Last week’s amazing meeting of some of Africa’s most conscientious First Ladies showed that the momentum we felt take hold at the Women Deliver conference in 2007 — the awareness and concern about the grim challenges that too many mothers confront when attempting to give life — is gaining strength.
The First Ladies I met and worked with at their Los Angeles summit, organized by US Doctors for Africa, are admirably realistic about the significant problems their countries face. These women, and their impressive staffs, are thoughtful and committed, and they know so much. They were articulate about the size of the problem, and about solutions: girls' education, family planning, skilled care.
The summit brought the First Ladies together with willing partners — representatives from UN agencies, governments, universities, research institutes, civil society organizations, corporations, religious groups — who are ready to offer help and resources of all kinds: information, $$, supplies, training, etc.
The First Ladies took away specific suggestions to help them move from rhetoric to action:
- visit clinics where ordinary, poor women deliver; see what it is like.
- hold press conferences to talk about what they heard and learned at the summit, and get help within their governments to move the maternal health agenda forward
- talk to their Ministers of Finance about the economic importance of women to the family and national economy; convince them to Invest in Women — It Pays
- talk to Ministers of Health about plans to implement the Maputo Plan and the relationship between HIV & AIDS and sexual and reproductive health
- talk to Ministers of Education about plans to make it easier for girls to STAY in school
The usual criticisms of these kinds of summits proved completely inapt: these women were not tempted by L.A.’s shopping allure, or the Hollywood scene. Rather, they were there to work, to make change happen, to save the lives of their countries’ girls, women and mothers. They showed up, they were tuned in, and they meant business.
I, for one, will be supporting them every step of the way. Next stop: Addis Ababa, to see how their husbands’ governments are progressing on implementing the Maputo Plan.
Jill Sheffield is the founder and Executive Coordinator of Women Deliver.