As coordinator of one of the few forums
dedicated solely to maternal and reproductive health in Washington, D.C., I am particularly excited about this year’s 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day
. This day commemorates ordinary women doing extraordinary things and acknowledges both the progress made and barriers still faced by women worldwide.
“When it comes to the boardroom meetings, government sessions, peace negotiations, and other assemblies where crucial decisions are made in the world, women are too often absent,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her remarks
for International Women’s Day. “It is clear that more work needs to be done to consolidate our gains and to keep momentum moving forward.” [Video Below]
For mothers worldwide, some momentum has indeed been gained: Maternal mortality rates dropped from 526,000 a year in 1980 to 342,900 in 2008, according to a report by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. In September of last year, a group of international leaders – including the UN and other multilateral institutions, donors, the business community, and NGOs – launched the “Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health” and committed $40 billion to save the lives of 16 million women and children in developing countries.
At the sixth meeting of the Wilson Center’s Advancing Policy Dialogue on Maternal Health Series, Mayra Buvinic, sector director of the World Bank’s gender and development group, said: “Investing in women and girls is the right thing to do. It is not only fair for gender equality, but it is smart economics.” She said the World Bank has found that empowering women allows families to better endure economic crises and leads to better futures for their children as well.
“When women have better education and health, mothers have greater household decision-making power and prioritize the well-being of their children,” said Buvinic. “In return, children have better educational attainment and are productive adults, building long-term economic growth.”
However, increased investment will only pay off when money is translated into action and stakeholders are held accountable for empowering women.
Since the inauguration of International Women’s Day 100 years ago, the low status of women in many parts of the world has remained relatively unchanged. Many women are still subject to male-dominated values that preclude them from making basic decisions about “who to marry, when to marry, when to have children, and how many children to have,” said Nafis Sadik, special envoy of the UN Secretary-General for HIV/AIDS, in an interview with the Population Reference Bureau. To change this, international development strategies need to prioritize improving gender equality, women’s status, and women’s voice in the political process.
I am grateful to be working in collaboration with extraordinary institutions such as the Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) who take real steps every day to help improve the lives of women and girls. In collaboration with these institutions, the Wilson Center’s Global Health Initiative is please to announce that it will partner with the African Population Health Research Center in Kenya to co-host a three-part dialogue series with local, regional, and national decision-makers on effective maternal health policies and programs. These in-country dialogue meetings will create a platform for field workers, policymakers, program managers, media, and donors to share research, disseminate lessons learned, and address concerns related to policy, institutional, and organizational capacity building for improved maternal health outcomes.
It is our goal that programs like these will continue to highlight neglected maternal health and issues and galvanize the community everyday – and not just on International Women’s Day.
Sources: Population Reference Bureau, UN, UN Population Fund, U.S. State Department.
Photo Credit: Afghan girl, courtesy of flickr user U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan, and Secretary Clinton’s video address courtesy of the U.S. State Department.