Last week, Rwanda hosted a consultative meeting with African parliamentarians on International Conference on Population Development (ICDP) and Millennium Development Goals.
The main aim of the meeting - which was attended by parliamentarians from 15 countries - was to assess what roles parliamentarians can play in the implementation of MDGs, beyond 2014 and post 2015 (deadline for MDGs implementation), and what will be the next developmental framework. The lawmakers present discussed in particular reproductive health, sexual rights and family planning, issues related to MDG 5 (Improving maternal health).
During the meeting, the lawmakers reviewed and evaluated MDGs implementation, assessed and took stock of the success and failures of the MDGs, and consulted each other on the post MDG framework. Parliamentarians mainly focusedon how maternal health can be improved and regarded (more) as a crucial issue in the next years.
"Using our constitutional mandate, we can influence the post MDG development framework," said Silvia Ssinabulya, Chair of Network African Women Ministers & Parliamentarians (NAWMP)-Uganda chapter.
According to Ssinabulya, the socio-economic empowerment of women has failed in some states due to lack of the appropriate political will, and proposes five core functions that lawmakers can play to ensure that it doesn't happen again. These include representation, advocacy, legislation, budgeting and the oversight (holding the governments accountable).
"We represent the people, we have to make their voices heard, especially the women's voice. We have to advocate for MDG4 (reduce child mortality) and 5. We have to target the key ministries in our respective states to ensure that maternal health is among the priorities," she said, adding that the leaders should be influential in advocating for more funds.
"Some our leaders have maternal health only in their mouth. We have to make sure that their (spoken) commitments are translated into actions. Allocating the funds to the issue will help reduce the financial barriers for the most vulnerable people (women and children) to access quality health care."
These views were echoed by Saudate Sani, a special advisor to the president of Nigeria and member of the African Women Leaders Network (AWLN).
"For the particular MDG 5, it easier to engage with it when passing laws, when scrutinizing government activities, through the budget approval process and when reflecting and acknowledging the opinions and concerns of citizens. In all those areas, we can make the women's voice heard," she said. She stressed that the legislative process can be used to create a framework for monitoring progress toward achieving the MDGs by assessing whether the draft laws under discussion will impact positively on achieving those goals.
Rwandan senate president Jean-Damascene Ntawukuliryayo told the legislators that Rwanda prioritizes family planning and maternal health improvement among the keys to sustainable development.
"Improving maternal health empowers women towards the country's development. Our parliament has been championing it, and now the family planning (use of modern contraceptive methods) has increased from 4% in 2000, to 45% in 2010. We still have to push harder," the lawmaker said.
According to 2010 statistics (from hospitals), 98% of Rwanda women go for antenatal care, 69% deliver with the assistance of a trained personnel (community health workers) and 69% deliver at health facilities.
An estimated 200 million women worldwide are in need of family planning techniques.