(First published in bdnews24.com, Bangladesh on 28 May 2013): Global leaders, policymakers, experts and rights activists kicked off here on Tuesday the decade’s largest conference on girls and women’s health and rights. Bangladesh figured among the success stories showcased by the 'Women Deliver", whose 3rd conference was opened by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at Kuala Lumpur with more than 3,000 delegates from over 150 countries. 'Women Deliver' said Bangladesh had significantly reduced death-at-childbirth due to resources allocated by the government and NGOs “to support access to quality maternity care for the large number of women who deliver at home”.
Latest figure shows Bangladesh’s maternal deaths dropped to 194 per 100,000 in 2010 from 574 in 1990, a progress that put the country on MDG 5 track. The three-day conference comes just days before the UN Secretary-General will receive recommendations for the post-2015 development framework next month. The newly elected Premier Razak called all to come ‘together’ for a strong voice to solve policy challenges for women progress.
Malaysia is the first Asian country hosting this global conference previously held in London and Washington. The Prime Minister said women play ‘an indispensible role’ at every level of the society from families to state level. “We see it in our own nation, where investment in education has empowered women to occupy top positions, in the civil service, in business and in politics,” he said.
He said Malaysia had taken ‘clear steps’ towards ‘a more equitable nation’ in education, healthcare and wage equality. “But there is still much more to be done,” he said and that as Malaysia strives to be a developed nation by 2020, “our challenge is to ensure that our economic growth is truly inclusive”.
He said for a sustainable development, “women must enjoy the same rights, respect and opportunities as men”.
As Malaysia boasts of for its lowest maternal deaths in the region with only 29 women per 100,000 dying at childbirth, the Prime Minister said this was possible for ‘strategic, focused and targeted’ interventions. “Political will and stable policies, investment in health and a commitment to improve quality of care, these are some of the essential ingredients of our success,” he said.
He termed access to family planning services and products ‘basic human rights’ and said this right should ‘not be denied’. He also highlighted the need of women empowerment so that they can make up their own family planning choices. In this regard he stressed on the need of investing on girls’ education. “Investing in universal education without gender discrimination has yielded results beyond expectations,” he said based on his own country experiences.
“A girl at school in Malaysia today is more likely to go to university than her male classmates,” he said in Malaysia despite similar enrollment rate at schools, “higher education rates are greater for women”. “We know that investing in girls and women in their education, health, safety, rights and financial independence pays”.
The opening day of the conference highlighted the need of investment on girls and women as World Bank released its report on how countries benefitted from this investment. The global lender said investments in women’s health in their early age were ‘a missed opportunity for development’.
Such investments, the report said, could increase labour productivity bringing financial benefit to households and future generations as well.
It cited Sri Lanka story where despite poor economic growth ‘proper’ investments helped to improve maternal health. Sri Lanka has cut down its death-at-childbirth to 35 today from 2,000 per 100,000 live births in 1930, it said. The report said the government could achieve this success through strategies that include universal coverage of health services.
Apart from economic and social benefits of investing in girls and women, the conference would also focus on how to achieve the goal of reaching 120 million more women with family planning services by 2020, a goal set earlier in the London conference.
Particular emphasis will be laid on the post-2015 development agenda, as organisers say participants in more than 100 sessions will call for action to ensure that girls and women are prioritised in the lead-up to the 2015 MDGs and beyond. Some of the world’s leading voices including Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Melinda Gates, Board Member of the Clinton Foundation Chelsea Clinton, and UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin will also join them.
During the meeting, organisations like the World Bank, the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization will release major new research and reports focused on the benefits of investing in girls and women. UN Women’s acting director Lakshmi Puri, at a press briefing after the conference opened,said gender equality goals should be placed in the post-2015 development goals. She said that no investment could better pay off than investing in women.
Nurul Islam Hasib, Bangladesh
Citizen News Service - CNS
(First published in bdnews24.com, Bangladesh on 28 May 2013)