“When women and girls have the tools to stay healthy and the opportunity to contribute to their families’ well-being, they flourish and so do the people around them,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
declared today in a speech
renewing U.S. support for universal access to reproductive health services and supplies around the world. “Investing in the health of women, adolescents, and girls is not only the right thing to do; it is also the smart thing to do.”
Introduced by Melanne Verveer, the first ever ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, Clinton’s much anticipated statement marked the 15th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and reconfirmed a U.S. commitment to meeting Millennium Development Goals 4 (reducing child mortality) and 5 (reducing maternal mortality and increasing the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel). Reproductive health and development luminaries Nafis Sadik, UN Foundation President and former Senator Tim Wirth, and newly installed USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah were also in attendance.
Clinton began with a look back to the ICPD—which she called the “first ever global forum that recognized the connection between women’s health, the quality of women’s lives, and human progress on a broader scale”—and the progress since. Declaring that “we have made measurable progress since 1994 in improving the health and the lives of women and children, especially girls,” she cited a number of improvements, including higher child survival rates, use of modern contraceptives, and female education enrollment.
Switching from the past to the present, Clinton described how women and girls continue to bear the brunt of a variety of social ills: they have higher rates of poverty, illiteracy, and malnutrition, and are the most adversely affected by conflict, “from the Congo to Bosnia to Burma.”
After reciting the data on unsafe abortions, STDs and HIV/AIDS, fistulas, and female genital cutting, she declared that “these numbers are not only grim…they are intolerable.” She added, “We can not accept it morally, politically, socially, economically.”
But Clinton’s remarks were not solely focused on health and family planning issues. Echoing arguments made by Nicholas Kristof and others, Clinton described how women’s health and women’s rights directly and significantly impact most major problems in the world, including economics, natural resource conflicts, and national security.
These challenges will require sustained effort and funding, said Clinton, adding that the Obama Administration’s $63 billion Global Health Initiative would address the health challenges of HIV/AIDS and maternal and reproductive health in an integrated manner. All of the administration’s programs would seek to help countries strengthen their own health systems to meet their unique needs—both of their women and girls, but also their populations in general. In all of these efforts, she said including men and boys as “advocates and allies” remains important.
Praise for the speech has been swift—a letter of commendation from a number of foundations was sent to the secretary immediately afterwards.
Maternal and reproductive health have experienced elevated and perhaps unprecedented funding and attention in recent years, especially over the last few months. Secretary Clinton’s impassioned speech is almost certain to keep this momentum alive.
Photo: Courtesy SEIU International