What needs to be done as we celebrate Africa Day - Women Deliver

We want a world with the full realization of gender-responsive UHC.

In Summary
  • As Women Deliver, on Africa Day, we want to reiterate and spread messages on the importance of securing SRHR, gender-based violence and bodily autonomy for all people, everywhere.
  • There is mounting evidence that ensuring SRHR advances a person’s economic and social prospects and advances gender equality.

Africa Day celebrates the progress that the continent has made over the years, what are some of the gains Women Deliver is pursuing to ensure that they raise awareness of the health and rights of women and girls in Africa?

We are raising awareness of the health and rights of girls and women in Africa by connecting grassroots feminist advocates and organizations to those who hold the power to change norms, laws, and policies that perpetuate inequity and injustice in all its forms.

At the same time, we are building the evidence base, in partnership with grassroots feminist organizations, to present decision-makers with the data, information, and technical advice they need to make Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) and gender equality the priority.

Besides we work closely with governments and decision-making bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Women, and UNDP via Official Non-State Actor partnerships, and advisory roles, respectively.

Our work focuses on nurturing feminist coalitions and alliances to rally around global moments for change.

Together, with our partners around the word, we’re working to demand gender equality and the full suite of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for all people, everywhere, including during global convenings.

One of the key convenings that we are currently organizing is the Women Deliver 2023 Conference that will take place in Kigali, Rwanda from 17-20 July 2023.

This will be the largest multi-sectorial convening to advance gender equality and will convene over 6000 people and 200,000 people online through a virtual conference.

For the first time, WD2023 will be held in Africa and will focus more than ever before on the needs and priorities of girls and women on the continent, including during a full day of dedicated programming.

WD2023 will enable inclusive and co-created spaces that foster solidarity for sustainable solutions to gender equality.

Through the conference, we aim to catalyze collective action to advance gender equality, hold leaders accountable, empower the feminist movement, reframe who leads, and create spaces where people can create awareness of the health and rights of women and girls.

In November 2022, Women Deliver released a Sexual Health Reproductive Rights report, what are some of the key takeaways, especially for Africa and what more needs to be done in this space?

In late 2022, we launched our advocacy guide on advancing SRHR in universal health coverage (UHC). The guide supports advocates in calling on governments and other relevant stakeholders to implement gender-responsive national UHC strategies and benefits packages that include comprehensive sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and are grounded in a rights-based approach and in gender equality.

We see this as a vital instrument to support advocates in calling for quality health care services, including comprehensive SRHR, for all people, including in Africa.

UHC addresses health care costs, infrastructure, service provision, commodities, medicines, and information, but all too often, SRH services are left out, not prioritized for funding, or not comprehensive in nature.

This guide takes a practical approach to advocating for SRHR in UHC plans, strategies, and policies, based on principles of gender equality and human rights, and using real-world examples of challenges and successes.

To build this guide, we consulted 19 advocates from 16 countries – Argentina, Botswana, Cameroon, Colombia, Croatia, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Lithuania, Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, Rwanda, Tunisia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

This year’s theme for Africa Day is – Opportunities in Challenging Times. What is your message to people as the world celebrates this global calendar day?

As Women Deliver, on Africa Day, we want to reiterate and spread messages on the importance of securing SRHR, gender-based violence and bodily autonomy for all people, everywhere.

There is mounting evidence that ensuring SRHR advances a person’s economic and social prospects and advances gender equality.

All people need sexual and reproductive (SRH) services and have different and changing SRH needs throughout their lives.

Addressing these needs—from birth to old age—is crucial to achieving both universal health coverage (UHC) and gender equality.

For example, access to modern contraception and safe abortion, particularly for adolescent girls in their most formative years, reduces early pregnancy, saves lives, and enables young people to chart the path they want to take at school and in life.

Comprehensive sexuality education supports informed decision-making, knowledge of sexually transmitted infections, and healthy relationships—all of which are key to reducing sexual and gender-based violence.

Adolescent girls and women are experts in their own lives.

Advocacy for their health and rights must be guided by, and representative of, their lived experiences.

Shifting power into the hands of girls and women from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), particularly those with marginalized and vulnerable identities, and the people who represent them, is the right thing to do and essential for progress.

We want a world with the full realization of gender-responsive UHC.

This means a world in which health systems are transformed to address the social determinants of health at every stage of life.

The state of maternal health in Africa is dismal, with the region accounting for more than half of all maternal deaths worldwide. What is the role of Women Deliver in ensuring that we continuously change this narrative?

During adolescence, girls are subjected to many decisions that they have no control over and that alter the course of their lives, including early/forced marriage, early pregnancy, sexual harassment and violence, and the premature discontinuation of their education.

These events often have irreversible, long-term impacts that keep adolescent girls from realizing their potential, and ultimately, delay the achievement of gender equality.

Making progress on gender equality depends on protecting and advancing the bodily integrity and rights of adolescent girls.

We view adolescence for what it is: a period of vulnerability, but also a distinct window of time where, with the right tools and resources, girls can and do lead the charge on advancing positive change—not just for themselves, but for their communities.

Securing their health and rights is the most powerful tool we have to overcome existing barriers on the road to a just and gender-equal world.

We advance the health and rights of adolescent girls by creating spaces for collective action, championing and supporting youth advocacy, and convening like-minded organizations.

In everything we do, we aim to shift power into the hands of those closest to and living the challenges that girls face.

Their expertise and lived experiences are vital to our collective struggle.

Failure of health systems in too many African countries to provide accessible, high-quality care is one of the main drivers of the adverse trends in women’s health indicators. The situation stems from underinvestment in women’s health, inadequate women’s empowerment and poor health systems designs. What needs to change?

Governments and policymakers need to realize that underinvestment in proper health systems exacerbates the whole health ecosystem.

As Women Deliver, we are working with feminist organizations around the world to drive meaningful progress, including ensuring that African countries have proper health systems through adequate investments.

In 2019, Women Deliver, along with partners, co-founded the Alliance for Universal Health Coverage and Gender Equality.

The Alliance is the only civil space that champions the safeguarding of SRHR and gender equality in UHC, including in Africa.

In 2019, governments agreed to the UN Political Declaration on UHC, the most comprehensive global agreement on health ever.

This was a good start, but the agreement is a far cry from being fully implemented and didn’t go far enough to secure comprehensive SRHR for all people, everywhere.

The upcoming 2023 UN High-level Meeting on UHC is an important opportunity for advocates to come together to demand change, and for governments to reach further—in words and in actions—to reinforce and deliver comprehensive SRH services as an essential part of UHC.

This should be done while ensuring that women’s leadership and expertise are prioritized at every step of the process.

With such a moment so close on the horizon, my hope is that advocates and governments in Africa and around the world will join forces to position SRHR as essential to progress toward UHC and every measure of development.

Dr. Maliha Khan is the  President of Women Deliver.

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