6 March 2013

Rwanda: Making Girls and Women a Priority Today and Every Day


This International Women's Day, we have much to celebrate. In the past year alone, we have made tremendous strides in women's health and equality: the United Nations adopted a historic resolution to end female genital mutilation; global leaders convened at the London Summit on Family Planning to make US$2.6 billion in new financial pledges and a series of unparalleled policy commitments to family planning; and together, we celebrated the first-ever International Day of the Girl Child.

Individual countries have also made remarkable headway toward improving women's rights and health. Here in Rwanda, the government is taking steps to make family planning services available at every hospital and health center so that women across the country have access to these potentially life-saving contraceptive methods.

International Women's Day is a great opportunity to applaud these achievements, while also remembering the challenges that remain. Global maternal deaths have dropped by nearly 50 percent since 1990, but 287,000 mothers-to-be still die every year - that is 800 women every day. More than 200 million women want but do not have access to the tools they need to plan their families. Countless girls are held home from school; violence against women is all-too-common; and girls and women continue to face barriers at nearly every rung of the economic, social and political ladders.

With the 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target date rapidly approaching and discussions taking place at the highest levels about the post-MDG development framework, the time to act is now. Stronger political will and financial commitments are urgently needed at the national, regional and global levels- and we must advocate to ensure that girls' and women's health and rights remain priorities.

On May 28-30, global advocacy organisation, Women Deliver, is convening a landmark conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that will bring more than 5,000 voices together to do just that. This meeting - Women Deliver 2013 - aims to generate the political will, financial commitments and grassroots action needed to bring about real, meaningful change for girls and women around the world.

Several African leaders are participating in the conference and leading this charge, including African Women's Development Fund CEO Theo Sowa; UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin; Global Fund for Women President and CEO Musimbi Kanyoro; and Ministers of Health and Finance from ten African countries, including Rwanda.

The issues being discussed at this global meeting are not "women's issues;" they are everyone's issues. We know for a fact that prioritizing girls and women is not only the right thing to do-it is also the smart thing to do. When women do well, families flourish, communities thrive and nations grow. The math is simple - investing in women pays dividends.

This International Women's Day, we should celebrate the remarkable successes of the past year, but also recognize that our work is far from finished. It is up to all of us to ensure that the global leaders - from Washington, D.C. to Kigali- deliver on the promises they have made to girls and women.

We cannot stop fighting. We cannot stop working until every girl and woman, no matter where she lives, has access to the education she deserves; the contraceptives she wants; the maternal health care she needs; and, ultimately, the opportunity to achieve her dreams.

Our calls to action are being recognized and our voices are being heard. We can - and we will - work together to accelerate progress for girls and women in Rwanda, across Africa and around the world.

Jill Sheffield is the President and Founder of global advocacy organization, Women Deliver.

Fred Sai is the Former Advisor to the Ghanaian Government on Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS.

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