Improving Maternal Health Encompasses More Than Mothers

With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) nearing expiration date and the new and improved Sustainable Development Agenda in place, we are facing a fresh start to address some of the most important global challenges in the next 15 years.

Next week global leaders, advocates and policy-makers are convening at the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference in Mexico City. Although we have seen great progress in improving maternal health since the implementation of the MDGs, there is still more to be done. 

Therefore, I would like to highlight several key points to ensure that we do not end up with unfinished business for mothers in 2030. 

Don’t leave adolescent girls out of the equation

To combat maternal health challenges and mortality, adolescent girls need to be at the core of policies and programs. Invest_in_Adolescents_and_Young_PeopleTheir needs must be adressed and their voices heard. Addressing human rights abuses like child, early and forced marriage, as well as, female genital mutilation, are part of the same equation. Adolescent girls and young women need to have control over their own bodies and the power to choose their paths in life. 

Click to see this great infographic by Women Deliver and Johnson & Johnson on the importance of investing in adolescents and young people. 

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) can no longer be neglected 

Sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning needs to be addressed as a part of improving the health of future mothers and babies. Making sure that women and girls have access to the services and information to be able to make the choices they want. 

225 million women in developing countries have an unmet need for family planning, resulting in unplanned and unwanted pregrancies, unsafe abortions with detrimental effects on women and babies.

Invest_in_Family_Planning_and_Reproductive_HealthNot only is access to SRH services imperative, sexual education for both girls and boys is essential to foster an environment where the health of mothers and newborns is taken seriously. When young people understand their bodies and their choices, they are empowered to take charge of their health outcomes.

Click to see this great infographic by Women Deliver on the importance of investing in family planning and reproductive health.

It is my hope that as experts gather in Mexico City and at other upcoming conferences and events, that the voices of young people, and adolescent girls in particular are listened to.

Girls’ Globe will be attending the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference and provide live coverage through blog posts, TwitterInstagram, Periscope and more. Follow along using #GlobalMNH and #GlobalGoalsLive. 

Cover Photo Credit: UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Ose

Girls’ Globe at UN General Assembly – Join us!

The 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly formally began on 15 September 2015 – and this year is different and unique. This year, the world comes together to say goodbye to the eight Millennium Development Goals which were adopted in 1990 for 15 years, and say hello to the new 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which will set the new global development agenda for the entire world from now until 2030.

Much can be said about the MDGs and whether or not they succeeded in what they set out to do – we’ve seen great success stories, and notable failures. We’ve learned about setting targets and defining indicators, and we’ve understood the importance of ensuring that we don’t only focus on countries reaching certain thresholds and targets, but also pay attention to whether their progress and development is even and equal and reaches those who are most in need, and often the hardest to reach.

Girls’ Globe will be present at UNGA with our key partners, FHI360, Johnson & Johnson, and Women Deliver, focusing particularly on events, discussions and issues pertaining to girls and women. We will be covering panels, workshops, talks, events and roundtables live via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Periscope and our online magazine – and our passionate bloggers will be delivering fresh and carefully curated news and information to you straight from the heart of the action. Make sure to follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletter to stay on top of what’s happening!

We also want to hear from you – what do you think was good about the MDGs, and what should have been done better? Are the current proposed SDGs better – and particularly, are girls and women represented in them strongly enough? Tweet to us, message us, or send us a video – and raise your voice!

Throughout the week, follow #GlobalGoalsLive and sign up to the Daily Deliveries for live coverage of key conversations and presentations related to women’s and children’s health and rights at the 70th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Periscope graphic

Featured image: Luke Redmond / Flickr 

From MDGs to SDGs: Stepping into the World We Want

In Africa, there is a common phrase that says, “When the drummers change their beat, the dancers must change their steps.”

In September, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are set to be adopted by Heads of States at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This meeting will bring together developed and developing countries, politicians, private sector leaders, civil society organizations, faith groups and others to adopt a set of 17 goals that aim to  take forward the job that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set in motion by intensifying action to empower the poorest and the hardest to reach. Will the global community be dancing to a new beat that will truly be transformative and have a positive impact on the lives of women and girls or will the new development agenda play out like a broken record?

The following are a few reflections of the proposed 2030 agenda:

Looking Back What Worked

The MDGs have been praised for being useful tool in providing benchmarks for the achievement of special development gains, for priority setting at country levels and for mobilizing stakeholders and much needed resources towards common goals.  However, the MDGs were created through a top down process where Member states came together and formulated a set of development goals through a process that was dubbed a ‘donor driven agenda. The SDGs have been far more consultative process where women civil society groups such as the Women’s Major Group and Post 2015 Women’s Coalition have been actively involved in negotiations around developing this new global agenda. What this meant was that the “missing” voices, aspirations and realities of feminist, human  rights, environmental and social justice movements’ were heard and considered alongside Member states in the framing of the new development agenda.

Looking Forward What Needs Work

The main lesson learned in the (under) performance of the MDGs was the lack of a rights based approach. Sadly, the SDGs equally missed out on a historical opportunity to infuse this critical element that would have contributed to a truly transformative development agenda. For example, the MDG 5 that relates to reproductive, maternal, adolescent and child health is the most off-track in term of progress with the global community far from achieving it. However, the new agenda fails to raise ambition by re-affirming that sexual and reproductive rights are indeed human rights. Notably absent from a young woman perspective is that the  SDGs fail to recognize the necessity of providing comprehensive sexuality education to all young people, in and out of school. For the development agenda to improve reproductive health outcomes, policymakers and practitioners need to draw on a growing evidence base in this field. Most importantly, sustainable development can only occur when women and girls have the right to control all aspects of her sexuality, including her sexual and reproductive health, free from violence, discrimination and coercion.

Looking Up What Promises To Work

Gender equality, human rights and the empowerment of women and girls remains a critical driver to the achievement of the sustainable development goals. As in the MDGs, the SDGs have retained a standalone goal on gender, Goal 5: “Achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls” This particular goal goes beyond MDG 3, which focused on parity in education, political participation and economic empowerment, and targets to end all forms of violence, discrimination, early and forced marriage and harmful practices against women and girls and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. Gender equality has further been addressed in other goals such as the goal on equal rights to education and life-long learning, to decent work and equal pay for work of equal value; goal on inequalities within and between countries; the goal on peaceful inclusive societies and the goal on Means of Implementation (MOI). Care economy, paid or unpaid work, which tends to rely on women and girls’ cheap or invisible labor has also been recognized in the SDGs.

New Steps, New Beat

Unsustainable development and inequality and/or the violation of the human rights of women and men are closely linked. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin. The disproportionate impact of poverty on women and girls is not an accident, but as a result of systematic discrimination. Until and unless the underlying deep rooted problems that prevent women and girls from escaping poverty are tackled, progress towards the proposed agenda will merely remain a pipe dream. The MDGs failed to address this which resulted in uneven performance of the goals. Still, poor past performance should not hold us back from future action.  The post 2015 development framework remains a major development milestone and a potentially positive agenda waiting to be implemented by the international community. With strong political and financial commitment and gender equality, women’s human rights and women’s empowerment at its core, the 2030 Agenda shall be realized. Ultimately, advancing the rights of women and girls is not just the most effective route to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is also a moral obligation.

Featured image by Salahaldeen Nadir / World Bank.

Making Strides to End Child Marriage

More than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday.
More than one in three (about 250 million) entered into marriage before the age 15. Ending child marriage is not just a priority for the world, but a necessity that will enable girls and women to participate more fully in society. Girls and women are at the heart of global development, and when given the opportunity, education, and tools, can go onto raise healthier and smaller families of their own that will, in turn, contribute to their communities and society.

We have seen an increase into the awareness of child marriage, thanks to organizations like UNICEF, Girls Not Brides, Save the Children, and Breakthrough. Just this month, Let Girls Lead (LGL), based at the Public Health Institute, celebrated the Malawian Parliament voting to pass the National Marriage Law, which raised the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18 years. After over five years of advocacy by LGL partners and other key organizations, the victory guarantees a Malawian girl’s right to be a girl for the first time in history.

In Malawi, approximately 50 percent of girls are married by the age of 18, sometimes as young as 10 or 11. While it is a culturally-accepted way for families to lesson their economic burden the effects of child marriage are carried into a girl’s adulthood. Exposed to sexual exploitation, adolescent pregnancy, maternal death, infant mortality, malnutrition, equally transited infection and HIV, child brides have a greater chance for a life of poverty, and sometimes violence. Since 2009, LGL worked to provide individuals and organizations the leadership development, capacity building, and seed grant funding to improve girls’ lives. By engaging marginalized girls to advocate for themselves and other girls within their country, young people – especially girls – have been empowered to speak for themselves and against established cultural norms, including child marriage.

Other countries are joining Malawi in the fight to combat child marriage, including Tanzania, which has one of the highest child marriage prevalence rates in the world – almost 2 out of 5 girls will be married before their 18th birthday. In February, authorities in Tanzania and development partners signed a new commitment to increase efforts to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage within the country.

Last year, the world saw the first resolutions on ending child marriage adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, as well as the Human Rights Council. We saw the first-ever Girl Summit in London, focused  on ending FGM and child marriage in London. And we launched the Campaign to End Child Marriage, led by the African Union. Yet, the work is far from over.

Truly sustainable change demands long-term investment in advocacy, local leadership, and global commitment. As the global development community focuses on the post-2015 agenda and the creation of “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs),  we must continue to fight for the well-being of girls and women. We must demand an increase in investments that provide quality services to girls and expand opportunities for their future, such as education and employment. Girls and women must also gain increased access to health and reproductive health information and services to better understand their rights and futures.

Ending child marriage is not just possible, but a reality that is beginning to occur. It will require a continued effort, partnerships, and a serious global commitment. Working together, we can give girls’ the opportunity for the lives they deserve – lives they choose for themselves.

Cover Photo Credit: Jessica Lea DFID, Flickr Creative Commons

If You Treasure It, Measure It: #Commit2Deliver for Women and Girls

No country sends its soldiers to war to protect their country without seeing to it that they will return safely, and yet mankind for centuries has been sending women to battle to renew the human resource without protecting them. -Fred Sai, former President of the International Planned Parenthood Federation

Pregnancy is the one of the leading causes of death for girls aged 15-19 in developing countries. Maternal and child mortality remains a big problem for many countries in Africa with young women even more vulnerable. However, almost all maternal deaths can be prevented, as evidenced by the huge disparities found between the richest and poorest countries. The lifetime risk of maternal death in industrialized countries is 1 in 4,000 in comparison to 1 in 51 in countries classified as ‘least developed.’

Why We Cannot Wait

Mothers are the cornerstones of healthy societies. Not only do they give physical birth to new life, they give moral and intellectual guidance to children who will become productive members of society. A society where mothers are not valued and protected is is one that will slowly diminish. Through prioritizing the welfare of mothers a ripple effect occurs for the health of newborns and children.

Time for Action is – NOW!

Maternal health is a matter of life and survival. This issue needs to be addressed from a rights based approach falling under the broader scope of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Citizens need to hold governments accountable for the availability, accessibility, affordability and quality of health services available for women and youth by ensuring:

  • Universal access to comprehensive sexual reproductive health and rights including modern contraceptive services for all young people regardless of sexual orientation, sex, race, ethnicity and geographic location
  • Access to safe and affordable, quality, nondiscriminatory, stigma free, comprehensive safe abortion care and post abortion care
  • Universal access to evidence based, age-appropriate context specific comprehensive sexuality education that enables adolescent and young people to understand and make informed decisions about their sexuality and plan their lives.

As Heads of State continue the discussion around a transformative post-2015 development agenda, it is critical that African governments galvanize political will, mobilize resources and prioritize maternal health in the next development framework. Then and only then, will we have future that we are proud to present to future generations.

Cover photo credit: hdptcar, Flick Creative Commons

We Want Commitment and Action: #ShowYourSelfie for Youth!

Matti Nouvalou from The Global Poverty Project introduces the #ShowYourSelfie for Youth campaign to Princess Madeleine and Queen Sylvia of Sweden.
Matti Nouvalou from The Global Poverty Project introduces the #ShowYourSelfie for Youth campaign to Princess Madeleine and Queen Sylvia of Sweden.

Today, a day before the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, New York City, the Action Summit took place, giving global citizens the possibility to engage in conversations around some of the most important development priorities: sanitation, education, global health and women and girls.

I had the great opportunity to speak about why the rights of women and girls must be fulfilled in order to reach any other development goals and end extreme poverty.

For those of you who who may not know, I am pregnant. I was born in a country where there is access to good quality healthcare. Because of this fact, I have not had to worry about the baby growing inside of my belly or risk dying during childbirth. Yet during the past hour almost 35 women and girls have died due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth – that’s 300 000 a year! Did you know that the most common cause of death for teenage girls in the least developed countries is just that – complications during pregnancy and childbirth?

1 in 3 girls in low and middle income countries is married before her 18th birthday. Early, forced and child marriage is a human rights violation that leaves girls at greater risk of violence and poverty.

According to WHO, violence against women and girls is a public health problem of epidemic proportions, and it is estimated that 1 in 3 women will be subjected to gender-based violence and abuse during her lifetime.

We can not fully address any development priorities without ensuring that the rights of women and girls are fulfilled.

We can’t end poverty without ensuring that every girl that is born into this world is free – free to learn, free to play, free to decide over her own body and free to live her life to her full potential.

The Global Poverty Project and Global Citizen have sparked action to be taken to ensure girls and women stop being left behind. This is what Girls’ Globe is all about – we are raising the voices of young women and grassroots voices for global leaders to hear them.

As part of our campaigning for women and girls we are delighted to join Global Poverty Project and their recently launched global campaign with the United Nations Population Fund called #ShowYourSelfie.

We’re mobilizing people around the world to show their support for the rights of adolescents and youth to be central in the post-2015 development agenda.

What could be more important than empowering one quarter of the world’s population?

Adolescents and youth are 1.8 billion strong. There are more young people in the world today than ever before. They are a powerful force, individually and collectively. They are world leaders today and are building the foundation for the world’s future.

Millions of young people do not have access to basic needs and rights. Needs such as education, health services, access to contraception, comprehensive sexuality education, fair wages and protection from violence.

As global leaders set the new Sustainable Development Goals during the coming year, young people MUST be at the table, their voices need to be heard.

So join us in this call to action! #ShowYourSelfie for youth, and raise your voice to ensure that women and girls are included in all aspects of the post-2015 development agenda.

The time really is now. We want strong commitments and we want action.