Women Deliver: taking the movement forward

With a number of high level summits due to take place in coming months, such as the G20 and G8, how can political leaders, advocates and donors deliver? Speakers at the final day of the Women Deliver Conference in Washington DC discussed key issues and next steps in taking the movement forward.

For the three days of the Women Deliver conference, which took place in Washington DC, stories about the best maternal and reproductive health practice and the advancement of women and girls were shared amongst attendees.

Too many women and girls die from preventable causes and there are tools available now to prevent this. The conference was well times with heads of state due to meet in Africa to discuss women’s health and renew the Maputo plan.

The Maputo Protocol guarantees comprehensive rights to women including the right to take part in the political process, to social and political equality with men, to control of their reproductive health and end to female genital mutilation. As the name suggests, it was adopted by the African Union in the form of a protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. It is a terrific blueprint for how to meet the MDG5 in the region with the highest rate of maternal death.

Maternal health was the key focus at Women Deliver and more than 3,000 people from 146 countries - including parliamentarians from 80 countries, 50 ministers, first ladies and corporate groups - gathered together to confirm that women are central to families, communities and national economies.

Owing to women's death, the world loses $15 billion in lost productivity. Women are an economic force and can be saved owing to political, medical, social and community based solutions.

Jill Sheffield, President and Founder of Women Deliver, said: "The world must now deliver for women, this isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the economically smart thing to do. If only we could reduce unintended pregnancies with the use of modern contraceptives, we could reduce maternal mortality by 60 percent."

Narges Nemat, Youth Advisor, Women’s Refugee Commission, Afghanistan, spoke about the need to engage young people and girls in the decision making process.

"Young people play a very important role, if they are given access to education, health facilities and a secure environment, the future will look a lot different than it is now".

Afghanistan has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world; one woman dies every twenty-nine minutes while giving birth in Afghanistan. Giving birth at a very young age is also one of the lead causes of maternal death.

Bringing into focus the issues of rapes in areas of conflict, Leymah Gbowee, Executive Director, Women in Peace and Security Network, reflected on maternal health in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Sierra Leone has the highest maternal death rate at 2,000 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births (Maternal Mortality Ratio is the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births). The MMR is used as a measure of the quality of a health care system. She pleaded to the international community to step up their efforts in this region.

MDG5 - to improve maternal health - is the crux on which all other MDGs hang, accroding to Dr. Keith Martin, Member of Parliament, Canada. He stressed the Canadian government’s commitment to focus this issue during the upcoming G8 and G20 conferences.

He said: "Treating the pregnant woman is the most powerful impact you can have on the health of a population, if you can treat the pregnant woman you have the basics of primary health care right there – trained health care workers, access to diagnostics, medicines, clean water, electricity, means to access the full array of family planning including access to safe abortion.

"Through this you can not only safe the woman’s life but you can also treat malnutrition, pneumonia, gastro-enteritis, TB, malaria and the consequences HIV/AIDS."

The treatment of a pregnant woman is the unifying point of contact and can have an impact on the health of the entire population.

Tore Godal, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Norway, conveyed that not much progress is made in regards to women’s health globally. She said: "We have an opportunity this year to make 2010 as transformative as 1910 turned out to be (the year for women’s suffrage when women got their right to vote). In order to have a transformative summit, we must keep the pressure on governments. Keep criticizing, keep challenging us in order for us to do more."

Ishdeep Kohli-CNS