Friday, 6 July 2012

Every Woman's Right

In the office this week I received a poem from a member describing her experience of attending the AGM at the end of May.  It was an absolute delight, with stanzas describing every stage of the meeting including the "More Midwives" resolution: "you'll be very pleased to hear, was passed by the majority, with a resounding cheer."

The NFWI is taking the first steps in the campaign, and in the meantime,  a major summit is to be held in London on 11 July on an international level, to help women around the world who do not have access to family planning.  The summit comes at an important time and, when the eyes of the world are starting to turn to other events in the capital, it shines a welcome and much-needed light on a set of issues which are fundamental to women's human rights. 

The figures are alarming: an estimated 220 million women do not have access to family planning.  What are the results of this unmet need? Research from Save the Children, released ahead of the summit, highlights that worldwide, complications in pregnancy are the number one killer of girls and young women aged 15-19.  Every year, 50,000 girls and young women die during pregnancy and childbirth.

We want the summit to mobilize unprecedented political commitment and resources from all sectors to help meet the needs of women in the world's poorest countries.   In 2010, I was fortunate enough to be invited to travel to Malawi with Oxfam to learn more about efforts to get Millenium Development Goal Five: to improve maternal health, back on track.  One of my hosts there was a first time mother to be, aged 18, who told me of her hope to become a nurse, a hope which she had given up on, leaving school before her exams when she became pregnant and married.   Another host, the mother of three boys, with a new baby due shortly, shared her desire to learn about contraception after the birth.  A desire which she told me was not something she felt she could share with her husband.  These stories are not unique, yet for too long, the voices of women have been absent from debates.       

Supply of contraceptive commodities is a major problem and of course, as delegates at next week's summit will hear, it is one that cannot be tackled effectively without qualified health workers on the ground.  And to achieve sustainable change, and truly ensure that the voices of the women I met in Malawi are heard, world leaders will need to ensure that commitment to gender equality and to empowering women remains central to discussions.  In practice this means women taking decisions about when and how many children.  It means every girl should have access to education that she is able to complete.  And it means all sections of society need to play a role in upholding women's rights.  Family planning is a cost effective way to improve outcomes.  Coupled with the empowerment of women it will help accelerate progress towards reaching the MDGs.  The WI looks forward to seeing global leadership on this issue. 

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