UNFPA: Making a Difference in People’s Lives

Women line up at the Kanungu Health Centre IV in Uganda to receive HIV and cervical cancer counselling and testing, and to learn more about available family planning services.


The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is the largest multilateral agency working to promote the right of every woman, man, and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. From increasing the availability of safe, effective, affordable contraceptives to working to eliminate harmful practices like female genital cutting to responding to natural and man-made disasters, UNFPA provides women and families the chance for healthy futures in more than 150 countries. Because this work is seen as so crucial, UNFPA receives contributions from more than 180 nations, including all the countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

Here is a small sample of some recent initiatives:

  • Campaign to End Fistula in sub-Saharan Africa
    Nearly unheard of in developed countries, obstetric fistula is a serious injury, widespread in poor countries, to pregnant women caused by obstructed labor. Fistula often leads to the death of the baby, and to the ostracization of the woman, as she is often left by her husband and shunned by her community. It is preventable by giving young women the tools to prevent pregnancy until their bodies are physically capable of childbirth and by ensuring that trained birth attendants are present during labor and delivery. UNFPA is working to address each of these needs. Fistula is also repairable through a relatively simple surgical procedure. UNFPA’s campaign has been responsible for 34,000 fistula surgeries, about one-third of all repairs worldwide. The program, which also focuses on prevention and social reintegration of survivors has helped an even greater
    number of women at risk of or recovering from this condition. The campaign has led 30 countries to include fistula into their national health policies and programs.
  • Addressing the practice of sex-selection in China
    In 1991 UNFPA became the first international agency to raise the issue of China’s sex-ratio imbalance with the country. Broad and integrated county-level public education campaigns to promote gender equality that involve opinion leaders and those shaping cultural norms can be effective ways to address the issue – and have been found to have more positive results than laws banning the practice. In the case of sex-selective abortion, the campaigns should also address structural issues underlying gender discrimination, in particular a widespread preference for sons. In 2000, for example, Hainan Province in China had the country’s highest ratio of male-tofemale births. By 2004, after the entire province had adopted a UNFPA demonstration project to promote voluntarism and expand access to a wide range of contraceptive methods, promote the rights and value of girls and eliminate coercive penalties, the rate of abortion fell to levels lower than the United States and the sex ratio at birth had returned to a more natural balance. Despite these successes, UNFPA constantly reaffirms the importance of ending gender imbalances, because of both the human rights violations inherent in them and the potential dire social consequences if there is no change.
  • Building infrastructure and serving vulnerable pregnant women in Haiti
    Haiti has the highest rate of maternal mortality in Western Hemisphere and just 25% of births in take place in hospitals or health centers. The hospital infrastructure was only weakened as a result of the 2010 earthquake, leaving many women giving birth in the streets. UNFPA provided reproductive health kits to health providers help 1.5 million women give birth under safer conditions. To address gender-based violence, UNFPA installed 200 streetlights in areas where women were particularly vulnerable to violence, as well as setting up 300 tents as temporary safe places for women to stay. UNFPA is doing most of this through a cash-for-work structure with Haiti youth, paying them to put together health kits and distribute a wide variety of goods.
  • Eliminating the practice of female genital cutting in sub-Saharan Africa
    Since 2008 UNFPA has worked in partnership with UNICEF on a Joint Program on Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C). The program promotes the abandonment of FGM/C by educating citizens about the harmful consequences of the practice, engaging government leaders and local officials, motivating religious leaders to protect women’s health, and educating and encouraging journalists to report on the issue. The program has trained over 1,400 health care providers and treated over 41,000 women and girls. Training health care providers how to treat girls who have suffered from FGM/C is critical, as health personnel who do not know much about FGM/C and are culturally insensitive can cause these women more harm than good. By 2011, as a result of this international campaign, 2,744 communities across 15 countries had publicly declared their abandonment of FGM/C.
  • Helping to reduce domestic violence in Macedonia
    UNFPA led a three-year campaign beginning in 2009 titled “Real Men Never Hit Women” to reduce rates of violence against women in Macedonia – a country in which one in six womenhave experienced physical abuse. The campaign employed national celebrities to highlight the role of men in domestic violence and empower women to say “no” to violence. Calls to thenational domestic violence hotline significantly increased because of this campaign. A support program that provides skills training and subsidized employment for domestic violence victims that was tested in 5 municipalities is now being expanded countrywide.


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