In a ground-breaking first Strategic Dialogue, Germany and UNFPA agreed to intensify their cooperation on promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights and on enhancing analysis and planning on population dynamics around the world. This is even more urgent in the context of COVID-19, which is massively diverting attention and resources from other priorities including the well-being of women, children and adolescents.
A high-level strategy dialogue kicks off a new phase in the partnership
The half-day online meeting on March 10th between high-level representatives of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the German government was an outstanding event. The aim of this Strategic Dialogue was to take stock of the existing partnership, to align it more strategically and to deepen it. The dialogue comes at a particularly opportune time for Germany and UNFPA, which are both in the midst of key strategic processes: Germany is developing the strategy for its new Initiative Area on Population Development and Family Planning, and UNFPA its new Strategic Plan.
Parliamentary State Secretary Dr Maria Flachsbarth from the German Federal Ministry of Cooperation and Development (BMZ) opened the exchange by reaffirming Germany’s commitment to the Cairo Agenda of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for all, as confirmed in the 2019 Nairobi Statement, while acknowledging great concern that the pandemic might reverse the fragile progress made thus far. UNFPA’s Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem responded by expressing her appreciation of German leadership on SRHR, underlining that Germany’s support had come when it mattered most, comparing it to ‘a lifeline in the pandemic’.
Over the course of five sessions during the half-day meeting, the two partners systematically compared their strategies and approaches in SRHR and population dynamics (PD), with the aim of identifying points of convergence as the foundation for a closer and more cohesive cooperation.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights are further threatened by COVID-19
As Dr Kanem acknowledged at the Nairobi Summit, even before the pandemic the vision of the Cairo Agenda was still far from fulfilled, the lack of access to SRHR services manifested by, e.g. 800 maternal deaths and 33,000 underage marriages per day, as well as 89 million undesired pregnancies per year, not to mention widespread female genital mutilation and gender-based violence.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic the situation has gotten much worse for women and girls, children and adolescents. Access to essential sexual and reproductive health services is severely limited due to resource reallocations, lockdown situations, and disrupted supply chains, directly affecting the health and empowerment especially of the most vulnerable members of society. Negative impacts on access to family planning and maternal and child health services are already being observed, while violence against women and children is also on the rise.
UNFPA – the world’s champion to realise reproductive rights and access to sexual and reproductive health services for all
The United Nations Population Fund was created in 1969, the same year that the United Nations General Assembly made the revolutionary declaration: ‘Parents have the exclusive right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children.’
UNFPA calls for the realisation of reproductive rights for all and supports access to a wide range of sexual and reproductive health services, including voluntary family planning, maternal health care and comprehensive sexuality education. UNFPA launched efforts to achieve three transformative results – ambitions that promise to change the world for every man, woman and young person:
- Ending unmet need for family planning
- Ending preventable maternal deaths, and
- Ending gender-based violence and harmful practices.
At the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, UNFPA recognised the potentially devastating effects of the pandemic and mobilised rapidly. In 2020, UNFPA assisted over 10 million women, girls and young people with life-saving services. This included over 7 million women in 53 countries who were reached with sexual and reproductive health services, 4.4 million people in 49 countries who received family planning supplies and services, and 2.8 million people who benefited from services to address gender-based violence.
Germany’s commitment to SRHR
Germany is a major actor when it comes to promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights, through both its long-standing bilateral cooperation and multilateral partnerships, as well as in international negotiations, including for instance at the UN Commission on Population and Development.
Each year, Germany provides up to 100 million EUR for SRHR bilateral programmes and projects around the world through its ‘Rights-based Family Planning and Maternal Health’ initiative. BMZ commissions the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the KfW Development Bank (representing respectively German technical and financial cooperation) as the main implementing agencies for this initiative at bilateral level with specific partner countries. In addition, BMZ funds projects implemented by civil society and faith-based organisations.
Germany actively supports many global and multilateral structures, including those promoting maternal, child and adolescent health, not only with financial resources, but with strategic contributions in steering and advisory committees. Besides UNFPA, Germany’s partners for SRHR include the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), Gavi, the global Vaccine Alliance, and the Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents (GFF).
A growing partnership
In partner countries, BMZ has a long-standing collaboration with UNFPA through its technical and financial cooperation in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
On a global level, Germany and UNFPA have been partners for years in promoting maternal-child health, sexual and reproductive health and rights, demographically sensitive development planning, and gender equality. Every year, UNFPA’s State of World Population report is presented jointly with BMZ. As a follow-up activity to the Nairobi Summit, BMZ and Germany’s Foreign Office, together with the African Union and UNFPA, are currently hosting the cross-regional Government-Government Policy Dialogues on Demographic Diversity and Dividends (4D).
Germany directly supports UNFPA with earmarked contributions, for example to the Thematic Fund for Newborn and Maternal Health. A total of 9.25 million EUR was disbursed from 2013 to 2020. With Germany’s dedicated support, in 2018 and 2019 over 1.2 million unplanned pregnancies were prevented through UNFPA’s family planning programs, over 1.8 million women and girls were reached with sexual and reproductive health and rights services, and over 6,000 girls were protected from female genital mutilation.
Facing crises together
It is against this background of existing partnership that when the pandemic struck, Germany strengthened its support to UNFPA to ensure that essential sexual and reproductive health services remain available also during times of crisis. In 2020 Germany increased its contribution to UNFPA to 70 million EUR, becoming for the first time the agency’s largest core contributor. Likewise, for the first time, in 2020 Germany contributed 2 million EUR to the UNFPA Supplies Partnership, to counteract the pandemic-related weaknesses in access to family planning commodities and essential medicines.
The pandemic has exacerbated many more problems in SRHR for the two partners to face. Women’s need for support, for instance, has grown dramatically, while the capacity of health and social protection systems in partner countries to provide appropriate services has been severely impaired.
Looking to the future
Such shared challenges have inspired Germany and UNFPA to give a fresh boost to their cooperation with the recent Strategic Dialogue. A total of five sessions were held during the half-day meeting to present and discuss collaboration in areas spanning population development, family planning, maternal health, gender-based violence, digitalisation, data collection and analysis, funding and financing, communication, and pursuing activities in conflict situations.
This first Strategic Dialogue gave Germany and UNFPA the opportunity to discuss the broad lines for this enhanced partnership and lay the foundations for a joint commitment to a deeper cooperation.
Michaela Michel-Schuldt, Dr Mary White-Kaba