By Kristin Taylor
The Executive Board reviews UNICEF activities and approves its policies, country programmes and budgets. It comprises 36 members, representing the five regional groups of Member States at the United Nations. The Executive Board meets three times a year at United Nations Headquarters in New York – in a first regular session (January/February), annual session (May/June) and second regular session (September).
NEW YORK, United States of America, 5 June 2014 – Achieving concrete results and sustained progress for children requires not only action, but evidence – a clear look at the big picture. Measuring how far we have come, and still have to go, in improving children’s quality of life also provides an opportunity to learn from successes and identify continued challenges.
|© UNICEF NYHQ/2014/Markisz|
|UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake addresses participants at the annual session of the 2014 UNICEF Executive Board at United Nations Headquarters in New York.|
Monitoring and reporting are central to UNICEF’s commitment to transparency and accountability – to governments, partners, donors, everyday citizens and the children the organization serves, as well as to its Executive Board. As UNICEF’s governing body, the Board reviews the organization’s activities and approves policies, country programmes and budgets. To act in that capacity, members of the Board rely on quality analysis of UNICEF’s work worldwide.
A critical year of assessment
During its annual session of 2014, which opened on 3 June, UNICEF Executive Board members heard several presentations on UNICEF’s work and achievements in 2013. The period was a critical one because it marked the eighth and final year of the organization’s medium-term strategic plan (MTSP), which set out to achieve targeted results across five focus areas: young child survival and development; basic education and gender equality; HIV/AIDS and children; child protection: preventing and responding to violence, exploitation and abuse; and policy advocacy and partnerships for children’s rights. It was also the final year for implementation of UNICEF’s Strategic Priority Action Plan for Gender Equality (SPAP). Extended one year beyond its original three-year scope of 2010-2012, the SPAP outlined the organization’s goals for promoting and achieving gender parity.
UNICEF Executive Director reports on results for children
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake opened the annual session by envisioning the future of a girl born in June 2014: “If we now fail to deliver results for her – results for her health, nutrition, education, protection, sanitation and inclusion – the costs to her body, mind and spirit, to her society, and indeed, to all of us, will be great.” Failing to do so, he went on to say, would be “a betrayal of the aspiration of every society to be built, nourished and enriched by citizens able and willing to do so.”
The 2013 annual report of the Executive Director of UNICEF lays out the results UNICEF has achieved and the great strides they represent towards ensuring a better future for the world’s children.
Young child survival and development: Since the 2012 launch of A Promise Renewed, a UNICEF-led initiative to accelerate reductions in preventable child deaths, more than 175 countries have pledged to prioritize such reductions in their own countries. The report documents gains in 2013 that would help ensure more children reach their fifth birthday, such as improvements in rates of exclusive breastfeeding, which boosts immunity and has long-term health benefits, and the commitment of 13 more governments to Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN).
Basic education and gender equality: Among other achievements, the annual report reveals a 49 per cent increase since 2005 in the number of countries whose education plans address gender disparities. An additional 175,663 schools received support through UNICEF’s child-friendly schools initiative, which promotes children’s overall well-being as much as their educational growth, reaching a total of 789,598 schools worldwide. UNICEF also played a vital role in ensuring children in humanitarian emergencies do not lose access to schooling. But the report notes stark challenges facing education: Of the approximately 650 million primary school students worldwide, as many as 250 million never reach Grade 4, or do so without gaining literacy. Despite the costly effects of this failure – US$129 billion each year – budgeting for basic education remains on the decline among governments.
HIV/AIDS and children: New data released in 2013 charted important gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Chief among these successes is that, between 2005 and 2012, the world witnessed a 30 per cent decrease in the number of AIDS-related deaths for all age groups. However, among adolescents aged 10–19, deaths increased by 50 per cent, and the first-ever estimate of the world’s adolescent population living with HIV yielded a startling number: approximately 2.1 million. While both of these figures indicate an alarming trend in adolescents’ vulnerability, quantifying the challenges we face in eradicating HIV/AIDS among that demographic is a first step toward creating a healthier future for the world’s youths. During the year, UNICEF also sustained its emphasis on eliminating new infections among children, including through programmes focused on prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of the virus.
Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse: Violence against children is often an invisible problem and remains shrouded in silence. With the launch of the #ENDviolence against children initiative in 2013, UNICEF called for global support in ‘making the invisible visible’. Throughout the year, UNICEF’s work contributed to notable gains: 123 countries now penalize sexual violence against girls and boys; 30.6 million newborns in 76 countries were registered via improved access to universal and free birth registration; and 2.5 million children in emergency situations received access to safe community spaces, learning spaces and psychosocial support.
|© UNICEF NYHQ/2014/Markisz|
|A delegate from Tunisia speaks at the annual session of the UNICEF Executive Board.|
Policy advocacy and partnerships for children’s rights: Engaging with policymakers and working alongside partners – from governments to grassroots organizations – are two critical means through which the organization carries out its mission to promote and protect children’s rights. UNICEF’s work in these areas included advising governments in 109 countries on how best to ensure children’s and women’s issues are addressed in national development and policy plans; helping 41 countries to improve measurement of child poverty; establishing in 69 countries policies or programmes that amplify the voices of children in civic participation; and improving social protection systems to better meet the needs of children in 104 countries.
Responding to humanitarian crises
Emergencies around the world integrated work across all of the organization’s focus areas. Throughout 2013, UNICEF, together with partners, responded to 289 humanitarian situations of varying scales in 83 countries. These emergencies included the conflicts in the Syrian Arab Republic and the Central African Republic, as well as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, crises that have affected – and continue to affect – the lives of millions of children.
As Mr. Lake pointed out in his opening remarks to the Board, the challenge of addressing humanitarian needs should also be approached as an opportunity to build a stronger future. “Every action we take must be designed with an eye to its longer-term impact, thus also investing in development goals such as establishing resilient health, education and protection systems,” he said.
Achieving gender equality
On 4 June, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta and Principal Adviser on Gender Rights and Civic Engagement Anju Malhotra led a discussion on progress made in 2013 toward the achievement of gender equality.
“UNICEF has a strong commitment to gender equality and women's and girl's empowerment as essential elements of the organization's focus on equity and its mandate to realize the rights of all children,” Ms. Gupta said.
One objective of the SPAP was to ensure more frequent evaluation of how country programmes are prioritizing gender. On average, 70 per cent or more of country programmes now undergo such review on a rolling basis. Further, scaled self-assessment of the degree to which programmes and resulting expense will contribute to advancing gender equality is now required prior to implementation. Findings indicate that the number of expenditures contributing principally or significantly to gender has increased steadily.
While focusing on achieving results for girls and women in programmes, UNICEF also continues to focus on promoting gender equity through global forums and partnerships, such as the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI).
Results of the future
A year that marked the final chapter of two critical reporting periods was also necessarily one defined by looking forward. As both the MTSP and SPAP drew to a close in 2013, the organization was already at work defining its next sets of goals – goals that have since been outlined in the UNICEF Strategic Plan, 2014-2017 and the UNICEF Gender Action Plan, 2014–2017. These plans emphasize, more than ever, an integration of efforts across all areas of focus.
“The future issues we’re facing are deeply interconnected – climate change produces disease and resource scarcity; conflict interrupts education, exacerbates poverty and inequalities, and threatens financial stability,” said Mr. Lake.
Interconnected development efforts must, in turn, drive the future results we look to achieve for the world’s children.