By: Jill Sheffield, President, Women Deliver
International Women’s Day is an opportunity for the global community to celebrate the contributions of girls and women to our families, communities and nations. It is also a time to reflect on the issues and challenges that face girls and women everywhere, from maternal deaths to poor access to healthcare to child marriage to violence.
Last year, Women Deliver highlighted 100 leaders who are making a difference for girls and women. This year, we released the Women Deliver 50, which puts a spotlight on inspiring ideas and solutions to improve the health and well-being of girls and women through an online contest. We put out a global call for nominations, a selection committee chose 125 finalists, and the public voted for 50 winners.
We hope this contest and its focus on positive, creative ideas and solutions will inspire and encourage you, as it has us. All over the world, amazing work is being done at the community, national, regional and global levels.
There is great need for it. Many of us know the discouraging numbers. Of all the Millennium Development Goals, MDG 5 – to improve maternal health – is the furthest behind. Across the world, 215 million women still have an unmet need for contraceptives. Each year, pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications cause more than 358,000 deaths, the vast majority of which are entirely preventable.
The good news is that the solutions exist. What we need now, more than ever, is for these solutions to be shared, scaled-up and replicated. Our list is a testament to what can happen with innovation and creativity.
We were simply overwhelmed by the response to this contest. Nearly 6,000 people voted from around the world, far exceeding our expectations. We received more than 500 nominations from 103 countries. Our 50 winners span the globe, with projects from sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America, Europe and North America. The nominations showed that every sector is involved in this work – governments, international agencies, community-based organizations, private sector companies and foundations.
We launched the poll on Facebook particularly to reach young people. Today, there are 1.2 billion youth in the world. Nearly 90% of those youth live in developing countries. They are tomorrow’s leaders and we must create projects that both improve their lives, and cultivate them as advocates and implementers.
The finalists show the depth and breadth of the programs. One of our honorees, Aawaaj, works in rural Nepal to combat the often-silenced issue of gender-based violence through co-ed outreach and education. In Kenya and Tanzania, the Mobile for Reproductive Health (m4RH) program is actively reducing maternal mortality by using text messaging to inform women on family planning methods and local clinics where they can access care. On a global scale, the UN Secretary-General’s Every Woman Every Child initiative harnesses financial, policy and service-delivery commitments to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015 through.
A big thank you for helping to identify these programs is owed to our selection committee, which included representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Medic Mobile, Room to Read, Man Up and the International Center for Research on Women. And we were truly heartened by the organizations across the world that tweeted, emailed, and ‘facebooked’ about the contest to encourage others to learn more.
Please read through the profiles of these incredible projects. You will be impressed and inspired. The “Women Deliver 50” shows that with ingenuity, drive and dedication, we can build a better world for girls and women.