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UNFPA meeting in New York 30 June 1995

THE EARTH TIMES

JUNE 30 – JULY  14, 1995

Boutros-Ghali, endorsing Unfpa’s focus on advocacy, urges more attention to population

Agency’s Nafis Sadik, appointed to new four-year term, stresses accelerated work with NGOs

By Ashali Varma

RYE, New York—UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, appearing before officials of the United Nations Population Fund on June 21, at a special gathering in this suburban community, stressed the need for a ‘comprehensive approach” toward development embracing the interrelated issues of population, poverty, the environment and human-rights.

He also spoke of the reasons for the series of conferences that the UN had hosted in the last few years from the Earth Summit in Rio, to Human Rights, Population and the Social Summit.  “These series of conferences are a kind of continuum,” Boutros-Ghali said.  “We are trying to show the international community that there is a link between development and peace.” He added, “There can be no development without peace and no peace without development.”

Speaking extemporaneously, the secretary general acknowledged that the United Nations was suffering from misperceptions created by the media and that even though over 70 percent of its work was in the development field, people only got to read about its peace keeping work.  To counter this the United Nations and its agencies would have to work together and have “a better coordination” of its programs and “avoid duplication.”

“The unique forum existing today is the United Nations,” he said.  “There is no other forum which brings 187 nations to work together.  We cannot solve the problem of disease, poverty and the environment alone.  That is why I am optimistic.  We may have our ups and downs but in the long term countries need the UN.”

The Unfpa event here was unique for two reasons: it was the largest gathering ever of Unfpa staff, which included headquarters staff, country directors, international and national program officers from the field; and it was the first time that the secretary general had come to meet and address Unfpa staff.  The purpose of the four day meeting was to discuss the agency’s executive board decision to streamline the agency’s operations and sharpen its focus.

There are three core areas that will define Unfpa’s goals.  These are reproductive health/family planning and sexual health; population policy in development strategies; and advocacy. 

In her address to the participants, Dr. Nafis Sadik, executive director of Unfpa, said that the purpose of the meeting was to “clarify and reflect” on how Unfpa can adjust to the “new demands and expectations in light of the ICPD,” and that “this involves becoming more focused in our programs and in our resource allocation.”

Dr. Sadik said: “There is a growing understanding that social development, including population and development, is the essential underpinning of a peaceful and prosperous society, and that socialgoals must be sought as ends in themselves. This was the message of

the Social Summit in Copenhagen at which we found virtually universal acceptance of the importance of the Cairo consensus. This must be the message we take to Beijing, and to all the countries where we work, and on whom we rely on for resources.”

She emphasized that “we must ensure full transparency and accountability, both in substantive and financial terms, in all our program management.”

Sadik also stressed the importance of the role of the  NGOs, the private sector and the larger civil society, and said that at the country level Unfpa must work much more with all these groups,  and promote dialogue and discussion.

“For Unfpa itself, we see an institution united in its mission, focusing its limited resources on

what it does best, and working in partnership with all others,” she said.

The new emphasis on advocacy was addressed by Stirling D. Scruggs, chief, information and

external relations division, who said, “Advocacy is a today activity. It is not something we can put off till tomorrow.” He said that while information creates awareness, and educates people, advocacy is used to persuade, to promote, to change attitudes and to bring about social change.”

“Advocacy is not the end product. It is a means and mechanism for us to use to move our agenda, promote development and secure resources. It should become a normal part of our work,” he said.

For the field staff attending the meeting, it was a reaffirmation of the commitments made at Cairo on implementation of the Program of Action. Suneeta Mukherjee, country director for Sri Lanka said, “This meeting has been important for us. We have worked on the recommendations together. The clear directions and support from headquarters will help us when he get back to our regions and formulate country-specific plans of action.”

Alain Mouchiroud, the country director for Bangladesh spoke about the strong commitment in Bangladesh for the Cairo Program of Action. “There is a special scheme for educating girls. They are given a stipend to go to school and schools are free. Bangladesh is already addressing the issue of empowering women through literacy.” He noted that Unfpa was sponsoring a meeting in  Dhaka on June 29, for government officials and NGOs, where he would present the outcome of the Rye meeting and the new directions.

Gerardo Gonzales, who is with the country support team for Latin America and the Caribbean said, “The emphasis on advocacy is new and important. There is also an emphasis on involving government, civil society, NGOs and the private sector. This meeting was an excellent opportunity for learning and sharing field experiences.”

Joseph van Arendonk, deputy executive director, program, said,” This is the first time in the history of our organization that we have had country directors, international program officers and national program officers and the headquarters staff together at a meeting to discuss future strategy. I think it is very important for the development of the culture of an organization to have face to face contact with field staff and to get their input.”  

Putting the Rye meeting in perspective, Jyoti Shankar Singh, deputy executive director, technical and evaluation said, “The purpose of the meeting was twofold. First, to get Unfpa staff to fully understand and realize the implications of ICPD for Unfpa and what our priorities and future directions should be. Second, to give the staff an opportunity to partake in the discussions and make recommendations.” Singh also felt that a significant outcome of the meeting was a spirit of camaraderie and sense of mission.

Singh said that an important facet was that the meeting also explored how to relate Unfpa’s

program to that of relevant work being done by other UN agencies and organizations.