October 3, 2017

The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) welcomes the appointment of Dr. Natalia Kanem as the new Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). At a time when sexual and reproductive health and rights—the core of UNFPA’s mandate—face serious threats, Dr. Kanem’s experience and commitment to women’s human rights are especially critical.

As a partner to UNFPA for over 20 years, IWHC knows the agency plays a vital role in furthering women’s and girls’ rights to make informed decisions about and access services for their sexual and reproductive health, free of discrimination, coercion, and violence. The need is immense: according to the World Health Organization, more than 25 million women each year are still forced to resort to  unsafe abortions to end unintended pregnancies, while more than 200 million women globally still lack access to safe and effective modern contraceptives.

To address these gaps, governments placed sexual and reproductive health and rights at the center of the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Under Goal 5 on gender equality, countries committed to ending child marriage, eliminating violence and discrimination against women, and ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. As the world’s largest provider of contraceptives and other reproductive health services, UNFPA is key to ensuring the SDGs deliver for women and girls.

In the US, the Trump Administration has declared war on women and girls by reimposing and expanding the Global Gag Rule, blocking global agreements that would advance their sexual and reproductive rights, and cutting off all funding for UNFPA.

In this challenging context, Dr. Kanem’s appointment presents an opportunity for UNFPA to reassert its global leadership on sexual and reproductive rights and ensure continued progress for the world’s women and girls. To do this, Dr. Kanem will need to be a vocal and unequivocal champion for women’s and girls’ human rights, including the right to safe abortion. She must also ensure deep and meaningful partnerships with women’s movements that have, time and again, demonstrated the power to hold governments accountable for their policies and drive meaningful change.

IWHC looks forward to working with Dr. Kanem and her team.

Contact:, (+1) 917-498-3346

Photo: UN Women / Ryan Brown