Family planning advocates and women’s rights groups have welcomed Dr. Natalia Kanem’s appointment as the new head of the United Nations Population Fund and called on her to take a strong and supportive stance on divisive issues, including abortion, comprehensive sexuality education, and rights for sexual minorities.
Kanem — the first Latin American to take the post — has already had four months on the job after being made acting executive director of UNFPA in June after the sudden death of her former boss, Babatunde Osotimehin.
News of her promotion was greeted with enthusiasm by many members of the sexual and reproductive health and rights community and donors, who hope she can bring stability to the U.N. agency, which is dealing with the death of its leader and President Donald Trump’s decision to defund it and reinstate an expanded version of the “global gag rule.”
Official development assistance for family planning is also on the decline as European countries redirect resources to cope with the refugee crisis.
This comes hand in hand with rising opposition to SRHR — particularly abortion and sexual rights — from some right-wing populist movements in Europe, the U.S., and also developing countries.
Examining how NGOs and agencies such as UNFPA can and should respond to these right-wing movements was the topic of a two-day conference in Brussels held last week.
Kanem herself, in a speech during UNFPA’s annual executive board meeting in June, described the UNFPA as being in a “funding crisis,” and said “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” are “under threat.”
In the same speech she told members that the agency’s core resources dropped by $353 million in 2016.
Sector observers will watch closely to see how she positions her agency on such contentious issues as abortion, comprehensive sexuality education, and LGBT rights — all of which were enshrined and agreed to by 179 countries during the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.