Helen Clark’s Speech at the “Women Deliver” Conference

08 Jun 2010

Helen Clark’s Speech at the “Women Deliver” Conference's Ministerial Forum

Washington D.C.
11 Am, 7 June 2010

Check Against Delivery


It’s a privilege for me as UNDP Administrator to be able to participate in this Ministerial Forum.

We are all here because we want to be part of delivering solutions for women and girls.

2010 is a critical year for focusing on these issues.

The ten year review conference on progress on the Millennium Development Goals takes place at the United Nations in September.

With only five years to go until the target date of 2015 for achieving the MDGs, we are all searching for breakthrough strategies.

In my view, investing in women and girls in itself constitutes a breakthrough strategy. The multiplier effects of those investments will increase the prospects of achieving all the MDGs.

There is of course positive progress to report on MDG achievement.

•    A number of countries, including some of the poorest, have recorded impressive results in combating extreme poverty and hunger.

•    In many countries, over ninety per cent of children are now enrolled in school. The gender gap in primary education is closing – albeit slowly - with more than 95 girls of primary school age now in school for every 100 boys in 2007, compared to 91 in 1999.

•    Deaths among children under five had reduced from 12.5 million per year in 1990 to 8.8 million by 2008.

•    The world has been making good progress towards meeting the safe drinking water target – although we still have a way to go.

•    Tremendous activity on MDG Six on combating the spread of deadly diseases is also getting results.

MDG progress, as it currently stands, however, is uneven and it is still too slow to meet the 2015 target date for all the goals. Nowhere is that more so than on MDG Five on maternal health.

It is therefore of great importance that the September MDG Summit reaches agreement on an action agenda for reaching the MDGs. We need this Summit to be a genuine turning point for meeting these basic development benchmarks.
 
At UNDP, our approach has been to provide the Summit with firm evidence on what is working to achieve the MDGs. Together with other agencies in UN country teams, we have worked with thirty governments to prepare in depth, national MDG reports. They highlight progress made to date; and they examine what has worked and what more needs to be done.

Drawing on this country level evidence, we are preparing for release this month an “International Assessment” of what it will take to achieve the MDGs by 2015.

That assessment will clearly indicate that investing in and delivering for women and girls will be a breakthrough strategy for the MDGs, as well as being absolutely the right, fair, and just things to do.

•    A woman’s level of education, for example, impacts on her economic and social empowerment, and on her children’s nutrition and health.

•    Meeting a woman’s need for sexual and reproductive health services will increase her chances of finishing her education, and breaking out of poverty.

•    Enabling women to hold land title and to inherit lifts their status in their family and community, and gives them the economic base from which to transform their own and their children’s prospects.

On the other hand, where there are insufficient investments in women and girls, and where their needs and status are given a low priority, we see distressing results.

As is well known to all attending this conference, that is the case with maternal health. The world is still far from reaching the global target of reducing maternal mortality rates by 75 per cent between 1990 and 2015.
 
The evidence is clear that there is a variety of proven ways of advancing maternal health.  Without question, meeting the current high level of unmet need for family planning services is high among them. A woman who can plan and space her family will enjoy better health and more choice over her life. The impact will be beneficial for her family too.

I understand that in several Latin American countries, including Peru, Cuba and Nicaragua, maternal waiting houses have worked well. The goal is to encourage women, who might otherwise be deterred by distance, to give birth in safe health facilities.

Pakistan has been tackling the barriers to women receiving basic health care by training an army of Lady Health Workers. They live in the community they serve, and deliver a range of services, door-to-door, related to maternal and child health. Evaluations of their work have shown improvements in childhood vaccination rates, the uptake of contraception, maternal health, and child nutrition and health.

As Minister of Health in my country twenty years ago, I was responsible for the passage of new legislation providing for the independent practice of midwifery. I strongly believe that empowered midwives will play a critical role in improving maternal health.

While UNDP is not a specialist health agency, we affirm the strong linkages between the health MDGs and all other aspects of development. Through the co-ordinating and convening role we have in the UN development system, we must give full support to the work of all those involved in the promotion of maternal health.  This matters enormously to me as a woman and as a former health minister and Prime Minister.  

Making big progress on maternal health will require much more than isolated interventions. It requires a broader approach toward empowering women and greater investments in achieving gender equality.  UNDP is mandated to promote gender empowerment in all that it does.

In Morocco and Tunisia, our country offices are working with sister UN agencies to support multi-sectoral country strategies on maternal health. We bring to the table expertise in capacity development, aid co-ordination, integration of maternal health into Poverty Reduction Strategies, improving government delivery services, and leveraging of resources. 
 
We work closely with the Global Fund to deliver HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria programmes in 26 countries which face massive humanitarian and development challenges.  A significant amount of this work is focused on the needs of pregnant women.

We have also worked with the Global Fund and UNAIDS to develop broader action agendas for gender equality, leveraging Global Fund resources to benefit not only MDG 6, but also women’s health and rights generally.
 
Overall, UNDP works hard to address the cross-cutting dimensions of gender equality which influence all the MDGs, including that on maternal health. Our work includes: expanding women’s economic opportunities; strengthening the legal status and rights of women; and ensuring women’s voice, inclusion and meaningful participation in decision-making. By making significant progress in these areas we will witness multiplier effects across the MDGS.

My message today is that the MDGs can be achieved. There is a wide range of tried and tested policies which can ensure progress.  Key among them is the need to maintain a sharp and consistent gender focus and invest in women and girls. That is a breakthrough strategy for the MDGs – and will make such a huge difference for the women and girls we are all here to support.

Thank you