Tuesday, September 13, 2011, 3pm
National Geographic Auditorium, Washington, D.C.
I'm here today on behalf of the Obama Administration to reiterate our commitment to investing in women and girls because their inclusion and partnership are essential to solving the world’s most challenging problems. Women and girls are the world’s engines of change: and when their rights are protected and promoted, when they are healthy and educated, and when they can participate fully in society, then progress is triggered in families, communities, and nations.
Sexual and reproductive health, reproductive rights, and access to family planning are at the top of President Obama’s global health agenda. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "Remember what is expected of us – that all governments will make access to reproductive healthcare and family planning services a basic right." I want to commend UNFPA and Executive Director Osotimehin for recognizing the critical links between empowering women and girls. We value your partnership and your leadership on youth and gender.
The Obama Administration is promoting positive change across the board to advance global health. Through the President’s Global Health Initiative, we are retooling our entire investment in global health to create a unified national strategy that is focused, cost-effective, and results-oriented. From saving mothers and children to being within reach of creating the first AIDS-free generation, we are challenging the world to step up and deliver on global health.
Current U.S. government funding of family planning and reproductive health provides effective contraceptive services and supplies for 37.4 million women and couples around the world; prevents 5.1 million induced abortions; eliminates 32,000 maternal deaths; and prevents 140,000 children from becoming orphaned. And our support for UNFPA includes a contribution of $40 million this fiscal year.
Advancing the needs and rights of women and girls not only enhances their well-being and productivity, but also improves prospects for future generations. That’s why the U.S. has been an important international leader in family planning for more than 40 years – because family planning saves lives.
Family planning helps women have healthy families by allowing them to space births and have children during their healthiest years. Birth spacing helps decrease infant mortality, and delaying childbirth and pregnancy beyond adolescence improves the health of infants and their likelihood of survival.
While tremendous progress has been made, more work is urgently needed. Poor sexual and reproductive health is the leading cause of death and disability among women aged 15-49 in developing countries – whether from HIV/AIDS, pregnancy and childbirth, or sexually transmitted diseases. Every day, more than 1,000 women die in giving life and current estimates are that at least 215 million women want to use family planning but are unable to do so because they lack access to information or services or the support of their husbands and communities.
However, there is hope for progress. The unacceptably high rate of maternal mortality had long been seen as intractable, but in recent years there has been some good progress. Recent WHO estimates indicate that maternal mortality declined by 34 percent globally between 1990 and 2008. We are also making important progress in reducing child mortality. So there is reason to be hopeful, and to redouble our efforts to meet Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5.
The U.S. has welcomed the UN Secretary General’s Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health, which encourages investments in women and girls to meet the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – particularly MDGs 4 and 5 on maternal and child health. This momentum presents a unique opportunity to keep alive a global consensus to accelerate action to reduce the alarmingly high rates of maternal and child mortality and to ensure access to family planning.
Focusing on women and girls must be a key part of our effort to advance sustainable progress on global health. Focusing on women and girls is not only the right thing to do – it is also the smart thing to do.
Improving access to health services, including family planning, creates a beneficial ripple effect and is a necessary ingredient to helping us meet our broader development goals. We must ensure these advances are sustainable – they are the stepping-stones for nations to further improve the lives of their people and elevate the status of women.
As I noted earlier, the Obama Administration has emphasized the importance of focusing on women and girls and gender equality in our global health programs.
We are doing so through the Global Health Initiative, which includes a significant focus on maternal health and family planning. The initiative sets ambitious targets in these areas. It focuses on building health systems and ensuring that women and children have access to an integrated package of essential healthcare services—from family planning and HIV/AIDS services, to skilled attendance at childbirth, to immunization services and basic nutrition. And the initiative supports long-term, systemic changes to remove the economic, cultural, social, and legal barriers to health care services and to increase the participation of women and girls in health care decision-making. Each of these areas is critical to saving lives and reaching women and children with equitable, effective, and sustainable care. These values are embedded in the Administration’s guidance on women, girls and gender equality.
There are a terrific range of amazing initiatives underway to support those activities. A joint effort between the development agencies of the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a case in point. This five-year alliance aims to increase access to reproductive health care and family planning, and reduce maternal and neonatal deaths in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Through this alliance, we will contribute to the goal of reducing unmet demand for family planning by 100 million people by 2015, and we will increase the number of skilled birth attendants, babies delivered in clinics or hospitals, and women and newborns who receive good quality medical care. And USAID has brought innovation to the forefront with Saving Lives at Birth, the grand challenge, tapping the expertise of entrepreneurs and innovators to make advances in health delivery.
Partnerships such as these are crucial in reaching the goals we set in Cairo over 15 years ago. We have made progress yet we have so far to go. Continued U.S. leadership is crucial in averting maternal death and disability, which is one of the greatest moral, human rights, and development challenges of our time.
Women and girls are the world's engines of change. As I said at the outset, this President and this Secretary have placed women and girls at the center of our foreign policy. As we look to the future, you can be sure that we will continue to invest in women and girls not only because it is a smart thing to do, but because it is the right thing to do.
Thank you for your partnership on this most important work.