Goal 3 of the newly adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals is “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”. There are 13 targets under this Goal, including reducing the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030, ending preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 by 2030, and ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, by 2030.
One big issue that underpins most, if not all of the targets for Goal 3, is the need for universal health care coverage including access to comprehensive maternal healthcare services and benefits – such as maternity and paternity leave, post-partum support and breastfeeding support. Particularly for women’s health and well-being, the issue of sexual, reproductive and maternal health care – which should start even before a woman becomes pregnant in the form of family planning and continue well into the post-partum period – is absolutely necessary for the success of Goal 3, and for the empowerment of women and girls. The empowerment of women and girls, and realization of gender equality, is a prerequisite for the success of all the Goals, and perhaps especially Goal 3. Why? Keep reading.
We know that investing in women has far reaching positive effects on not only the women themselves, but their families and communities. This also holds true with regards to investing in women’s and girls’ health. Investing in women’s health has proven positive effects on economic growth and production – according to The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, every dollar spent on interventions for reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health can generate benefits worth $20. Investing in the health of women and girls doesn’t only lead into healthier women and girls – it leads to healthier families, healthier societies and healthier nations.
The issue of healthcare is a gendered issue. While many illnesses and diseases do not discriminate based on gender, women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected by poor availability of and access to basic healthcare services. The lack of sexual and reproductive health care services impacts women and girls disproportionately, as does the lack of contraceptives. Unsafe pregnancies impact the health and well-being of women and girls, not as directly men and boys – and it is women and girls who continue to suffer the consequences of both unsafe labor and unsafe abortion, often costing them their lives or leaving them with permanent injuries. Women and girls also continue to suffer from conditions directly stemming from the impacts of discrimination and gender inequality, such as fistula, female genital mutilation
While more or less all countries and all actors agree that protecting and improving the health of newborns and children should be a priority, and access to things like antibiotics, vaccines and other childhood healthcare services is rarely politicized, women’s health is a whole other matter. Sexual and reproductive health is a hugely political and contested issue, as is sexual education, access to contraceptives – and access to abortion. But here’s the thing: We cannot improve the health of newborns and children, if we do not improve the health of women – and improving the health of women is impossible without ensuring the availability of sexual and reproductive health services. As long as women cannot take control over their bodies and their reproductive choices, Goal 3 cannot be reached – not for women, men, boys nor girls.
Women’s health and well-being has even broader impact, because of the fact that women continue to be the primary care-giver of both children and the elderly everywhere in the world, as well as de facto managers of their homes, households and families. When women are healthy and can access family planning services and contraceptives, they are able to start their families when they are ready. Women who have planned their pregnancies and have access to maternal health care services can enjoy safe pregnancies and deliver healthy babies in a safe environment with trained staff assisting them to bring their babies into this world. Postpartum support and services allow women to recover and rest after delivery, and breastfeeding support is absolutely crucial for more mothers to be able to initiate breastfeeding right at the start, and continue it for as long as feasible.
In the end, the 17 Goals are obviously all dependent on each other’s success. As long as people stay poor or malnourished – topics of Goal 1 and Goal 2– they will also suffer from bad health and be susceptible to illnesses and diseases. Goal 3 will in turn impact the success of Goal 4 on education because weak, poor, malnourished and sick children won’t learn, no matter how many schools, teachers, books and pens we provide them with. The success or failure of Goal 3 has particularly broad and far reaching consequences, because the health and well-being of people is, in the end, a prerequisite for everything else – and the foundation of healthy families and societies are healthy, thriving and empowered women and girls.
Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.