Why reproductive health matters post-MDG
September 24th, 2013
09:19 AM ET

Why reproductive health matters post-MDG

By Tewodros Melesse, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Tewodros Melesse is director general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

We all want to live in a world without poverty, where people can achieve their potential and where health and education are guaranteed. Or at least I hope we do. But there’s a truth that needs to be spoken as discussions over the next generation of Millennium Development Goals (MDG) – the so-called Post-2015 framework – have gotten underway this week.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights were initially missing from the MDG framework, and that meant that amid all the goodwill and the good intentions money was wasted because a fundamental building brick of development was missing. And that’s before I even get started on the issue of justice.

Of course, political leaders eventually realized their mistake, but the omission was only partly rectified and then very late in the day. In 2007, the addition of the target of universal access to reproductive health by 2015 was made. And guess what?  The Millennium Development Goals relating to reproductive health – including access to contraceptives and adolescent fertility rates – made the least progress.

Teen pregnancy is the number one cause of mortality for girls between the ages of 15 and 19, and nearly 10 percent of all adolescent girls in low and middle income countries are mothers before they are 16, according to the WHO. Violence against women and girls, meanwhile, is at epidemic proportions. It limits self-esteem, life chances, economic opportunity and development.

In Colombia, a woman is killed by a current or former partner every six days. In Amhara, Ethiopia, 50 percent of girls are married by the time they are 15 years-old.

As long as women experience discrimination, inequality and violence, their human rights will not be realized and they will be prevented from participating meaningfully in the life of their communities and countries.

Development objectives cannot, and will not, be met if we continue at this pace.

We are concerned about how these issues will fare amid the jockeying in the post-2015 agenda. Unless the link between sexual and reproductive health and rights, social inequalities and gender inequality is recognized, the new framework will not tackle the root causes of poverty and we will not live in a world truly free from it.

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So far, we have seen some promise in the U.N. secretary general’s report. Some noise has been made on tackling gender equality and the barriers that prevent women the world over from participating fully in the societies they live in. But Ban Ki-moon stopped short of calling for a standalone goal on gender inequality and women and girls’ empowerment. Strange, when, a standalone goal was called for by U.N. Women and the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons, something echoed in global consultations.

True, the secretary general’s report has recognized women’s reproductive rights, which is a great triumph in itself. But it is in no way as comprehensive as sexual and reproductive health and rights, leaving access to safe abortion and the right to comprehensive sexuality education out in the cold.

It’s been said before, but the statistics don’t lie. By 2020, if an additional 120 million women and girls are able to access modern methods of contraception, 200,000 fewer women and girls will die in pregnancy and childbirth and 50 million abortions will be prevented, according to some edtimates. That will be an achievement that all of us would be proud of.

Yet it is clear that a business-as-usual approach to gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights will no longer suffice.  Working on the basis that the post-MDG agenda is meant to be truly grounded in human rights and the principles of equality and non-discrimination, why is there is still so much missing?

Sexual and reproductive health and rights must be given the prominent place they deserve in this new framework process. It is vital if we are to achieve real structural transformation through global development.

So we challenge member states to do their bit – by standing up and demanding they take action to capitalize on this momentum as we renew the commitment to secure a world of justice, choice and well-being for all.

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Topics: United Nations • Women

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