KUALA LUMPUR — The imperative to invest in girls and women was spotlighted at the opening of the Women Deliver conference, where more than 3,000 people from 150 countries are sharing information and strategies, advocating and networking for reproductive health and rights.
Featured speakers talked about the economic and social benefits of investments in reproductive health and girls’ education. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak noted that his country has one of the lowest maternal mortality ratios in Asia "thanks to strategic, focused and targeted interventions."
The World Bank’s director of gender and development, Jeni Klugman, presented a new report detailing how “investments in reproductive health are a major missed opportunity for development,” with the potential to deliver “substantial social and economic benefits for women, their families and their communities.”
UNFPA was represented in several of the dozens of panel discussions held throughout the day on a wide range of topics related to girls' and women's health and empowerment.
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, spoke in a session on prioritizing women’s health needs in the political agenda. “You cannot expect good quality services if you have only 5 per cent of national resources destined to health,” he observed.
“I was so happy today when the Prime Minister of Malaysia said that family planning is a human right,” he added. “We need to empower young people all over the world” to realize this right.
The UNFPA leader also addressed the global Parliamentarians’ Forum held alongside the conference. There he highlighted the gains made by countries like Burkina Faso, Laos, and Madagascar in increasing the use of modern contraceptive methods, but also noted that meeting unmet need for family planning remains a big challenge in many countries.
Lawmakers can support progress, Dr. Osotimehnin stressed, by advocating for the rights of women, girls and youth and for ensuring their access to sexual and reproductive health services.
“Your role as representatives of the people is invaluable as we push for progress on the ICPD Programme of Action and the MDGs,” he said, referring to the recommendations of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and the Millennium Development Goals. Dianne Stewart, Director of UNFPA’s Information, Executive Board and External Relations Branch, also addressed the parliamentarians.
Other UNFPA presenters at Women Deliver included Kate Gilmore, Deputy Executive Director, Programme, in a panel on addressing challenges in family planning. Ms. Gilmore spoke powerfully about the burden of maternal mortality and motherhood falling on the shoulder of young women. She related being with an 18-year-old girl, who, following the birth of her fourth child had an opportunity to choose when and if she would have another.
'At 18, she has the care and protection now of 4 children aged under six," said Ms. Gilmore. "And what she was doing was choosing to decide whether she should have five.
"Family planning – integrated with sexual and reproductive health information and services – is overdue. It is urgent and necessary. In an era of austerity, at a time of scarcity, the waste of life, potential and contribution and the cost of this waste is simply not sustainable."
In a panel on expanding access reproductive health services, Monique Clesca, UNFPA Representative in Niger, told of how mobile clinics and contraceptive distributors were helping to reach underserved rural communities. Gillian Slinger, coordinator of the Campaign to End Fistula, spoke about the progress achieved in 10 years of the campaign to prevent and treat obstetric fistula.
And in a session on ICPD at 20, Nobuko Horibe, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, outlined the myriad population-related challenges in her diverse region. Jagdish Upadhyay, chief of the Commodity Security Branch, spoke about the ongoing review of the Programme of Action and its connection to the process of formulating a post-MDG development framework.
On the same panel, Dr. Fred Sai, director of the Women Deliver board and a key figure in the Cairo conference, cited that conference’s emphasis on individual rights and the unprecedented involvement of civil society, and called for more support of local NGOs to advocate for the ICPD agenda.