First Ladies have a unique position… they have ability to whisper in the ears of some of the most important people in the nation. And through these passionate and influential advocates, there’s the opportunity to address some of the biggest challenges facing girls and women.
Women Deliver, along with the Global Health Council, sponsored a breakfast for First Ladies from all over the world this morning in conjunction with the UN General Assembly. Ambassador Eric Goosby, United States Global AIDS Coordinator, and Dr. Purnima Mane, Deputy Executive Director of UNFPA, chaired the event. Jill Sheffield, President of Women Deliver, started the meeting by calling for an improved and greater role of advocacy. Jill referenced comments made by the health minister of Rwanda at the previous night’s dinner, saying that one of the areas that everyone needs to work harder on is advocacy. Jill said, “The time to act is now to make a real difference.”
Her Excellency Ida Odinga, First Lady of the Republic of Kenya, Her Excellency Sia Nyama Koroma, First Lady of Sierra Leone, Her Excellency Thandiwe Banda, First Lady of Zambia, and Her Excellency Mathato Mosisili, First Lady of Lesotho, all spoke about the problems they face in their own countries. It was extremely impressive to hear Her Excellency Sia Nyama Koroma, First Lady of Sierra Leone, speak about the progress the country has made in reducing the Maternal Mortality Ratio – in 2005, the ratio was 1300 deaths per 100,000 live births; but in 2008 the number was drastically reduced to 857 per 100,000 live births. It was exciting to hear her talk about a focus on girls. Her Excellency Mathato Mosisili, First Lady of Lesotho, also spoke about the need to empower women to solve the nation’s problems. She spoke about the socio-cultural challenges that her country faces, with deep rooted traditions that need to be tackled. Addressing health concerns in isolation will not be useful if the cultural barriers are not tackled as well, she said.
Her Excellency Sarah Brown joined the gathering at the end, and emphasized that she is looking for one ambassador in each country to spearhead these issues involving girls and women. Sarah Brown, said action was needed and that tackling maternal mortality must be a priority for every country. She called upon every person to start working hard – because there is still a lot to do!