Delivering Solutions for Girls and Women
“We know how to intervene; there does not need to be a magical solution,” said Søren Pind
, Denmark’s minister for development cooperation, at the June 7 opening ceremony of Women Deliver 2010
In its second year, the conference has gathered delegates from 146 countries representing hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments, and civil society organizations under the theme “Delivering Solutions for Girls and Women.” Delegates are working to share projects, policies, successes, and innovations in the field of maternal health and to develop strategies to meet Millennium Development Goal 5
“Recent trends show great progress and this is very encouraging,” said Gamal Serour, president of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), speaking of a recent study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). The study found that annual maternal mortality has dropped 34 percent–from 526,000 to 342,900–between 1980 and 2008. Nevertheless, Serour maintained that “we are far away from our goal for 2015.”
Overcoming Tradition and Religious Barriers
Investing in women’s health is not only the right thing to do, it is also economically advantageous. When women are healthy, they provide tremendous benefits to their families, communities, and countries. Women contribute to a majority of the small businesses and agricultural activities of developing countries and their unpaid work at home accounts for almost 33 percent of the world’s GDP. Unfortunately, over 215 million of these women do not have access to family planning services, resulting in unwanted pregnancies, childbirth, and maternal deaths.
There are many barriers to family planning in developing countries, not the least of which are cultural and social traditions that can uphold negative gender-based norms. Tailoring campaigns to address these gender inequities was the subject of discussion at the “Cultural Agents of Change Delivering for Women” session, where panelists acknowledged that collaboration and partnership with a wide-range of actors–from members of the local legislature to civil society organizations and actors in the health sector–are necessary to facilitate change.
Graciela Enciso of the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social-Sureste in Mexico, added that advocacy campaigns to increase support for family planning should be “linked with research.” In many traditional societies, strict interpretations of religion are used to control and disempower women; donors and NGOs “need to think outside the religious box at every point,” said Mary E. Hunt, co-director at the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual.
Male Contraception, Gender Roles, and Family Planning
“I think it is important not to hide behind our cultures and religion,” said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, managing director of the World Bank. “We need to work with men and work together to overcome gender inequality.” “Male participation” has been a key theme echoed throughout Women Deliver and is often highlighted as a strategy for reducing maternal mortality.
At the “Men Deliver: Men’s Role in Family Planning” breakout session, experts addressed how new and existing technologies in male contraception and shifting gender roles can help to scale up family planning interventions. “Reducing unwanted pregnancies can also be carried out through male contraception,” said John Townsend, vice president of the reproductive health program at the Population Council.
Condoms are traditionally the main method of contraception for men, but usage rates quickly fall over time and to wear a condom “becomes the women’s responsibility,” said Townsend. To address issues around condom usage, development of alternative family planning technologies, such as gels and implants, is underway. As these technologies are being developed, however, it is important for program managers and donors to consider existing gender norms and the willingness of men to utilize new methods.
In researching gender roles in family planning in Zambia, Holo Hochanda, the chief technical administrator of the Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia, determined that there are many entry points for male intervention and increased family planning. “Men are clients, policymakers, and service providers. Each of these roles provides an opportunity to discuss utilization of male contraception and gender inequities in family planning,” he said. “Men can be key mobilizers and agents for change.”
For more coverage on Women Deliver 2010 click here and to learn more about the Wilson Center’s Maternal Health Dialogue Series visit the Global Health Initiative’s website here.