Experts Review Advances, Challenges for Women’s Health Globally

  • 30 September 2013

MEXICO CITY — An expert meeting on women’s health started yesterday, the third and last in a series of thematic discussions aiming to supplement the review process of the International Conference on Population and Development. The review will culminate in two reports with recommendations for the Commission on Population and Development and a UN General Assembly Special Session in 2014.

The meeting in Mexico will go deeper into sexual and reproductive health issues, achievements and challenges, as well as linkages with the global development priorities. According to participants, one of the major concerns is how best to position women’s and girls’ health in the post-2015 agenda.

Dr. Aurora del Rio Zolezzi of the National Center of Gender Equity and Reproductive Health of Mexico opened the meeting by reasserting the country's support for the review process and underscoring the challenges that exist in Latin America. “The main issue in this region is the need to reinforce the autonomy of women so that they can make decisions about their own reproductive health and rights.”

UNFPA Deputy Executive Director (Programme) Kate Gilmore emphasized the progress made for human rights in the context of sexual and reproductive health, saying that the participants of the meeting are the “titans” of this field globally.

“I can barely wait for the outcomes of conversations that will take place over these next three days. Already we share a consensus that we need to formulate together recommendations that will draw out the links between women’s health and the broader development agenda, supporting this with concrete targets and indicators to ensure we make real progress for the health and rights of women and girls around the world,” said Gilmore.

Expectations are also high for the young activists in attendance.

“We need very practical recommendations that we can apply in our countries,” said Ms. Ogeshi Onuoha of the Africa Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Coalition. “We need to articulate what women and girls actually need in the context of their human rights.”

Mohamed Ahmed spoke about his hopes for youth leadership to promote change. Photo © José Téllez Elías

Mr. Mohamed Ahmed, a youth peer educator from Cairo, would like to see recommendations included in government plans. “I come from the city that hosted the ICPD in 1994 and from a region that has witnessed the power of its youth leadership to promote change. I expect that the recommendations from this meeting are not only progressive, but also feasible for governments and relevant to young people.”

Cairo and women’s health

The International Conference on Population and Development established a global consensus on the importance of universal access to sexual and reproductive health, and the protection of reproductive rights as necessary for women’s and girls’ overall health and empowerment.

The last two decades have seen considerable progress, including increases in the availability and use of contraceptive services and skilled maternal health care, support for prevention and treatment of HIV, among other infections and morbidities.

Globally, contraceptive use has increased from 52 per cent to 62 per cent since 1994. Maternal mortality has fallen by half. The rates of new HIV infections have plateaued or begun to decline in a number of countries.

However, behind these positive global trends lay significant differences among and within countries. At least 222 million women in low and middle-income countries who do not want to become pregnant are not using modern contraception. Every year, 30 million unplanned births and over 40 million abortions occur —half of them illegal and unsafe.

Poverty and harmful practices such as early and forced marriage remain major deterrents to women accessing health and related services.

In recent years, a range of global and national initiatives to enhance access to sexual and reproductive health services has emerged, as national governments, donors and international agencies have worked to achieve universal access to reproductive health.

Nonetheless, the typical woman or girl living in a low-income country has inadequate access to sexual and reproductive health services and often faces economic, social, cultural and other barriers to do so. These are exacerbated by the fragility of under-resourced health systems.

Innovative initiatives are still needed in many countries to achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and to protect reproductive rights.

Thematic meetings like the one in Mexico complement a series of five regional conferences and are helping collect data in consultation with experts, government officials and civil society representatives to supplement the ICPD review process, assessing what has been done and mapping the way ahead.

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