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The U.N. Puts Women and Girls at Center of Conversation

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The oppression of women and girls used to be a fringe issue. This week at the U.N., the 60-year-old institution has taken the health and human rights of women and girls to the center of the conversation.

In many people's minds, the U.N. is a peacekeeping entity. While this of course is one of its missions, the other is global development. Aka, How can we bring greater equity amongst people in the world?

The good news is that it's no mystery anymore to the development community that investing in women and girls is the best way to alleviate global poverty. In fact, investing in a girl's education is the highest return investment available in the developing world.

Think about it: When you educate a girl, she stays healthy, she gets married later, she gets a job or starts a business, and she then earns a solid income and provides for her family's health and education. In other words, she has the opportunity to raise the standard of living for herself and her family. This is called The Girl Effect.

So why the distinct focus on women and girls now?

In 2000, the United Nations set some goals with a target of ending poverty and improving global health by 2015. These are called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and included eight goals in the following areas: 1. Ending poverty and hunger 2. Universal education 3. Gender equality 4. Child health 5. Maternal health 6. Combating HIV/AIDS 7. Environmental sustainability, and 8. Global partnership.

Guess which ones have been lagging behind?

During last year's decade review of the goals, it became clear that improving maternal health and reducing child mortality had experienced the least progress.

In response, in September 2010 at United Nations Millennium Development Goals summit, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched Every Woman Every Child. The purpose was to put together a global effort that mobilizes and intensifies international and national action by governments, multilaterals, the private sector, research and academia, and civil society to address the major health challenges of women and children.

Earlier this week, I attended an Every Woman Every Child event and I can vouch that there are many major players on board. From Heads of State to private sector CEOs, leaders of NGOs, U.N. and other government officials, there were huge commitments being made -- and all in a refreshing partnership model.

To date, 40 billion dollars have been committed to Every Woman Every Child. The money is being used to increase the number of trained health workers available to pregnant women, to improve women's access to emergency obstetric care, to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, to educate and make family planning and contraception available.

One great success I'd like to mention is in Kenya. Thus far, Kenya has recruited 20,000 additional health workers, has increased the national health budget by 25 percent, and has set up systems to pay community health workers.

At long last, women and girls are at the center of the United Nations' conversation. In my opinion, empowering women and girls is not only an obvious step to alleviate global poverty, it is an obvious step to alleviate our need for war and terrorism. Investing in women and girls really does make peace possible.

To join forces with Every Woman Every Child, please visit everywomaneverychild.org.

Tabby Biddle is reporting this week from the Social Good Summit in New York City. She received a press fellowship from the UN Foundation for UN Week to build awareness around global health.

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