28 May 2013

Africa: Girls' & Women's Health and Rights in Focus At Women Deliver 2013 in Kuala Lumpur

Photo: Travis Lupick/IPS
A mother and her child from West Point, a low-income neighbourhood of Monrovia, Liberia. The 10-worst countries in which to be a mother are all in sub-Saharan Africa.

press release

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 28 May 2013 — Today, more than 4,000 global leaders and advocates from nearly 150 countries gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for Women Deliver 2013, the largest conference of the decade focused on the health and wellbeing of girls and women. The opening sessions of this three-day event highlighted the critical need to invest in girls and women to spur development worldwide.

Malaysian Prime Minister Honorable Dato' Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak delivered welcoming remarks and discussed Malaysia's efforts to ensure equal rights and opportunities for women as a critical component of the nation's development and economic growth. The Prime Minister highlighted Malaysia's success in reducing maternal mortality, and offered to share lessons learned with countries working to improve maternal health.

"We are honored to have this global village in our midst for the next few days," said the Malaysian Prime Minister in his remarks. "We know that women play an indispensable role at every level of society. Together your strong voices will help frame the solutions, policies and strategies that will ensure progress for girls and women; of our nation, our region and our world."

The day's events also included the release of new reports from the World Bank and the Guttmacher Institute quantifying the economic and social benefits of investing in girls and women. Their new research makes clear that gender inequality and gaps in reproductive and maternal health hinder global development.

The World Bank report, Investing in Women's Reproductive Health: Closing the Deadly Gap Between What We Know and What We Do, developed for the Women Deliver 2013 conference, demonstrates that addressing the reproductive health needs of women is critical to achieving gender equality and improved development outcomes. As women constitute 40% of the world's workforce, the report finds that investments in reproductive health are a major missed opportunity in development, and that to drive progress, proven interventions must be put into practice. These include addressing women's agency, making improvements in the delivery of health services and increasing accountability in health systems.

The Guttmacher Institute report, Adding It Up: The Need for and Cost of Maternal and Newborn Care, Estimates for 2012, provides new regional data on the unmet need for maternal and newborn care. Although there have been improvements in access to medical care during pregnancy and delivery, tens of millions of women and newborns in developing countries still do not receive the care they need. Each year, an estimated 287,000 women worldwide die from pregnancy-related causes, and approximately three million newborns do not survive past the first 28 days of life.

The report finds that additional investments in reproductive and maternal health would generate immediate returns in terms of reducing disability among women and newborns, and saving lives.

"The research presented today shows that when we address the reproductive health needs of girls and women, the global economy is stronger, households are more likely to prosper and future generations have a greater chance of living long, healthy lives," said Jeni Klugman, Director of Gender and Development at the World Bank. "Investing in reproductive health and family planning is not just the right thing to do; it's smart economics."

The day concluded with a discussion of progress and ongoing challenges for women in leadership roles, in fields including health, education, finance, culture and government. Clinton Foundation Board Member Chelsea Clinton, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards, Former President of Finland Tarja Halonen and Yakin Erturk of the Council of Europe shared lessons learned and visions for female leadership in the 21st century.

The second day of the conference, 29 May, will focus on global access to family planning, and features such notable speakers as Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Co-Chair Melinda Gates, UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin, Senegalese Minister of Health Awa Coll-Seck and Philippines Secretary of Health Enrique Ona, among others. The third day of the conference, 30 May, will focus on the importance of prioritizing women's health and rights in the post-2015 development framework, and will feature UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, Special Representative for UNAIDS HRH Norwegian Crown Princess Mette-Marit and more.

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