To reflect its growing global reach, the independent citizen-support group in the United States for the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, has changed its name from Americans for UNFPA to Friends of UNFPA.
The group is one of numerous public American organizations supporting a range of UN agencies. The Population Fund is the world’s largest reproductive health and family planning agency in terms of global reach.
The new name echoes the title of the grassroots 34 Million Friends campaign begun spontaneously in 2002 by two American women after the administration of President George W. Bush cut off official US donations to the Population Fund. That campaign took its name from the $34 million dollars UNFPA would lose annually because of the American boycott. It asked 34 million Americans to contribute a dollar each.
By 2009, when President Barack Obama reinstated (and later increased) US contributions to the fund, the 34 Million Friends, created by Jane Roberts of California and Lois Abraham of New Mexico, had raised more than $4 million from concerned Americans.
Roberts, a former teacher and tennis coach, welcomes the renaming of the US support group. “In my view, the title Americans for UNFPA was always too limiting,” she said in an e-mail interview. “I am elated to see the name change. The battle for gender equality knows no boundaries.”
In a 2005 book she wrote about the campaign she and Abraham, a lawyer, started, “34 Million Friends of the Women of the World,” she expressed hope that a global movement would grow out of their ad hoc effort. Now, she said in the interview, “I think the name Friends of UNFPA opens up whole new vistas for its work here in the US and for possible communication and coordination worldwide.”
The newly renamed Friends of UNFPA, an official support organization separate from the Roberts-Abraham campaign, has been advocating for the Population Fund for 14 years. Valerie DeFilippo, a former external relations director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation in London, recently took over the presidency of the organization.
In its relatively brief history, a statement from the organization said: “Our global base of support has grown. With that growth, our new name -– Friends of UNFPA — will create entryways for participation, rather than set perimeters.”
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.