Remarks by Michelle Bachelet at the General Assembly H4+ side event on progress of Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health. 24 September, New York.
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Colleagues and friends,
We have achieved success. There is now worldwide recognition that solving our biggest challenges requires the full and equal participation of women. Now we need to move from recognition to action and this is especially important for improved public health.
The high rate of maternal mortality, with the vast majority of deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, has root causes in poverty and gender inequality—in low access to education, especially for girls, in early marriage, adolescent pregnancy, and low access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, including for adolescents.
And we know that the more that women’s rights are respected, especially reproductive rights, the lower the rates of mothers dying during pregnancy and childbirth, the lower the rates of teenage girls getting pregnant, and the lower the rates of abortion.
Investing in the health and well-being of women and girls is not only the right thing to do from a moral and human rights perspective. It is also smart, strategic and cost-effective.
When mothers are educated and healthy, chances are their children will be too.
Women put 90 percent of their income back into their families and the well-being of their children. A child born to a mother who can read is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of five. Girls who finish secondary education are between four and seven times more likely to use condoms compared with girls who do not finish, are less likely to become HIV-positive, and are up to six times less likely to marry as children. Preventing child marriage protects girls’ rights and helps reduce their risks of violence, early pregnancy, HIV infection, and maternal death and disability.
UN Women is proud to join other UN agencies and organizations in this global partnership to advance the health of Every Woman and Every Child.
Commitments are paying off. Child mortality is declining. Maternal health is improving. Thanks to efforts from people like you, the number of women dying of pregnancy and childbirth related complications in the last 20 years has been reduced by nearly half.
Progress is being made in all regions. Yet accelerated action is needed, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where less than one in four women have access to contraceptives and nearly half of women give birth without a skilled birth attendant.
Access to family planning could cut maternal deaths by an estimated 20 to 35 percent. Yet today some 222 million women, who would like to plan and space their births, still lack access to effective contraception. I applaud efforts by UNFPA and global partners to expand access to family planning.
This is especially important for young women. Today pregnancy and maternal conditions are the number one killers of 15-19 year old adolescent girls worldwide. These girls are twice as likely as women are in their 20s to die during pregnancy or childbirth. For those under 15, the risks are 5 times higher. Despite these risks, one in seven girls in the developing world marries before the age of 15.
Today I urge all of you to place a special focus on adolescent girls. By doing so, you will demonstrate leadership that transforms their lives and boosts the well-being of your nations.
For every woman and every child, UN Women is supporting efforts for gender equality and women’s empowerment. We are working to increase women’s political participation and leadership and economic empowerment, to advance gender responsive planning and budgeting and legal reform to advance women’s rights; to end violence against women and girls, and to prevent the spread of HIV through empowering women and girls.
Our success in improving the health of women and children depends on delivering quality medical supplies and health services. It is also depends on advancing women’s rights, listening to women’s voices and respecting women’s choices. Contraception works so much better if a woman can take her own decisions about her body and her life. Public health improves when efforts are taken to end violence and discrimination and girls and women and protect reproductive rights.
I thank you.