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Jill Sheffield

Jill Sheffield

Posted: September 22, 2010 06:01 PM

I kicked off this week with an energizing maternal health advocacy brunch that welcomed leaders, delegates, activists, and young people to New York for the United Nations General Assembly. This week, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will come under close review. Leaders will examine where development progress has been made and why, where it has been too slow, and consider just what we need to move forward toward our goals. In short, this is a make-or-break week for many reasons.

The advocacy brunch on Sunday was held at the Waldorf-Astoria, now a symbol of luxury and enjoyment but which sits on the grounds of the last obstetric fistula hospital in the U.S. It's a powerful contrast: an issue that has become utterly obsolete in the U.S., fistula still overshadows the lives of so many women in the developing world. The setting was fitting, reminding us that progress on these issues is possible, provided we have the right interventions, funding, and political will. We are getting there, I think.

The newest maternal mortality figures, released last week by the UN, confirm the drop in global maternal death rates and this good news helps breathe new life into our tireless efforts to make women and girls a global priority. Now we just need a plan that parlays this good will into actions that deliver results.

Today, the UN Secretary-General launched the Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health, which is a clear effort to do just this. The Global Strategy asks for significant funding from donors, but will provide a much-needed framework to ensure measurable, achievable, and accountable progress on maternal and child health.

Country commitments will be tracked every two years, and the plan provides a space for greater national leadership in developing countries. This is critical because, as the inimitable advocate Graça Machel said on Sunday, "this agenda must be owned at the country level, by every head of state, every woman and every girl. Women deliver. But leaders must also deliver."

We have many successes to celebrate this week -- marked improvements for women and girls in countries from Egypt to Rwanda to Sri Lanka -- but progress globally has remained uneven. This week is an opportunity to better understand what has contributed to successes in some of the poorest places in the world, and to commit to scaling up and replicating these efforts elsewhere. We should listen to national leaders and local advocates; we should closely examine the data that we have, while demanding more and better data to help illuminate road blocks.

This week is also an opportunity for us to consider -- even for a moment -- a shifting locus of power. Out of board rooms and gated office buildings and into the one-room clinics or vegetable stands of villages where women are effecting tremendous change. This power shift underscores the fact that, first and foremost, women are important in and of themselves. Women and girls have fallen off the agenda for too long, and even a decade after the MDGs were put in place, we are only just now coming to the agreement that their wellbeing sits at the very center of our potential for broad, global progress.

At the Women Deliver conference June, we brought 3,5000 advocates together, many of them young people and local providers, to sound a clarion call: invest and deliver for women. Now we must all commit to putting big ideas into practice, working to include and empower women at the local, regional, and national levels. An educated grassroots can hold governments accountable for achieving the progress they promise, and women all over the world need to own this agenda.

This week in New York is just another week, but it can also be a turning point in our collective efforts. This week can be a moment in history where leaders put words into action - stop the planning and mapping, and start the doing. We all have a role to play in ensuring that. As Graça said on Sunday, very simply, women deliver. With a roadmap to move forward, and the sound of thousands of advocates ringing in their ears, it is time for our leadership globally and locally to deliver for women.