Twenty years ago, then First Lady of the United States Hillary Clinton delivered a speech at the Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing, China.

Among many memorable adages, she said the following:

If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, it is that human rights are women’s rights…. and women’s rights are human rights.

In 2015, it would be surprising to think that anyone would doubt her claim. The moment for women’s rights — in health, education, economic empowerment and security — has seemingly arrived, with everyone from Emma Watson, to Beyoncé, to President Barack Obama engaged in the conversation.

Pakistani midwives. Photo courtesy of Ali Khurshid/MCSP
Pakistani midwives. Photo courtesy of Ali Khurshid/MCSP

This year, governments, NGOs and private sector organizations across the world all made the status of women and girls a priority. The U.S. government announced the Let Girls Learn initiative, the DREAMS partnership, and major commitments in maternal and child health. The Nike Foundation launched the Girl Effect Accelerator, a consortium of partners birthed Data2X, a second center for women, peace and security started at the London School of Economics, and Glamour magazine announced The Girl Project.

What do all these partners agree on? Improving the welfare of women is a popular investment, and one that makes sense. Why?

Mada Saving Club for women 2
Every week, members of the Mada Saving Club for women in Nigeria give money to the collective. When a member needs it, she can borrow with a small interest not payable until after the first month. This encourages responsible entrepreneurship, and provides women with the means to afford the health services they may need. Photo courtesy of Karen Kasmauski/MCSP

According to Women Deliver and others, women spend 90% of their earned incomes on their families. If educated, their children are two times as likely to live past the age of five. Eliminating barriers to employment for girls and women has the potential to raise labor productivity by 25% in some countries. Women, in short, build stronger communities and contribute to stronger nations. The investment organizations, companies, and nations make in improving their status and welfare is sound and has a ripple effect, touching communities, nations and the world.

Women wait with their babies outside a maternal healthcare center in Nampula, Mozambique. Photo courtesy of Kate Holt/MCSP and Jhpiego.

Yet, despite the momentum, we still have gaps to close to ensure that women and girls have the same rights and ability to learn, earn and thrive.At USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP), we see those gaps clearly. This ongoing inequality affects what we care about the most: ending preventable child and maternal deaths.

A trainee nurse in Dehradun, India. Photo courtesy of Kate Holt/MCHIP.

In many of the countries where we work, women’s decision-making authority and level of education affects their access to essential health services during and after pregnancy. In addition, family planning efforts are often less successful because women do not have the power to determine when and how many children they would like to have. This inequality extends to the next generation: their daughters are more likely to be malnourished and less likely to receive immunizations.

As stated by Population Council, failure to stop this cycle is planned poverty. All women should have the right to freely and responsibly control matters related to their reproductive health, and make their decisions free from disruption, violence and coercion.

On March 8th—and every day—women remain at the center of MCSP’s mission. We aim to Nigerian mother and childthink meaningfully about how to integrate gender into our technical programs. We try to reach the most remote, vulnerable and marginalized of women with high-quality care. We cheer on the work of our colleagues who strive to #letgirlslearn and create #equalfutures, recognizing that their success means success for all of us who share these values. And we remember the women at the center of our work, whose rights, opportunities and welfare drive our daily efforts.

The Conversation

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