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500 days and counting: Progress for girls and women means progress for all

By: Jill Sheffield and Katja Iversen; Originally posted by Devex

August 18 marks 500 days remaining before the Millennium Development Goals expire at the end of 2015. Some countries are on track to meet those goals and some are not, and central to the difference is their relative levels of investment in women and girls.

The MDGs emerged from an historic summit of world leaders to mark the new millennium nearly 15 years ago. Since then, countries that worked to boost girls’ education, women’s rights and comprehensive maternal, sexual and reproductive health care saw benefits not just for gender equality and longer lives for women and children but in other areas as well — against poverty and hunger, against diseases including HIV and AIDS, and toward a more sustainable environment. Investment in girls and women turned out to be the most cost-effective way to advance on all the goals.

Women Deliver was organized to point out this connection. At three global conferences of activists and decision-makers from around the world — in London in 2007, in Washington, D.C. in 2010 and in Kuala Lumpur in 2013 — it provided statistics and case studies that proved the truth of its slogan, “Invest in women — it pays!” Every year brought more proof and better examples of investments in girls and women in which everybody won. So today, as the international community begins final MDG assessments and considers future plans, we are proud to announce that the next triennial Women Deliver conference will be held on May 17-19, 2016 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Like the previous three gatherings, this one will bring together advocates, policymakers, journalists, young people, researchers and leaders of the private sector and civil society to showcase what it means and how it works when women and girls become the focus of development efforts. It will document the great results around the world where investment in women rose.

The Women Deliver 2016 Conference will also be the first major global conference after the post-2015 development framework, so far called the Sustainable Development Goals, is decided. It will be a first chance for strategizing on ways to turn the MDG spurs for growth into the plowshares of a livable planet, to make startup programs sustainable over the long term, to bring pilot programs to national scale — in short, to firm up long-term support, ensure that girls and women are kept at the center of the new development plans from the beginning, and include them in operations and evaluations at every stage into the future.

Copenhagen was chosen because Denmark is a leader and champion for progress in sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Danish International Development Agency has already launched a new Strategic Framework for Gender Equality, Rights and Diversity to assist women and girls in seizing opportunities and resources to take full control over their own lives. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark is fully in support of Women Deliver’s call for additional global commitment on behalf of girls and women.

The post-2015 development framework is being developed as we write, and Women Deliver is working  to ensure that decision makers prioritize maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rights, especially in countries where inequality prevails and where it would help development most.

Closing the gender gap in agriculture alone, for example, could lift up to 150 million people out of hunger. Investing $8.1 billion a year in voluntary family planning would reduce pregnancy-related deaths by 79,000 and newborn deaths by 1.1 million every year. Increasing girls’ school attendance by only 10 percent raises a country’s GDP by 3 percent. And eliminating barriers to employment for girls and women could raise labor productivity in some countries by 25 percent.

These are the facts of life in the 21st century. Imagine a world where no woman dies giving life, where no baby is born with HIV, where every girl can attend school and get a quality education, and where everybody has a chance to fulfill their potential. The post-2015 process can move us closer to that day — if it prioritizes the health, rights, and well-being of girls and women.

In these last 500 days, Women Deliver will build on the momentum generated by our previous gatherings to see that it happens. We will insist that adolescents and young people, who predominate in most developing areas, should get special focus. We will make sure that women are present at the tables where decisions are made. And we will continue playing a critical role in fueling the global movement for maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rights.

We will see you all in Copenhagen!

Aug. 18, 2014, marks the 500-day milestone until the target date to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Join Devex, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, to raise awareness of the progress made through the MDGs and to rally to continue the momentum. Check out our Storify page and tweet us using #MDGmomentum.

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