Every two minutes, somewhere in the world, a woman dies from complications due to pregnancy and childbirth. That’s more than 300,000 women each year. 99 per of these deaths are preventable, and 98 per cent of deaths occur in developing countries.
These women are the backbone of their communities. They are not only mothers; they are often the teachers, health care providers and leaders in their communities. Further, as the Women’s Economic Empowerment report emphasises, women’s participation in all spheres of life is essential to sustainable and durable peace and to the realisation of human rights. When a mother dies during childbirth, it has a profound impact on the entire community.
The highly-anticipated second report , ‘Leave no one behind: A call to action for gender equality and women’s economic empowerment’ of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment was released in March 2017. The report identifies practical actions for taking the economic agenda forward.
As UN Secretary-General António Guterres higlights: “Women’s economic empowerment is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. We will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if there is no accelerated action to empower women economically.”
The report stresses that while over the past two decades there has been some progress in closing gender inequalities in education, there still is much to do to achieve the full and equal participation of women in society and in the economy.
SGD3 & SGD5 – the need to address both equally
Sustainable Development Goal 3 [SDG 3] – reducing maternal mortality rates, has links to Sustainable Development Goal 5 [SDG 5] which aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030. One of SDG 5’s targets is to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. According to the Women’s Economic Empowerment report, the World Bank estimates that costs associated with violence against women amount to an estimated three per cent of global GDP due to lost productivity. Meanwhile, approximately 35 per cent of women worldwide are victims of physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes.
This could be further complicated by the reinstating and expansion of the Mexico City Policy by the US Administration, also known as the ‘global gag rule’, which will have devastating consequences on the health of women and girls around the globe. Restriction of access to safe family planning violates women’s rights to health, life, education, dignity, and information.
Each year, more than 65 000 women die world-wide as a consequence of unsafe abortion, and over five million women suffer injury, in many cases permanent.
To put this another way, 13 per cent of all deaths in pregnancy are due to unsafe abortions. There is ample evidence that withdrawal of safe termination of pregnancy does not reduce abortion rates, but rather makes it less safe for women. Unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion kills women and orphans families.
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, every dollar spent on family planning saves between two and six dollars in that need to be invested in other development goals, such as education, health, water, sanitation, immunisation, malaria, and women’s economic advancement programs.
The Women’s Economic Empowerment report affirms that ‘Women’s economic empowerment is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do’. However, progress requires local and global action by all parts of society to achieve scalable and sustainable change. I challenge the next United Nations Women’s Economic Empowerment report to go one step further, to look at women’s maternal health outcomes in conjunction with their economic empowerment agenda. Because we need concrete action to accelerate progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 3 of reducing global maternal mortality first, in order for women to truly achieve full and equal economic participation… leaving no-one behind.
In the second part of the series, Tara Taubenschlag shares some of the practical measures undertaken to reduce the maternal mortality rate in Papua New Guinea.