Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Women Delivering Development

October 21, 2013
Putting women and reproductive health at the core of global development

It’s not often that we are presented with the perfect opportunity to affect a broad set of development policies as we are currently with the UN’s Post 2015 Agenda.

Taking full advantage of this chance – while demonstrating that an integrated, “un-siloed”  approach to addressing population, health and environmental (PHE) issues is gaining traction –was the goal of a recent UN General Assembly side-event. The Women Delivering Development working breakfast was organized by the Woodrow Wilson Center, Aspen Institute, Sierra Club and Center for Environment and Population (CEP).

The meeting brought together a diverse group of influential leaders to be updated on the sweet spot of where population, health and environment (PHE) intersect, and make concrete recommendations for how a PHE integrated approach can help solve key international development issues.

 Their message was clear: put women and reproductive health at the core of development where it belongs.This impressive cross-sectoral mix of "influentials" hit the ground running. They came knowing that in women’s everyday lives on the ground, around the world, these components are very much integrated. This meeting was an effort to work towards development policies and advocacy that reflect that reality.

The participants were not just the usual cast of NY or DC-based experts speaking to a converted inner circle. They represented an unusual gathering of new alliances including developing nation program representatives, international business entrepreneurs, private sector representatives, US State Department and Congressional leaders, funders, UN representatives, and leading NGOs in women’s health, climate change, and sustainable development.

Yet the real stars of the day joined us from village campfires and cookstoves in Tanzania, representing the faces of climate change impacts, not on paper, but in their own voices about their daily PHE challenges.
Photo © Sean Peoples, Wilson Center

The breakfast began with two women sages providing the framework: the Honorable Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and President, Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, and former US Congresswoman and Wilson Center CEO Jane Harman, who eloquently opened our minds to this opportunity: the UN’s Post 2015 Agenda. Their message was clear: put women and reproductive health at the core of development where it belongs.

The Woodrow Wilson Center’s (WWC) compelling new short film, Healthy People, Healthy Environmentgrounded us in the issues from the village perspective – first hand voices from three Tanzanian village women who relayed how climatic change, energy, food or water challenges play out in their everyday lives. They represented the on-the-ground, real life embodiment of our global policies and advocacy work; the reality behind funds allocated, negotiations deliberated, and policies on paper.

Unlikely Alliances = New Synergies on PHE

Several main themes emerged from the meeting:

  • The “PHE integrated approach” is a key development tool which should be central to the Post 2015 Agenda. It is a proven way to enhance people’s lives in developing nations that are most affected by the climate and other environmental changes we are now experiencing.
  • As part of the un-siloed, integrated approach, women’s empowerment and reproductive health (RH) and rights must be at the core of the UN’s Post 2015 sustainable development agenda. Empowering women has a ripple effect, enabling families to be healthier and achieving a balance between people and the air, land, water we depend on to sustain a good quality of life.
  • This is a major shift from how sustainability issues are currently addressed in global terms. Within the climate change debate, for example, insufficient attention has been given to RH as simple, inexpensive way to meet the unmet need for family planning while at the same time significantly reducing CO2 emissions.
  • Virtues of newer “integrated” vs. traditional siloed approach were shown: for example, field programs on tree conservation in Africa were better received by villagers when their reproductive health and education issues were on the table, too.
  • This integrated approach to development is gaining more traction with a broad, diverse set of cross-sectoral players, and the UN’s Post 2015 Agenda and FP2020 process are prime opportunities for advocacy. New synergies include partnerships with businesses and the private sector to promote PHE within the context of development goals.
  • New alliances bring new synergies. Engaging allies across sectors and issues as represented at this meeting will make better connections among RH and rights, women’s empowerment, and sustainable development policies and advocacy.
  • Evidence from data collection along with more focused personal stories must be used in tandem to make the strongest case for the PHE approach. The stories from the WWC movie, for example, helped put a face to the policy issues on the table.
  • The FP2020 process is providing new visibility and excitement around the UN’s Post 2015 Agenda, as well as being a new ally in promoting RH and sustainable development linkages, in shaping the way forward post-MDGs.
Next steps will be to follow-up with the meeting participants to collaborate on policy influence and advocacy-work based on the recommendations made. This momentum is also continued with two major international PHE meetings held this week in Ethiopia (see here and here). Watch this space!

Guest speakers included Dr Carmen Barroso, IPPF/WHR; Suzanne Ehlers, PAI and FP2020; Kim Lovell, Sierra Club, and Mary Mavanza, Jane Goodall Institute. See the invitation here.

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