I am an optimist. Some would say I am a naïve optimist. Others would say I am an impatient optimist. There may be some truth to this, but after more than a decade working in global health I can say with confidence that over the next 10 years we will make significant and sustainable change to improve the lives of women and girls in the world's poorest countries. It will happen gradually and require a strong global strategy, but it is possible. Just think about how much progress has been made over the last two decades: maternal deaths have dropped by almost half, contraceptive use has increased, more girls are in school, more women are in leadership positions, and women's rights are more widely recognized.
Though we need to recognize this progress, this is no time for complacency. Every day, an estimated 800 women -- many of them adolescents -- die in pregnancy or childbirth, and every year three million newborns do not survive their first year. Self-determination continues to elude countless numbers of women and girls: 225 million women have an unmet need for modern contraception; 31 million girls are not in secondary school and early marriage remains a pervasive problem in many countries.
In September the United Nations will release the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will drive progress on social, economic and environmental development for the next 15 years. If these goals are to be achieved, girls and women must be at the center of the agenda. That is why a group of selected stakeholders -- including Women Deliver -- are in New Delhi this week for the Stakeholders Consultation Meeting on the Updated Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health. We are reviewing the current Global Strategy, assessing progress, and identifying obstacles and new challenges, with the goal of crafting an updated Global Strategy that will coincide with the launch of the SDGs in September. This strategy development is happening now in order to give us a head start to ensure that the health, rights, and wellbeing of women, children, and adolescents are given priority this time around.
Women Deliver believes that there are four elements that need to be included in both the SDGs and the updated Global Strategy:
Include sexual and reproductive health and rights:
Universal access to sexual and reproductive health, including for adolescent, needs to be a priority in the post-2015 agenda, in both the SDGs and in the new Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescent's Health. While improving maternal health is necessary, it is not sufficient. Women are more than mothers and incubators for healthy children, so we need the full range of sexual and reproductive health reflected -- and hand-in-hand with this is the need to address rights. Highlighting sexual health and reproductive rights is not only the right thing to do morally; it is also the economically sound thing to do. When girls and women survive and thrive, it creates a positive ripple effect throughout society: communities and economies are stronger, environments are more resilient, and overall -- everybody wins.
Multi-sector collaboration is needed to implement the strategy successfully: Improving the health, rights, and wellbeing of women, children, and adolescents is everybody's business -- and it cannot be business as usual. It is important that the SDGs and the Global Strategy are not only seen as a UN undertaking. It will take government, civil society, academia, private sector, and a good dose of true collaboration to implement the new and refreshed version of the Global Strategy. It is one of those things that is easy to say, and challenging to do, but the last couple of years of unprecedented collaboration around global health and the great Every Woman Every Child undertaking shows that it can be done. For more see, Delivering on the promise of multisectoral collaboration.
Collaboration across issues, including non-health issues, is crucial:
Evidence shows that if we try to solve health problems with health interventions alone, we are missing not only the point, but also the target. We need to lean on, learn from, and work across other issues such as education, gender equality, nutrition, women's political and economic participation, empowerment, water, sanitation, and hygiene. Not to mention our 'close neighbors': nutrition and non-communicable diseases, including cervical cancer and diabetes. So yes, we might end up having only one SDG dedicated to health, but health improvements can come from other fronts and the Global Strategy needs to cross reference and draw on progress and interventions in other goals, targets, and areas as well. (For more, see Women Deliver's Post 2015 toolkit.
Involve young people: Nothing about us, without us
A critical learning from the last 15 years is that we sidelined young people in the conversations around the development and implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. We must not make the same mistake. Today's generation of young people is the largest the world has ever seen, with more than half the world's population being under the age of 30. Their needs, opportunities, and choices are what will define not only the world as we know it, but the world as we want it. Not least when it comes to sex and reproduction. And young people will be the ones who -- to the largest extent -- will have to live and implement the coming goals and plans. Simply put, the world cannot afford to leave this tremendous potential untapped. Yet all too often, young people's needs and voices are excluded from international forums where decisions are being made about their lives and their futures. It is good to see that this is not the case in regard to the work on the Global Strategy 2.0, which has to address both young people's participation and needs. Read more on the World Bank blog: Listen, Learn, and Invest in Young People.
The finish line is not the launch of a grand plan in September, when the SDGs are announced, that is merely the beginning. With an updated, stronger, and more inclusive global strategy, we will be well-positioned to move onto the next phase -- implementation -- to make the goals a reality. We are looking forward to reconvening again at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen in May 2016 -- along with 5000+ global influencers, corporate sector leaders, activists, advocates, and researchers -- to focus our attention on how to implement the goals, hone in on solutions and ways to promote accountability, and the best ways to realize impact.
For an optimist like me, this is an exciting time to be a global health advocate. I am confident that with resolve, global commitment, true collaboration, and action, the lives of girls and women in 2030 will be dramatically improved. Everywhere.