By Sofia Tillo
Published October 12, 2010
Although ‘sexy’ is not often a term used to describe proceedings at the United Nations, Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health (GLC) argue that investing in global reproductive health can be very sexy indeed.
“Let’s make this a sexy, dare I say it, and meaningful conversation” opened Joy Phumaphi in her speech as a GLC member. Phumaphi has served both as Botswana Minister of Health and Vice President of Human Development at the World Bank.
The GLC counts on active support from sixteen members under the leadership of Chair Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland. GCL members are world leaders and global experts in healthcare, from the Surgeon General of the United States to the former Senior Population Advisor at the World Bank. The founding of the GLC demonstrates there is no lack of leadership willing to work towards putting reproductive health at the forefront of political and development agendas.
There is consensus between GCL leaders that reproductive health and reproductive rights has completely slipped from Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Five, which is concerned with improving maternal health.
More than two hundred million women around the world want, but have no access to, modern contraception methods. Young women often suffer harm both to their health and livelihoods through unwanted pregnancies, risk pregnancies, unsafe abortions, or simply having too many children to financially support.
Both the GCL and the Guttmacher Institute estimate that if women who want contraception had access to it, unintended pregnancies would drop by 53 million per year. In addition unsafe abortions would decline by 73 per cent, avoiding serious medical complications and death for millions of women.
Commenting on the perplexing stalemate in global reproductive health, Ambassador Jan Eliasson, former president of the UN General Assembly and GCL member, says. “I would love to see a more normalised discussion about reproductive health; I don’t know why it should have such a taboo character or be politicised, we need to put the woman in the centre.”
Part of the GCL’s concern stems from the persistent gendering of the issue and labeling of reproductive health as exclusively a women’s issue, despite its overall public health and development impact. To this effect Eliasson added, “I think we must accept that this is a common responsibility amongst men and women. Women have carried a huge burden and I have seen it myself all over the world, most recently in Darfur. I think it is important that we show that this is a basic issue which has to do with human dignity but also which has to do with security and development.”
It is estimated that if the MDGs regarding women’s health remain on their current track, the objectives will remain unmet by 2015. Although maternal health is a popular and mediatic MDG, the same cannot be said for wider issues surrounding reproductive health. Although somewhat unpopular, better access to contraception lies at the crux of the MDG women’s health puzzle. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that providing adequate family planning to women who want it would reduce unplanned pregnancies and save US$5.1 billion that could otherwise be invested in maternal healthcare. Furthermore, argues the GCL, it would empower women to make better decisions about their bodies, families, and livelihood.
While the CGL aims to build political will around reproductive health, the group hopes to depoliticise the issues surrounding it and break taboos.
“This is a very normal subject: reproductive health, family planning, part of development, and a part of women’s rights,” Mary Robinson says.
The dominant institutional and social silence on reproductive health often prevents women from living healthy lives, keeps families in a cycle of poverty, and jeopardises sustainable development in least developed countries. Although the GLC focuses largely on issues in the developing world, access to reproductive health is a cause that knows no borders.
“This is something we can really do something about,” says US Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Regina Benjamin. “The public health infrastructure is based on prevention, so that is my own platform. Moving from a sick system, of disease and illness, to one about wellness and prevention.”
A MediaGlobal article