Hold Governments to Account for Their Commitments

05/21/2015 04:19 pm ET | Updated May 21, 2016

Every year between 250,000 and 343,000 women are estimated to die from complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth.

For every woman who dies in childbirth, around 20 more suffer injury, infection or disease - that's a total of some 10 million women each year. We know that 225 million women and girls want contraception but can't get it.

Behind these daunting statistics are individuals like the 10-year-old girl from Paraguay who is pregnant after being raped by her stepfather, in a country where abortion is only legal when the life of the pregnant woman or girl is at risk.

Despite what doctors say, the authorities don't accept she's in danger.

Time and again we see politicians and global leaders get together in cities around the world to create strategies, goals and targets but sadly these events do not always lead to change for those being denied their rights. This is where civil society comes in, holding governments to account on their commitments; identifying the lack of joined-up thinking and ensuring that national policy does not overlook the poor and vulnerable.

This year the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) has joined forces with the White Ribbon Alliance, Save the Children and World Vision to host a series of national Citizens Hearings in in more than 25 countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Indonesia.

The hearings provide an opportunity for civil society to discuss the challenges they face when it comes to their sexual and reproductive rights and needs.

For example, recommendations from the Citizen Hearing in Uganda - where an estimated 5,900 women died of pregnancy-related causes in 2013 - include ensuring universal access to family planning, a review of procurement of contraceptives and other items related to SRH processes. The goal being to help speed them up, improve emergency obstetric and newborn care at health centers, and prioritize the recruitment and retention of healthcare workers.

The in-country testimonies will also be brought to the United Nations, through two Global Citizens Hearings taking place at the World Health Assembly in Geneva on 21st May and at the United Nations General Assembly, September 2015.

IPPF's Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association is sending a 21-year-old activist - Ibil - with a strong message for the Health Ministers assembled in Geneva.

Ibil will ask governments to reach out to youth, 58 million of whom are not in school and miss out on learning the fundamentals of reproductive health. He aims to use his voice on behalf of millions of young people across the world.

He and the IPPF Regional Director for Africa, Lucien Kouakou will also be asking governments to develop a strong accountability framework for the UN Secretary General's refreshed Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health which is due to be signed off in September. Experts claim that over the last five years the Global Strategy for Women and Children's Health has not only helped tackled child and maternal mortality but it has done something much more powerful - it has changed the worldwide landscape - it got the world talking about women again.

So the refresh of this strategy is worth our attention. The updated version aims to serve as a roadmap for how the world can end preventable deaths for women, children and adolescents by 2030. It is expected to be adopted by the UN General Assembly meeting in September 2015 alongside the new Sustainable Development Goals.

There's a draft version which is out for consultation now - it's a document we can all read and comment on. It will be discussed by Ministers of Health at the World Health Assembly.

Although we welcome the focus on adolescents and humanitarian situations in the new draft strategy, IPPF is demanding clearer and stronger content on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

We believe the only way to eradicate poverty and to create sustainable development is to put SRHR at the heart of any strategy.

By making sure that women and girls have access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, we can tackle maternal and child mortality. When women can decide how many children they want to have and when to have them, when they can decide what happens to their bodies, and be free from sexual violence, that is a fundamental test of how the world is doing on adolescent and women's health.

How well the new strategy is delivered - indeed, if it is delivered - depends on all of us. True transformation goes beyond government delivering services and citizens and civil society being the passive recipients.

To be truly transformative we have to develop innovative partnerships, technologies and delivery mechanisms. The private sector, government, civil society and citizens have a role to play in the delivery of this strategy and keeping all stakeholders accountable for its delivery.

You can help us to make that happen by urging your national Ministers of Health to be champions for the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women, children and adolescents across the world.

As Msagati from Tanzania told the Citizens Hearings that were held there: "For leaders to be accountable, health policies should be coming from us, citizens and then submitted to government leaders and not otherwise."