Of the one billion people who live on less than $2 a day, a majority of them are women and girls. In less developed countries, women and girls tend to be the most marginalized: Girls are less likely than boys to attend school. Many women routinely face violence and sexual attacks. And when it comes time to have kids, childbirth can mean life or death for many of these women.
Access to life-saving maternal health care is one of the biggest challenges for women in the developing world. In fact, pregnancy is the leading cause of death for women ages 15 to 19 worldwide. Three years ago, I traveled to the Ayacucho region in Peru, 9,000 feet up in the Andes Mountains, to see these challenges firsthand. As a mother of three children, I felt an instant connection to the Peruvian mothers I met.
But their pregnancy experiences were far more dangerous than my own. In Ayacucho, women often deliver their children without clean delivery rooms or trained professionals. Throughout Peru, the country's maternal death rate has historically been unusually high. Mothers there are three times more likely to die while giving birth than in the U.S.
When a mother dies, her children are less likely to eat well, go to school and get immunized against diseases. Maternal and newborn deaths represent an estimated annual global financial loss of $15 billion in potential productivity.
After seeing this problem, the poverty fighting organization CARE strengthened the community's capacity to address maternal health risks by convening a broad spectrum of health workers to develop practical emergency obstetric protocols and provide training and resources to implement them.
CARE also works with women and men to help them plan their families. For instance, CARE focuses on educating mothers in the community about spacing the births of her children and the benefits of doing so. When a woman plans the births of her children at least three years apart, she is less likely to suffer from delivery complications. Research has shown that improving such reproductive health services can also lead to gender equality and the reduction of poverty and social injustice.
As a result of these changes, women's lives in Peru were saved. There was a 50 percent reduction in maternal mortality in the area. During my visit, I met Isabel, a happy mother who had just given birth to twins. Because the community had worked with CARE to strengthen its maternal health systems for women, Isabel was able to get the care she needed from skilled workers and safely deliver her babies in a clean hospital.
Some may wonder why the issue of global women's health, particularly maternal health, should matter. The answer is simple. We live in a global community and are global citizens. We should all want to live in a world that supports the power and potential of women, no matter where they are. Providing an opportunity for women to be educated about maternal and reproductive health is the first step. Improvements in the lives of these women and countries help everyone because progress and prosperity anywhere mean a more peaceful and stable world for us all.
Women around the world deserve to live healthy lives, to have healthy pregnancies and raise healthy babies. Let's stand together with mothers around the world by lending our support for better global health services for women.