Women Deliver 2010: Promise of an Optimal Future for Women and Girls

In 1910, a meeting of 35 women in Copenhagen started a worldwide movement demanding universal voting rights for women. That was a turning point in the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men. Now, 100 years later, over 3000 delegates (40% of who were men) from 146 countries, gathered together in Washington DC to press for universal access to maternal and child health. 2010 is as transforming a mile stone as 1910 was, in the journey of achieving basic human and health care rights for all women and children. Read more
The Women Deliver Conference 2010 gave a powerful call to address poverty, climate issues, violence, and economic instability. It called on the G8 Summit (to be hosted in Ontario from 25th June), to commit an additional $12 billion per year in funding to material and reproductive health systems over the next 5 years, as women are central to our communities and nations. They are the economic as well as social backbone of the world. It is time for the world to deliver to women. This is not only the right thing, but also an economically smart thing to do.

But funds allocation alone is not going to solve the problem. Heads of states, NGOs, private sector and others at the helm of affairs will have to ensure optimum utilization of the money allotted to maximize the outcome of their resources. They will have to do a scrupulous analysis for adopting a comprehensive and integrated approach so that women even at the lowest rung of society are able to avail of the maternal and reproductive health benefits.

“Ensuring gender equality in education, law and custom, protection from violence, and an end to harmful traditional practices are essential if women and girls are to realize their full potential and contribute to their communities and nations,” said 'Women Deliver' President Jill Sheffield.

“We now have an opportunity for the G8-G20 nations to work with developing countries to implement and fund a plan that strengthens access to primary health care services,” said Hon. Dr. Keith Martin, a member of parliament in Canada. “Enabling people to access skilled health care workers, medications, diagnostics, clean water, adequate nutrition and a full array of family planning options, including access to safe abortions will effectively address the appalling loss of over 344,000 pregnant women, and 8.8 million children, who perish every year from preventable or treatable causes. The world’s most vulnerable are looking to the G8-G20 leaders and saying, ‘seize this moment.’ ”

According to Dr Amita Pandey, a leading gynaecologist of India, ‘Maternal & foetal mortality depend on a large number of factors, and an important way of decreasing is by improving maternal health. This in turn can be achieved by avoiding unwanted pregnancies which adversely affect a woman’s health, by improving her nutritional status and finally by motivating her to go for institutional deliveries.

Lately one can see a very slow but steady change in the perceptions about female sexuality in Indian society. This can perhaps be attributed to increasing levels of female literacy & increasing financial independence of the women which is empowering them to assert their choice in matters of sexuality. Unfortunately, this group  accounts for a dismal fraction of women in our society and there is still a vast majority of them who cannot think of going against their husband’s/father's/brother's wishes and demands.’

Very many women, especially in the developing countries, do not have the freedom of choice as far as aborting the foetus is concerned. In India, women are generally coerced into going (or not going) for medical termination of pregnancy. Sometimes they are forced to abort—if they are carrying a female foetus (though legally sex determination tests are banned) or if they are unwed.  Very often, cultural and religious taboos prevent them from undergoing an abortion, despite repeated pregnancies, as children are deemed as God’s special gifts. It is often argued that it should be a mutual decision of both the partners to bring or not bring a child into this world. But I strongly feel that the woman’s choice should be uppermost, as it is her body (as well as mind) which is eventually involved in the whole process of giving birth to a child. We always talk of an expectant mother, but never of an expectant father. Just by reducing unwanted pregnancies, we can cut off infant mortality by a very large percentage.

The situation is worse in war torn countries, where women are the first target of insecurity. War crimes against women, like rape, molestation give their men folk a seemingly valid reason to force them to become more secluded by staying at home and denied the right of education or of gainful employment. If more girls are given access to education, health facility and a sense of security, it will bring about a lasting positive change in society. The youth are strong agents for sustainable change at the grass roots.

Margaret Chan, Director General of WHO, passionately appealed that cultural differences and divisive opinions should not detract us from achieving our goal. Every country needs to not only realize the importance of investing in the health of women and girls, but also work towards achieving this in a consolidated manner.

The job of us women (and men also) now is to push harder for transforming all the deliberations of this conference into reality.  Women are good pushers. They are pretty good in pushing the child out of the womb and deliver it to the world. Now they have to push others, like world leaders and policy makers, into taking serious steps in order to deliver to the women what is rightfully theirs. The role of the media is very important to keep the pressure up for this push to happen, by making the world hear and heed the voices of women. The momentum should not stop midway-else mother and child both would die.

Even after decades of promises, too many women are still dying due to preventable causes.
This is a call to action by all stakeholders – governments, communities, social activists --for commitment, focus and deliverance.

 Save the mother, save the world.

Shobha Shukla
(The author is the CNS Editor, has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP, and teaches Physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. Email: shobha@citizen-news.org, website: www.citizen-news.org)