Making Every Day International Women’s Day

Making Every Day International Women’s Day

{Photo credit: Katy Doyle}Photo credit: Katy Doyle

Members of the global health community commemorated International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 by celebrating recent advances in women and girls’ health and indeed there was much to celebrate: maternal deaths have declined 45% worldwide, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has distributed over 450 million bed nets, and over 1 million babies have been born HIV-free thanks to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR); but there is still work to do.  What happens once the day is over? How do we turn that attention into action? How are these issues going to be addressed? After awareness is raised, we still need concerted global action every day of the year if we are to make truly sustainable, impactful improvements in the lives of women and girls’ around the world. Here are a few things I think we can do at the global, US and local level to keep the spirit of IWD alive:

Globally: Elevate women and girls in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

{Photo credit: Rui Pires}Photo credit: Rui Pires

The Post-2015 Development Agenda, will drive global efforts to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people for the next 15 years, so it’s important that women and girls feature prominently. Efforts to eradicate poverty and achieve economic prosperity cannot succeed when half the population is denied full rights and participation in society. MSH urges global decision-makers to ensure women and gender issues are at the center of the Post-2015 Agenda and to prioritize women and girls’ needs comprehensively throughout the new goals.  

In the U.S.: Prioritize women and girls in any new global health legislation

As Congress considers drafting new legislation to address post-Ebola health system strengthening, we hope it will consider how women were disproportionately impacted by the disease and write legislation with an eye towards remedying these factors. As the primary caregivers in their communities, women in the outbreak countries suffered directly due to their close contact caring for Ebola victims, which put them at greater risk for infection. Pregnant women in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have also been impacted indirectly as many hospitals and clinics stopped providing maternal care for extended periods during the epidemic, leaving women without prenatal, labor or postpartum services. We hope lawmakers will address the unique needs of women and girls in this and any other new global health legislation it considers in the 114th Congress. 

At the Country level: Retain local community health workers

{Photo credit: Warren Zelman}Photo credit: Warren Zelman

Health results depend on retaining health workers. Regardless of the health intervention, health workers are essential for delivering care to those who need it most and as close to them as possible. As an aid official once said, “bed nets don’t have legs.” While training more health care workers is important, MSH recognizes that strengthening the management, retention and performance of the existing workforce also requires urgent action. Over the next year, we would like to see more developing countries expand and strengthen their cadre of community health workers so they can replicate the impressive maternal and child health gains seen in Afghanistan and Rwanda.

Though March 8 has come and gone, decision makers and global health advocates still have the chance to prioritize women and girls, and make every day International Women’s Day.