The job is not done yet, says KATJA IVERSEN, the Chief Executive Officer of Women Deliver, a global advocacy body for women and girl’s health based in New York. She spoke with Star Newspaper’s journalist JOHN MUCHANGI during the recent Partners Forum in Johannesburg on the next global development agenda after end of MDGs next year.
Next year we wrap up the Millennium Development Goal’s (MDGs). Women Deliver has been working hard to promote these goals, especially on maternal and child health. What difference do you think MDGs made in the world?
What gets measured gets done. When you shine light on specific issues and ask countries to report on them, they will start measuring because they will have to report. We have seen progress on women and children health in the last 15 years. We have seen maternal mortality drop by almost 50 per cent, child mortality by almost 50 per cent. But most important we have seen acceleration in the last 10 year that we had not seen before.
We can ask, why is that? One of the explanations is the MDGs, because the spotlight was put on some issues and then governments and donors responded and became accountable. Actually in the first five years after the MDGs started, maternal mortality did not really improve. At that time we had not included reproductive health but the community fought hard and got an extra target on universal access to reproductive health. And the requirement to measure on it. Certainly, you also had to measure contraceptive prevalence rights and teenage pregnancies. We saw a rallying cry after the first Women Deliver conference in 2007. The United Nations Secretary General in 2008 launched the global strategy on women and children health. MDGs have been a great vehicle to say you promised, you measure, and you’re held responsible.
Do you think many countries have had problems keeping proper data to track progress, especially in health?
Let me first say, when you invest in girls and women, everybody wins. You see a ripple effect. It not only influences health, it influences productivity and other sectors including agriculture. Girls and women who are not healthy or who die can’t work, can’t produce and can’t take care of families. When we come to data, child mortality is measured on so many different data points. Child mortality is estimated every year, maternal mortality is every three years or so. We are not even sure if that’s the best way. There are so many issues we need to measure in regard to girls and women’s health and rights. I am very pleased to see that countries are scaling up on vital statistics and we hope it’s going to be included in the post-2015 framework – a call for better data.
As I said, what gets measured gets done. You know if you are going to establish a health system or education when you know how many people are there, where they are and what they need. Else, you can’t make policies.
In developing countries like Kenya we rely on the once-every-five-years Demographic and Health Survey to measure progress in health. Do you think the DHS has been efficient or the world needs a better system?
We need civil registration. But I think 25 or 30 per cent of all children born are never registered. That means you don’t count them as a person or statistic. So you need civil registration at birth and you need vital statistics, all the different measure points. This is one aspect of development – the need to ensure everybody gets registered and gets a birth certificate. And that we get the vital statistics that we need, particularly on girls because that has been under reported.
Your organisation, Women Deliver, focuses strongly on youth in promotion of access to reproductive health and rights. Why is this?
We focus on girls because they have been under-investigated, but we want all young people involved. Young people are not only the future, they are also the present. Young people’s needs, opportunities and choices will define the world not just as we know it today, but also as we want it tomorrow. We have the world’s biggest group of young people reaching reproductive age. That means they are going to have sex, which means someone will start families at some point. The opportunity to access contraceptives in a safe environment is crucial. Which are why reproductive health and climate change and the future are all together, because these will define the world as we know it. We don’t want a world that makes decisions on behalf of young people without the young people. Nothing about us without us. That is why the Women Deliver established the young leaders programme, and we are scaling it up because it has changed the world. It’s a force for change.
Country ownership is important for donor supported programmes to succeed. How do you ensure country ownership in the programmes you support, so that countries do not feel topics like reproductive health are being pushed down their throats?
It’s a give and take. If we want to see real change, it needs to be anchored not only in countries but also in communities. That, of course, can make things difficult when you work on issues like reproductive health and rights. That is why we work with young people, especially in the young leader’s programme. I get inspired when we work with them. Countries are not just the government, countries are also the people. Which means it’s also the people’s responsibility to tell the government what they want and need because that’s what they need, and that’s part of the ownership.
Will donors stop having ideas? Of course not. But it will be collaboration. Country ownership is not new. Many donors have been giving budget support and not project support. And that has been happening for years.
What are the key arguments why we still need maternal and child health targets in the post 2015- global development framework?
The job is not done. There are still too many women and adolescent girls dying needlessly in pregnancies and child birth from unsafe abortion, from hemorrhage. Still, way too many women and particularly adolescents don’t have access to information, modern contraception and the services they need. There are still too many children who die. This is not just a health issue, women issue, children issue – it’s a development issue. We still need to focus on reproductive health, on women health on children health if we have to drive the planet in the positive direction.
How can Kenyans and organisations in Kenya collaborate with Women Deliver?
We are planning a scale up of our young leaders programme. There will be a competitive process. There will be training. There will also be a Women Deliver programme in May 2015. We are open for scholarships. We are also looking how to support young people outside the young leaders programme. If a request comes from Kenya youth, we will take it up very seriously.