There's a buzzword humming on Capitol Hill and it is coming up in discussions from economic development and microfinance, to U.S. safety and security, to population growth and global health. This buzzword -- women -- is by no means new. But a fresh look at the fundamental role women play in the physical, social and economic health of nations is about to bring a welcome new approach to U.S. policies toward women in the developing world.
In his column earlier this month, Nicholas Kristof made a simple yet powerful point -- the U.S. Senate is discovering women. His reference is not to the 17 women senators in the 111th Congress, but to global women's issues that after 30 years may finally gain traction in the U.S.
The creation of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women's Issues marks the first time ever that a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee will have a clear focus on women's issues and is a historic step forward in U.S. policy toward women. Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the Subcommittee can restore respect for U.S. leadership and values and save millions of lives by placing women where they belong -- at the center of everything. And it starts with making sure that every woman, no matter where she lives, has the opportunity for a healthy pregnancy and safe childbirth.
This is why I and leading bipartisan voices will join two organizations at the forefront of this issue -- the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and CARE -- to launch a groundbreaking new campaign to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and newborns around the world at risk during pregnancy and childbirth -- Mother's Day Every Day.
As groups working in the developing world already know, women -- and more specifically mothers -- are the key to overall global health, self-sufficiency, economic growth and peaceful sustainability. Mothers raise children and provide their families with income and food. They ensure that children are educated and receive the health care they need. In short, when mothers survive childbirth, they give birth to healthier families, communities and nations.
Survival is the key word here, because mothers can't help build and sustain thriving communities when they don't survive. And while progress is being made, childbirth remains the leading killer of young women worldwide taking more than 500,000 women's lives each year. Every minute somewhere in the world, a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth. And for every mother who dies, 30 more are living with debilitating injuries which can leave them incapacitated, in chronic pain and even shunned from their communities.
Why should U.S. policymakers care when a mother dies in a village thousands of miles away? A mother's death has long-term implications, one of which is a continued cycle of poverty for her family and community. When a mother dies, enrollment in school for younger children is delayed and older children often leave school to support their family. Children without a mother are less likely to be immunized, and are more likely to suffer from malnutrition and stunted growth. And as families accrue expenses for medical interventions that came too late and that they cannot afford, communities take on the burden of caring for the bereaved and impoverished family.
Mother's Day Every Day calls for greater U.S. leadership to accelerate progress toward safe and healthy pregnancy and childbirth for all, and builds on the momentum generated in the House and Senate when both passed resolutions last year calling for the United States to make a stronger commitment to reduce maternal mortality at home and abroad. US investment in other global health priorities, including HIV and AIDS through the president's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), have been critical to increasing access to HIV prevention and treatment and improving the health of people around the world. The U.S. must also be a global leader on maternal health.
In many areas, a woman gives birth alone with no medical assistance. The vast majority of pregnancy-related deaths and injuries can be prevented with access to basic interventions -- like skilled care at birth and emergency obstetric care -- that have already been proven effective in the developing world.
Many women in the U.S. Congress, including Senators Olympia Snowe and Blanche Lincoln, and Representatives Lois Capps, Nita Lowey and Betty McCollum have been working to raise the visibility of these issues in the last year. As Senator Boxer takes on her new role as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women's Issues, there is no doubt that she will be an excellent champion for these issues. By expanding proven strategies, hundreds of thousands of women and newborns can lead healthy, empowering, inspiring lives. It begins with the United States leading the way in making Mother's Day Every Day.