By Joanne Omang
Political decision-makers will not invest in women’s health needs until their constituents insist on it, participants at the Women Deliver 2010 were reminded today.
In small breakout discussions and plenary sessions, speaker after speaker said “only squeaky wheels get any grease,” as one observer summed up.
Opponents of women’s reproductive rights “have created a visible and vocal constituency that makes politicians afraid to act on our concerns,” noted IPAS executive vice president Anu Kumar in a session on dealing with unsafe abortion. “Vocal and visible leaders in a vocal and visible constituency are critical aspects of moving forward.”
Jon O’Brien, director of Catholics for Choice, suggested that faith-based opponents of women’s reproductive rights must be challenged when they misrepresent facts and assert inflated claims of their support. “Civil society must raise its own strong voices, and especially dissident voices of doctors and nurses and religious leaders,” he said.
Helena Hofbauer of the International Budget Partnership asked a session on holding governments accountable how many of those present knew what their government spent on maternal health. Not many hands went up.
“You should know this,” she said. Budgets show a country’s true priorities and affect everyone’s lives, and activists should speak out about them, she said. “The possibilities for independent evaluation [of governments] are very, very few.”
At a gathering on ways to involve men in improving women’s health, John W. Townsend of the Population Council noted that the pharmaceutical industry has halted research on possible new contraceptives for men, in large part because no advocacy group demands it. “Essentially one woman was working on this,” he said, “and she’s gone back to graduate school.”