Africa: Senior UN Officials Spotlight Women's Health Rights to Accelerate Global Development

Investing in the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls will help accelerate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, United Nations senior officials said on the final day of the Women Deliver Conference.

"We need - in Governments, legislatures, and public administrations - more people who will lead on these issues," today said UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, Helen Clark, in her remarks to the third Women Deliver Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

"We need many more women in positions of power, and women who are prepared to use that power to advance the human development and rights of other women."

She added that life had improved for many girls and women since the eight anti-poverty targets known as the MDGs were launched with a deadline of 2015, and a 20-year action plan on sexual and reproductive health rights was agreed on in 1994 in Cairo at the UN International Conference on Population and Development.

Some 800 women die daily due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, with an estimated 80 million unplanned pregnancies and 20 million unsafe abortions annually, Miss Clark cited.

"By denying that most basic sexual and reproductive right, the right to control one's fertility, societies disempower girls and women," she said, and this impedes development. "Countries where women have rights and opportunity denied cannot maximize their development potential - that can't happen if half the population is not equally empowered."

In his video message to the conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged action, "Now is the time to do even more to deliver for women and girls and accelerate progress toward meeting all our development goals."

Mr. Ban said this could be done by "improving access to family planning, information and care, by giving women the services they need before, during and after pregnancy, and by providing quality health care to all."

Billed as the largest conference on girls and women of the decade, more than 7,000 people are estimated to have attended the three-day conference, according to the organizers' website.

Launched in 2007, Women Deliver works globally to generate political commitment and financial investment for fulfilling the MDG target which seeks to reduce maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health.

According to its website, the initiative builds on commitments, partnerships, and networks to end preventable deaths that kill some 287,000 girls and women every year from pregnancy-related causes.

"As we enter the homestretch to 2015 and chart the path ahead, let us ensure that the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls are front and centre," Mr. Ban said. "After all, investing in women's health and rights is not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do.

"Working together, we can and will make a life-changing difference for the future of humanity."

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