Op-Ed: Kikwete at Helm of New UN Team

By: Jill Sheffield, President of Women Deliver, originally published in The Citizen, Tanzania

In Geneva this week, a small group of global health leaders will meet to discuss the future of maternal health. I am looking forward to seeing President Kikwete there.

2010 was a landmark year for maternal health, from every standpoint. In July, the African Union renewed the Maputo Protocol, one of the most forward-thinking international charters on women’s rights.

New data showed that global maternal deaths are in decline, and a series of high-level meetings throughout the year signaled that the health of girls and women has at last become a global priority.

In September, the UN Secretary-General launched his $40 billion “Every Woman Every Child” plan to scale up women’s and children’s health services in developing countries. An accountability commission was appointed to help guide the plan’s implementation, emphasizing transparency and results.

It is no surprise that President Kikwete, who has remained front and center among African leaders on these issues, was tapped to co-chair the commission.

As one of the few civil society members on the commission, I know we’re in good hands with the President at the helm. While 2010 presented us with much to celebrate, even more remains to be done. We must ensure that girls and young women are not left out of maternal health efforts.

The sad truth is that ‘mothers’ are too often adolescents and young women. We should work to empower young people, and respect their potential as agents of change; they are our future presidents and activists, and they deserve to be prioritized.

We must also address the overwhelming need for family planning. More than 200 million women do not have access to what I consider a basic right to control one’s own fertility, body, and future. And when women do have access to family planning, we see a positive ripple effect in families, communities, and economies.

Finally, we must continue to focus on reducing maternal deaths. While numbers are in decline globally, including in Tanzania, this progress is not enough.

Tanzania is still one of just 11 countries that contribute to 65 per cent of all maternal deaths. More than 350,000 women worldwide still die each year from pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes – and that is 350,000 too many. We have a range of simple and affordable life saving technologies that need to be implemented; let’s deliver solutions to the women who need them.

Convincing the world to invest in girls and women is not easy, but when we do we will see benefits that are far-reaching and multifold.

I know that President Kikwete understands this well. He has been a role model – both among African leaders and on the global stage – in improving the health and welfare of girls and women.

In an effort to de-stigmatize HIV/AIDS, President Kikwete and his wife took HIV tests in public, and the President has also worked to prioritize access to health care for the country’s rural villages. In his New Year’s message, President Kikwete signalled that he would support a constitutional revision, providing an important opportunity to strengthen national policies that protect girls and women.

I commend the President’s track record, and remind him of the great responsibilities ahead. When the commission meets for the first time this week in Geneva, we will be counting on his continued commitment and leadership to help accomplish the mountains of work we have left.

We must push for the delivery of real results, and ensure accountability, especially among global donors. It is one thing to make a commitment to girls and women, and it’s quite another to hand over the money.

This year we need to take chances and demand more of ourselves and others than ever before. For the sake of millions of girls and women worldwide, I am pleased to see President Kikwete truly leading on this issue.

Jill Sheffield is the President and Founder of Women Deliver, and a member of the UN Accountability Commission on MDG5.

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