistula in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The campaign focuses mainly on providing training and funds to support women living with fistula, and also programs aimed towards survivors. The campaign is also looking at ways to prevent fistula from developing in general by providing medical supplies and technical guidance and support.

Ending female genital mutilation[edit]

  • 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,[13] which drew experts from all over the world to discuss strategies to convince communities to abandon the practice.[14] UNFPA supports the campaign to end female genital mutilation with The Guardian.[15]

Relations with the US government[edit]

UNFPA has been accused by American pro-life groups of providing support for government programs which have promoted forced abortions and coercive sterilizations.[16] UNFPA says it "does not provide support for abortion services".[17] Its charter includes a strong statement condemning coercion.[18] In response to these allegations, the U.S. Congress passed the Kemp-Kasten amendment in 1985 to empower the president to block U.S. funding of programs deemed by the president to include "coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization".[19][20] Since its passage, all Republican presidents (Reagan, H.W. Bush, W. Bush, and Trump) have withheld funding from the UNFPA – a policy known as the Mexico City Policy.[21][22][23]

UNFPA provided aid to Peru's reproductive health program in the mid-to-late 1990s. When it was discovered a 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 continued work with the country after the abuses had become public to help end the abuses and reform laws and practices.[24]

Over the course of the George W. Bush administration, a total of $244 million in Congressionally approved funding was blocked by the Executive Branch.[25] From 2002 through 2008, the administration denied funding to UNFPA that had already been allocated by the US Congress, on the grounds that the UNFPA supported Chinese government programs which include forced abortions and coercive sterilizations. In a letter from the Under Secretary 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 or sterilization.[26]

The notion that UNFPA had any connection to China's administration of forced abortions was deemed to be unsubstantiated by investigations carried out by various US, UK, and UN teams sent to examine UNFPA activities in China.[16] Specifically, a three-person US State Department fact-finding team was sent on a two-week tour throughout China. It wrote in its report 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.[16]

However, according to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, the UNFPA contributed vehicles and computers to the Chinese to carry out their population planning policies. However, both The Washington Post and The Washington Times reported that Powell simply fell in line, signing a brief written by someone else.[27]

Colin Powell at the United Nations

US Representative Chris Smith criticized the State Department investigation, saying the investigators were shown "Potemkin Villages" where residents had been intimidated into lying about the family-planning program. Nafis Sadik, former director of UNFPA, said her agency had been pivotal in reversing China's coercive population planning methods, but a 2005 report by Amnesty International and a separate report by the US State Department found that coercive techniques were still regularly employed by the Chinese, casting doubt upon Sadik's statements.[28] However, Amnesty International found no evidence that UNFPA had supported the coercion.

A 2001 study conducted by the pro-life Population Research Institute claimed that the UNFPA shared an office with the Chinese family planning officials who were carrying out forced abortions.[29] "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.[30] However, United Nations Members disagreed and approved UNFPA's new country programme in January 2006. The more than 130 members of the "Group of 77" developing countries in the United Nations expressed support for the UNFPA programmes. In addition, speaking for several European democracies – Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany – the United Kingdom stated, "UNFPA's activities in China, as in the rest of the world, are in strict conformity with the unanimously adopted Programme of Action of the ICPD, and play a key role in supporting our common endeavor, the promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms".[31]

In response, the EU decided to fill the gap left behind by the US under the Sandbæk Report. According to its Annual Report for 2008, the UNFPA received its funding mainly from European governments: Of the total income of $845.3 million, $118 million was donated by the Netherlands, $67 million by Sweden, $62 million by Norway, $54 million by Denmark, $53 million by the UK, $52 million by Spain, and $19 million by Luxembourg. The European Commission donated a further $36 million. The most important non-European donor state was Japan, which gave $36 million. The number of donors exceeded 180 in one year.

In the United States, nonprofit organizations like Friends of UNFPA, formerly 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."[32][33]

The United States said during the UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS Executive Board meeting that considered the China programme in 2015:[34][35]

During its recent visit, the U.S. delegation observed the positive impact of UNFPA's rights-based programming in China. We commend the Fund's adherence to demonstrating the advantages of a voluntary approach to family planning and were pleased to see – in support of its ICPD commitments – increased provider emphasis on patient rights.

In April 2017, the Trump administration announced that it will cut off funding to UNFPA, on the grounds that it "supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization."[23] UNFPA refuted this claim, as all of its work promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination.

Other UN population agencies and entities[edit]

Entities with competencies about population in the United Nations:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "About us – UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund". Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  2. ^ United Nations Sustainable Development Group Retrieved 16 July 2018. undg.org
  3. ^ Salas, Rafael (March 1986). UNFPA & International Population Assistance. New York: UNFPA. p. 2.
  4. ^ "UNFPA in the United Nations System". United Nations Population Fund.
  5. ^ United Nations General Assembly Session -1 Resolution 2815. United Nations Fund for Population Activities A/RES/2815(XXVI) 14 December 1971. Retrieved 11 July 2008.
  6. ^ United Nations General Assembly Session -1 Resolution 3019. United Nations Fund for Population Activities A/RES/3019(XXVII) 18 December 1972. Retrieved 11 July 2008.
  7. ^ United Nations General Assembly Session 34 Resolution 104. UNITED NATIONS FUND FOR POPULATION ACTIVITIES A/RES/34/104 14 December 1979. Retrieved 11 July 2008.
  8. ^ "Sustainable development goals – United Nations". Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  9. ^ a b "Ministry of Social Solidarity announces national strategy for birth control". Daily News Egypt. 27 May 2018. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  10. ^ "UNFPA Transformative Results". UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund. Retrieved 8 November 2019.
  11. ^ "sexual and reproductive health and research-SHR". Retrieved 5 April 2023.
  12. ^ "Foreign aid: UK cuts its pledge to UN family planning by 85%". BBC News. 29 April 2021. Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  13. ^ "Technical Consultation on the Medicalization of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting". UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  14. ^ "Gender-based violence". UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  15. ^ UNFPA partners with the Guardian in the fight against FGM reliefweb.int
  16. ^ a b c Cabatu, Elena; Bonk, Kathy (4 July 2002). "Global Population Media Analysis: UNFPA". National Council for Science and the Environment. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007.
  17. ^ "About us". unfpa.org. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  18. ^ "Maternal health – UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund". unfpa.org. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  19. ^ "The Global Gag Rule and Fights over Funding UNFPA: The Issues That Won't Go Away". Guttmacher Institute. 8 June 2015. Retrieved 29 February 2024.
  20. ^ "UNFPA Funding & Kemp-Kasten: An Explainer". Kaiser Family Foundation. 30 September 2022. Retrieved 29 February 2024.
  21. ^ Marquis, Christopher (17 July 2004). "U.S. Cuts Off Financing of U.N. Unit For 3rd Year". The New York Times.
  22. ^ "U.S. Funding for the United National Population Fund (UNFPA) Withheld for the Third Consecutive Year". SIECUS. July 2004. Archived from the original on 17 March 2011. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  23. ^ a b U.S. withdraws funding for U.N. Population Fund – Reuters
  24. ^ "UNFPA Response to Reports of Peru Sterilizations". unfpa.org.
  25. ^ Purdum, Todd S. (23 July 2002). "U.S. BLOCKS MONEY FOR FAMILY CLINICS PROMOTED BY U.N." Retrieved 21 December 2016 – via The New York Times.
  26. ^ Background on withheld US funds Archived 11 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, 2007
  27. ^ "Withholding Funds Will Cost Lives in China". Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  28. ^ "China's one-child controversy reignites – Washington Times". The Washington Times. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  29. ^ "UNFPA, China And Coercive Family Planning" (PDF). Population Research Institute. 12 December 2001. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 December 2008. Retrieved 11 December 2008.
  30. ^ "Congressional Hearing Shows UNFPA Involvement in Forced Abortions". tennesseerighttolife.org. Archived from the original on 28 February 2012. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  31. ^ Section, United Nations News Service (30 January 2006). "UN News – UN Population Fund's governing body approves new country programme for China". Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  32. ^ "UNFPA Welcomes Restoration of U.S. Funding". unfpa.org. Archived from the original on 9 July 2014. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  33. ^ "Mexico City Policy – Voluntary Population Planning". The White House. Archived from the original on 18 May 2015. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  34. ^ United States statement at the UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS Executive Board meeting that considered the China programme in 2015 Archived 7 November 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS Executive Board (31 August 2015). "U.S. Statement on UNFPA's 8th Country Program in China" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 2 October 2021.

External links[edit]