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Making Women And Girls A Priority At The UN General Assembly

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Building on the first debate to accelerate progress towards the MDGs, the Skoll World Forum partnered with Johnson & Johnson, the United Nations Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Huffington Post to produce another online debate--this time focused on critical issues that do not have enough of a spotlight in the discussions on how to achieve the MDGs or what should be in the next global development framework. As part of that discussion, we asked some of the world's leading experts what's not being discussed during UN Week this year about the post-2015 development framework, but should be? View the full debate here.

Heads of State, NGOs and civil society organizations are gathering for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York this weekend. International gatherings like this are important to raise the profile of important global issues, and at White Ribbon Alliance, we've been really pleased with the impressive commitments made by governments to invest in maternal health services and to prioritize women and girls.

This year, we are debating new global goals, and there has been much discussion in the run up to the UNGA. At White Ribbon Alliance, we firmly believe that women's health must stay at the heart of the post-2015 goals, not only to save lives and advance economic development, but to protect environmental sustainability and to advance wellbeing, equity and social justice.

However, what we'd also like to see at the UNGA this year is much more attention placed on what hasn't been delivered in the past few years. There are very specific actions that governments have committed to as part of Every Women Every Child, and many countries have not followed through. Where is our opportunity at these global gatherings to ask why and hold Heads of State to account? For example, in Tanzania, the government promised that 50 percent of all health centers would offer comprehensive emergency services. This hasn't happened.

Also, who is holding these governments accountable, and indeed, being involved in the discussions around the new goals?

Too often, there are the same voices being heard in these forums with little pressure exerted on those not delivering. But what about the pregnant woman who has to walk 118 kilometers to her local health center? What about the local health care staff who are under huge pressure to treat thousands of women without even the most basic equipment? These are the citizens living with the consequences of their government's failure to act.

White Ribbon Alliance provides the platform for these voices to be heard. This year at the UNGA, White Ribbon Alliance member, Dr. Jasper of Rukwa in Tanzania, will highlight the fact that every day 24 women die in his country due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. A woman suffering from obstructed labor, heavy bleeding or fitting from high blood pressure (eclampsia) may have only two hours to live. However, in his region of Rukwa, it takes five hours by boat from Wampembe to the nearest comprehensive emergency services, and it is a 118 kilometer walk by road. Dr. Jasper is the only surgeon in the entire region of Rukwa and is campaigning for his government to listen and act.

White Ribbon Alliance Tanzania has launched a new campaign that mobilizes citizens to unite and demand that their government delivers on its promise. We believe that citizens holding their governments to account is the best way to achieve long term change. In one approach, community members gather evidence at health centers to expose the gap between the government's commitment and what is actually being provided. By working with district officials, the media and others, they put the spotlight on what needs to be done to accelerate progress.

Global gatherings such as the UNGA can and do make a difference. But we need to keep our focus on what is being delivered. Real change will come from citizens, and we need to support them to hold their leaders to account.