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Making girls and women a priority today and every day


OPINION: This International Women’s Day, we have much to celebrate. In the past year alone, we have made tremendous strides in women’s health and equality: the United Nations adopted a historic resolution to end female genital mutilation; global leaders convened at the London Summit on Family Planning to make US$2.6 billion in new financial pledges and a series of unparalleled policy commitments to family planning; and together, we celebrated the first-ever International Day of the Girl Child. By Jill Sheffield & Fred Sai

Individual countries have also made remarkable headway toward improving women’s health and equality. For example, the South African government recently implemented the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA), which will focus on ensuring access to family planning, reducing teen pregnancies, saving the lives of mothers and children, and ultimately, improving the health and well-being of societies overall.

International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to applaud these achievements, while also remembering the challenges that remain. Global maternal deaths have dropped by nearly 50 percent since 1990, but 287,000 mothers-to-be still die every year – that is 800 women every day. More than 200 million women want but do not have access to the tools they need to plan their families. Countless girls are held home from school; violence against women is all-too-common; and girls and women continue to face barriers at nearly every rung of the economic, social and political ladders.

With the 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target date rapidly approaching and discussions taking place at the highest levels about the post-MDG development framework, the time to act is now. Stronger political will and financial commitments are urgently needed at the national, regional and global levels– and we must advocate to ensure that girls’ and women’s health and rights remain priorities.

On May 28-30, global advocacy organization Women Deliver is convening a landmark conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that will bring more than 5,000 voices together to do just that. This meeting – Women Deliver 2013 – aims to generate the political will, financial commitments and grassroots action needed to bring about real, meaningful change for girls and women around the world.

Several African leaders are participating in the conference and leading this charge, including African Women’s Development Fund CEO Theo Sowa; UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin; Global Fund for Women President and CEO Musimbi Kanyoro; and Ministers of Health and Finance from ten African countries, including South Africa.

The issues being discussed at this global meeting are not “women’s issues;” they are everyone’s issues. We know for a fact that prioritizing girls and women is not only the right thing to do—it is also the smart thing to do. When women do well, families flourish, communities thrive and nations grow. The math is simple – investing in women pays dividends.

This International Women’s Day, we should celebrate the remarkable successes of the past year, but also recognize that our work is far from finished. It is up to all of us to ensure that the global leaders – from Washington, D.C. to Pretoria– deliver on the promises they have made to girls and women.

We cannot stop fighting. We cannot stop working until every girl and woman, no matter where she lives, has access to the education she deserves; the contraceptives she wants; the maternal health care she needs; and, ultimately, the opportunity to achieve her dreams.

Our calls to action are being recognized and our voices are being heard. We can – and we will – work together to accelerate progress for girls and women in South Africa, across Africa and around the world.

Jill Sheffield is the President and Founder of global advocacy organization Women Deliver. Fred Sai is the Former Advisor to the Ghanaian Government on Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS.


Health-e is a news agency that produces news and in-depth analysis for the print and electronic media. Their particular focus is HIV/AIDS, public health and issues regarding health policy and practice in South Africa. They provide print features for newspapers and magazines and well as broadcast packages for national and community radio stations. They also accept commissions. 

Information in this article was accurate in March 8, 2013. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.