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What is the UNFPA?

International | "Simple demands"

Issue: "More clay than Potter," Oct. 30, 1999

Just after the U.S. women's soccer team beat China, UNFPA director Nafis Sadik applauded the burst of attention for female sports. "If it had been like that when I was younger, I might have gone into professional sports myself, rather than UNFPA," she told the Congressional Women's Caucus. Then she added, "Of course if it had been like that, we would not have needed UNFPA. We would not need to make the simple demands we are making now."

The "simple demands" of Ms. Sadik's 30-year-old organization are "universal access to reproductive health," "commitment to reproductive rights, gender equality, and male responsibility," and "promoting the well-being of children, especially girl children."

The UN Population Fund takes credit for bringing the latest contraceptives into underdeveloped countries, often those that have high fertility rates. Those programs are controversial because their very nature can make them coercive. Women who lack food for their children will accept birth control pills if they come with a basket of grain attached. In Peru two years ago, the UNFPA was linked to a government-run program that promised women food and other necessities in exchange for their undergoing tubal ligations.

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In spite of the controversies, the UNFPA attracts hefty annual contributions from industrialized nations. Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, the United States, Germany, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Finland, Switzerland, Canada, Belgium, Australia, Italy, and China-95 countries altogether-contributed $309 million to the fund in 1997. The fund operates outside the overall UN budget and is run by an executive board.

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