The Forgotten Development Goal: Personal Reflections

Sustainable Development Goal 18: Engagement and Interest for Development Within All People. How does that sound? Why is this goal needed when we already have 17 of them? But I know that if it actually was an SDG it would already be achieved. I can confidently say so after having the honor of attending this year’s United Nation’s General Assembly (UNGA) Week in New York City.

If we take a look at the Millennium Development Goals I think that – to be honest – it was a thing created by force. The world was falling apart and our world leaders just had to figure out a solution. The result of that were a few great, optimistic, goals that we were all supposed to work on together. Where did it go wrong? How come we did not achieve the Millennium Development Goals? Of course, there were plenty of reasons. For example the lack of detailed targets and goals, the unrealistic part of achieving them and the missing piece of partnership. But the one thing I see in the new Sustainable Development Goals is interest and engagement.

When attending the UNGA week, I met all kinds of people with different ages, backgrounds, titles and careers, but still they all have one thing in common – they want to achieve the SDG’s for real. They don’t work with and fight for these goals because they have to, they do it because they really believe that these goals are necessary and that they can play a part in making them reality.

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Photo Credit: Daryan Shamkali

So looking at the pretend goal number 18 – Engagement and Interest – we can lean back and be proud of ourselves. With not only a year working with the SDG’s we have already achieved what I think is the most important goal – being engaged and interested in the change-making journey. Of course, this is not the most important part when it comes to the change that is actually being made. It is much more important that we achieve goals regarding poverty, hunger, gender equality, health and education. But I think that this imaginary goal number 18 is the most necessary goal if we shall even have a chance of completing the SDG’s within 2030.

So even though this goal does not exist for real – let’s pretend it does. Because in that case we can be proud of ourselves for completing the goal that will drive us forward to achieve the rest of them. From now on – let us continue this change-making journey together, with the passion and real will of getting things done. I really do believe that the Sustainable Development Goals will be a part of the history books, showing how they really made an actual change around the world – thanks to all of the engaged and interested people driven by the passion and will of leading the way.

Featured Photo of the Girls’ Globe team in New York during UNGA week. Credit: Zayira Ray for Girls’ Globe 

The Vital Need for Data to Improve Maternal Health

Globally and daily, around 830 women die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth – equivalent to nearly 35 women an hour. This results in over 300 000 maternal deaths each year – deaths that could be prevented if adequate care was provided. Skilled care before, during and after birth has been identified as one of the key strategies to reducing maternal deaths, a care that 25% of women still do not have access to.

Bernice lives with her father and her four younger siblings in a small rural village in the north of Burundi. Her family, along with eight out of ten Burundians, live below the poverty line, and they depend fully on their household food crop production for their survival. Due to several droughts lately, they are currently facing severe food shortage. Bernice is pregnant with her first child, and even though she’s more than half way through her pregnancy, she hasn’t yet seen a doctor. She is severely malnourished, putting both her and her baby at an elevated risk of complications.

Two years ago, Bernice’s mother Thalia passed away when giving birth to her fifth child, due to a post partum haemorrhage – one of the most common causes of maternal deaths in both developing and developed countries. As with 40% of the deliveries in Burundi, each of Thalia’s childbirths have taken place in their family home – every time without a skilled birth attendant by her side, without both water and electricity.

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Bernice represents a population that is facing numerous challenges that arise from their individual circumstances. Living in extreme poverty in rural Burundi – a country with one of the highest maternal mortality ratios (maternal deaths per 100 000 live births) in the world – makes Bernice and her baby highly vulnerable in regards to surviving pregnancy and birth. In just a couple of months it is her turn to face the difficulties that often come with childbirth in her condition. She fears what is to come, knowing what happened to her mother.

Bernice and her family are fictional characters and fortunately, this time the story is a fictional one. However, based on the latest data on maternal and child health, this is the reality of countless women, adolescent girls and babies around the world, with sub-Saharan African countries facing great challenges in regards of maternal, newborn and child health. In this region, a woman’s lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth is an appalling 1 in 36, and the newborn death rate is the highest in the world with 34 deaths per 1000 live births. Compared to a woman in a high-income country, a woman in sub-Saharan Africa faces a 100 times greater risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth.

The future might look nothing but dark when looking at numbers related to maternal health, but we also need to recognize the improvements that have occurred. Globally, since 1990, the maternal deaths have dropped by 44%, and ¾ of women now have skilled care during their childbirths. Furthermore, at least four antenatal care visits are received by  ⅔ of women worldwide. This increase in maternity services is imperative in showing us that some interventions are successful – hopefully leaving us with a somewhat optimistic mind.

However, in spite of ubiquitous efforts, much is yet to be done. The gap between the countries with the highest and the lowest maternal mortality has grown despite the increased use of maternal health services, resulting in a bigger gap between countries and populations. In other words: millions of pregnant women are left behind from the progress, with minimized opportunities for health gains not only for themselves, but also for their babies.

“We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind.”
The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

For us to be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and the underlying aim of “leaving no one behind”, accurate, reliable and population-based data on maternal health is essential. It is more crucial today than ever before, and vital to decrease the inequities in care that remains and seem to increase between and within populations.

The percentages in the illustration refer to to following numbers and statistics:

  • 25% of women do not have access to skilled care during birth
  • 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries
  • Between 1990 and 2015, the global maternal mortality dropped by 44%
  • A woman in sub-Saharan Africa is at a 100 times greater risk of dying during childbirth compared to a woman in a developed country
  • Every hour, nearly 35 women die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth

The Deadly Power of a Cookstove

2016—the year of a vociferous political climate, monumental policy changes, and finally the year of a forceful push toward gender equality. As an 18-year-old college freshman, I have recognized for years the existing gender gap, but I did not realize that something as simple as a cookstove could be an immense obstacle for closing the gender gap.

I was a junior in high school when I had the opportunity to hear the CEO of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, Radha Muthiah, and other esteemed women advocates promote the discourse about deleterious effects of climate justice on the global population, especially women. After listening to this Women In Peace panel, I truly realized that a girl’s fight across the globe, is also my fight; it is our fight.ha-gaccI am impassioned about the implications of primitive cooking methods because the effects are primarily on the health of women in low-income parts of the world. The underlying matter is that while open fire cooking and the burning of biomass and coal causes a significantly negative impact on the environment, a climate justice advocate would acknowledge the effects will continue to play a role in the health and wellbeing of people around the world.

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According to the World Health Organization, over 4 million people die each year because of debilitating chronic illnesses caused by inhalation of particulate matter when using traditional cooking methods. The chronic conditions are ubiquitous and include lung cancer, recurrent pneumonia, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. With little to no access to healthcare for many suffering from cooking-related chronic conditions, suffering increases for many families and puts a halt to the productivity of many families, pushing them further into poverty.

With ancient cooking methods, the gender gap inevitably arises. Women experience Time Poverty—the lack of time and unpaid labor that women are subjected to. Melinda Gates addresses Time Poverty in her annual letter stating that “Globally, women spend an average of 4.5 hours a day on unpaid work.” In developing nations, women spend time collecting fuel and then cooking, not to mention taking care of children and other stereotypical household tasks that women are usually delegated to do. Melinda Gates also described what girls and women could do with their time instead of spending time gathering and collecting fuel and then cooking.

“Girls in poorer countries might say they’d use extra time to do their homework. Housework comes first, so girls often fall behind in school. Global statistics show that it’s increasingly girls, not boys, who don’t know how to read. Mothers might say they’d go to the doctor. In poor countries, moms are usually responsible for their kids’ health. But breastfeeding and traveling to the clinic take time, and research shows that health care is one of the first trade-offs women make when they’re too busy.”

—Melinda Gates

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Be reminded whenever you use an electric cookstove, you have the amazing power to use your time for the greater good. With something as simple as an electric cookstove, you have infinite possibilities and time to achieve the life you want and to be productive. While we all take cooking with electric cookstove for granted, it is so important for each of us to realize the incredible obstacles and injustice that inappropriate cooking methods can place on for women and their families. It is imperative that we advocate for the elimination of these improper cooking methods and social injustice, which in turn will progress the movement for climate justice.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is a United Nations Alliance dedicated to combatting use of primitive cooking methods. This organization also fights for 10 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Images: Gumilang Aryo Sawhadew / Flickr Creative Commons, CAFOD / Flickr Creative Commons

Stories of Power: Women in Politics

Recently, there has been a growing focus on the importance of reliable, accurate gender data on the situation of women and girls. There are many reasons why data is important: we need accurate data so that we can prioritize. We need accurate data to know where we are starting from, so that we know if the programs we are implementing are actually working. We need data to know whether our work is benefitting people equally and reaching those who are most vulnerable. But data does something else too: It tells powerful stories.

As the world is hopefully nearing a day when a woman is elected to be the president of one of the most powerful nations in the world, let’s see what kind of a story data tells us about women’s political participation globally.

The aspect of women’s political participation and empowerment is also included in the Sustainable Development Goals, under Goal 5 about gender equality and women’s empowerment, for which target 5.5 is:

Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.

Women’s ability to participate in politics and decision making varies greatly between countries. The Nordic countries are often seen as trailblazers in this area: My native country, Finland, was one of the first countries in the world to grant women full voting rights in 1906, and in 2000 Finland elected its first female president, Tarja Halonen, who served two terms from 2000 to 2012. Halonen is one of nearly 80 women who have served as Heads of State in the world since the mid 20th century.  Yet, despite the growing number of women in positions of power, there are currently only 10 women serving as Heads of State and 9 as Head of Government – while there  are over 190 countries in the world. Only 22% of parliamentarians worldwide are women, and women in Saudi Arabia only gained the right to vote and run for office last year, in 2015 – leaving only one territory left where women still effectively cannot vote:  Vatican City.

Now perhaps more than ever, the world needs stories about women in politics – stories and narratives backed up by data that show how incredibly unequal the world of politics still is not only  in terms of political positions, but in terms of political panels and reporting the news on politics. A Google search of “images of famous political analysts” reveals quite a lot. It certainly isn’t that there aren’t talented and savvy female political analysts available, but a question of who is given visibility, attention, broadcast time and media space.

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In the United States, arguably one of the most powerful and developed nations in the world, a presidential race like no other is underway with only days left before the next President of the United States is elected. On November 8th, Hillary Clinton will most likely (and hopefully) become the first woman to be elected for that office – but her campaign and career, even way before this presidential campaign (or the previous one) began, have been shadowed by clear bias and discrimination due to her gender. This current presidential campaign has been an unreal and scary showcase of the deep rooted misogyny and patriarchal attitudes that are embedded in the American society, and Clinton has taken the brunt of it – but she is not the only woman. In America, and throughout the world, women who dare to run for or be elected to positions of power are faced with hatred, discrimination, belittling, shaming, verbal abuse, mansplaining and sexism.

Having a woman in a political leadership position does not, obviously, automatically lead to more pro-women or gender-equal policies or politics – but there is plenty of evidence that indicates that countries with more women in charge have greater chance of making lasting strides in areas like education, labor force participation and paid leave. In the corporate world, companies with a more gender-equal leadership tend to outperform companies run only by men. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been in the headlines for many pro-women and pro-feminist statements and actions since he took office, one of which being his decision to ensure gender parity in Canada’s cabinet. When asked why, he stated the obvious: Because it’s 2015.

As global institutions, agencies and governments take strides towards closing the gender data gap, let’s ensure the data we collect can tell powerful stories of the kind of a world we could have if more women had fair access to positions of power and decision making. Let’s ensure that our data tells us why it is important for all of us to make sure women have a chance in elections, that women are no longer overlooked and belittled, and that those who are elected also get treated fairly and without sexism while in office. If women can succeed against all odds and get elected to positions of power even in our current system that is inherently biased against them, imagine what women could do and achieve if so much of their energy, time and effort didn’t need to go into fighting back and standing up against sexism, bigotry and discrimination.

With reliable data, we won’t need to imagine. So let’s make sure we have that data – and let’s make sure we also use it and tells those stories of resilience, of power, or change.

Illustration by Elina Tuomi. 

Percentages in illustration reference the following numbers and statistics: