UNFPA: Partnerships for addressing maternal and child health

Statement by Alf Håvard Vestrheim at the executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS Special Event: “Partnerships for addressing maternal and child health and realizing the demographic dividend: African faith-based organizations in the lead”, 28 January 2016.

| Executive Board


Allow me first of all to thank the panellist for their inspiring and encouraging messages this morning.

Faith-based organizations and religious leaders have always made a difference in the life of people by engaging in health and social work, for example by establishing institutions for care and education. Religious leaders have a strong voice in society, and a moral authority. They are trusted and their wisdom is sought after.  

We are grateful to UNFPA for creating this platform for feedback and engagement with the Executive Board on the important outcomes of the consultation with faith-based leaders from West Africa and Mauritania in Dakar. We commend the faith-based leaders for their commitment and for agreeing on such a ground-braking declaration, which we hope will mobilize action. The partnership and leadership of African faith-based organizations are crucial for addressing maternal and child health and realizing the demographic dividend.

We would like to take this opportunity to recall another important meeting held here in the UN in September 2014, entitled: “A Call to Action: A Faith-Inspired Momentum for Sexual and Reproductive Health in the Post 2015 Development Agenda”. Representatives from faith-based structures from all over the world came together to discuss challenging and sensitive aspects of gender, sexual and reproductive health, and affirming a commitment to promote the right and dignity of young people and women. Norway actively engaged in the 2014 meeting and we have supported UNFPA’s work with faith-based organizations for a number of years.

We often say that young people are the future. But in order to secure a good future, for the young people and for societies, young people are very much THE PRESENT, and they need attention and care, and room and voice, and they need it NOW. We hope that the partnership with faith-based organization can promote, support and equip young people and adolescents with relevant knowledge that will give them opportunities in life, and help them make informed decisions about their own life. Moreover, they need to protection. It is important to protect their dignity and rights, and to protect them from abuse, violence and ignorance.

We affirm that sexual and reproductive health and rights are human rights, and as such, must be guaranteed by governments and supported by religious leaders. We note in particular the importance of preventing gender-based discrimination, violence and harmful practices; upholding gender justice; ensuring that every pregnancy is wanted and that every birth is safe; providing comprehensive sexuality education; promoting the health, education and participation of youth and adolescents; preventing, treating and caring for people with HIV/AIDS; supporting family planning; and respecting the human body.


To conclude, allow me to direct a couple of questions to the panellists:

  • Many religious communities have young members and in some institutions they have organized their own youth groups. How can the young members of religious communities engage and work in support of the Declaration?
  • May the Declaration be replicated among religious communities and faith-based organizations in other regions?

Thank you.