by Nguyen Thu Hien
KUALA LUMPUR (VNS)– Investing in women's reproductive health is smart economics, thousands of world leaders, policymakers and experts from 150 countries agreed yesterday during the Women Deliver conference in Kuala Lumpur.
The three-day gathering aims to ensure that investments in girls and women remain a global priority in the lead-up to the 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) deadline and beyond.
The conference was previously held in London in 2007 and Washington, DC in 2010. This is the first time the international gathering has been held in Asia.
Jill Sheffield, the founder and president of Women Deliver, a global advocacy organisation for the health and well-being of girls and women, said that investment in girls and women was not just the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do, as it would lead to stronger communities and countries that are more prosperous.
Improved reproductive health outcomes could increase the female labour supply and productivity because about 40 per cent of the global labour force are women, added Jeni Klugman, director of Gender and Development for the World Bank.
Maternal mortality and morbidity also imposed costs in terms of foregone earnings and meant that family members needed to absorb the work done by the women inside the home, which might reduce their own ability to exploit outside economic and educational opportunities, she said.
While the most extreme impacts arise when a woman or her baby dies in childbirth, maternal ill-health can also affect children's well-being and schooling.
Nevertheless, millions of women lack the means to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to prevent and address complications and disease during pregnancy. Nearly 22 million unsafe abortions occur annually and over half of all abortions in developing countries are unsafe.
There were an estimated 287,000 maternal deaths in 2010, close to 800 per day on average.
Moreover, for every woman who dies, another 30 suffer long-lasting injury or illness.
Lakshmi Puri, acting director of UN Women, said reproductive rights were not only critical rights for women and girls, but also human rights that must be guaranteed to all women in all circumstances and all settings, she said.
Puri also said that it was necessary for governments, private sectors and all stakeholders to deliver for women because women deliver for the world.
Improving education was one way to expand the agency of women and girls, as female education affected fertility, Klugman pointed out.
She cited the example of Indonesia, where increases in female education are associated with decreases in both fertility and child mortality. In Nigeria, one additional year of female schooling lowers fertility by an average of 0.26 births.
Klugman said legal reforms could also play an important role in improving reproductive health outcomes, particularly with respect to safe abortion services. The 82 countries with the most restrictive abortion legislation are also those with the highest incidence of unsafe abortions and abortion-related mortality rates.
Many governments have sought to reduce the financial barriers to accessing maternal health services, for instance, by providing vouchers to encourage the use of maternal health services, she said, adding that increasing accountability to patients could help improve health service delivery and health outcomes.
While the first day of the conference focused on the economic and social value of investing in girls and women, the second day will revolve around the unmet need for family planning.
As the conference takes place days before UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon receives recommendations for the post-2015 development framework, speakers during the third day of the conference will call for putting girls and women at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda.
Raising public awareness on family planning
The Global Poverty Project and Women Deliver yesterday announced a new family planning campaign, It Takes Two, aiming to raise awareness of, increase demand for and improve access to family planning information and services around the world.
About US$2.6 billion was pledged at the London Summit on Family Planning in 2012 to reduce the unmet need for family planning services in developing countries by 120 million women by 2020. The campaign aims to motivate young men and women to take action in support of improving access to family planning services and information, putting pressure on governments to reach their Family Planning 2020 commitments and be catalysts for significant progress and change.
The project will utilise the globalcitizen.org website of the Global Poverty Project, an innovative online platform and mobile application that tracks and rewards activist action through a point-scoring system and harnesses the power of social media to "gamify" family planning.
Starting from yesterday, participants have the opportunity to design their own condom wrappers, win free condoms, upload Facebook banners with key messages, sign petitions and take other creative actions for family planning.—VNS