Reflections on Women Deliver

Article Date

11 June 2013

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Launched in 2007 in London, the Women Deliver conference started as a global advocacy platform for investing in maternal health and reducing maternal and neonatal mortality. This year in Kuala Lumpur – host to the world’s third Women Deliver conference – amidst conversations about the slow progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), new development agendas for a post-2015 world were also discussed.

Sitting through various plenaries I wondered: If Women Deliver was a word cloud, what would it be? Clearly, the bold faced words are: Invest, Women, Girls, Justice, Poverty,the International Conference  on Population and Development (ICPD), MDGs, Family Planning 2020, and Development Agenda. In a smaller font we see:girls education, sex education, early marriage, men, rights, youth, midwives, safe abortion and contraceptives supply.

There was nothing new in assertions that investing in women is smart economics except that here the words were attached to high-level orators to elicit increased commitment to tackling problems; researchers and program implementers have been highlighting these issues for years.

But the global health community and conference organizers were asking seemingly new questions, which to me were old issues dressed up in new fonts: What about family planning? How do we delay marriage of young girls? What’s the role of men? Can we empower young people? How do we build women’s movements? What defines a just society? Will a just society achieve these goals?

Less audible at the conference were critical questions: What about sexuality in the sexual and reproductive health agenda? Where are resources most needed? How do we build governments’ accountability to the more contested terrains such as sex education, abortion or contraception? What is working well? What is not and why? Why do we need a new agenda? What failed before? What has been learned?

As new development agendas that might be created around  commitments to youth , sexuality, rights and violence prevention are talked about, we must ensure that resistant governments do not pick and choose whose rights to support – because rights are indivisible and universal and apply not only to married women. New development agendas need to fairly and proportionately address social justice and rights for  women and girls.  They need to address the negotiated aspects of young people’s  lives like sexuality and power.

At the closing plenary, Kavita Ramdas of the Ford Foundation reminded us that there are groups that are often sidelined based on sexual identity, race and religion and youth is a large demographic group that  includes many of these vulnerabilities.

Concern was expressed that the MDGs for 2015 may not be achieved. The ICPD milestones that were assigned several decades ago still remain unfulfilled. While new goals are critical, we must ensure that governments are equally held accountable to the old ones.

Yes, new agendas are critical to ensure sexual rights, safety and accountability, especially for young people. They assign roles and actions to a global community of donors, researchers and program implementers for years to come. But let’s also live up to our old promises. The evidence and data that researchers generate should not only shape the new policy and program landscape, but also evoke serious discussions around realizing universal rights and ensuring accountability.  Only then will we be successful at fulfilling new, more comprehensive milestones.