Remarks of Michelle Bachelet Under-Secretary-General, Executive Director of UN Women at GBC Health Conference

Date: Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Remarks of Michelle Bachelet Under-Secretary-General, Executive Director of UN Women at GBC Health meeting in New York, May 14, 2012.

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, it is wonderful to be here with you at the GBC Health Conference. I thank you for inviting me. And I thank all of you for the good work you are doing to improve global health and the lives of people around the world.

Through the good work that you are doing to tackle AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, to prevent blindness and to improve the health of women and children, you are making our world a better place. And you are contributing to the achievement of the global Millennium Development Goals to which the world's nations have committed.

During the next few days, you will talk about Defining Forward. As you do, I encourage you to put a special focus on women and girls. I urge to Define Forward for Women.

I say this because 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. I know that you expect me to say that because I'm the head of UN Women. That's my job, after all.

But I also make my case from a purely practical perspective—from the point of view of efficiency and effectiveness. As business leaders, I know you appreciate a good business case and I can assure you that investing in the health of women is the smart and strategic thing to do.

A growing body of research shows that the well-being of women has a positive effect across families, communities and societies. Women put 90 percent of their income back into their families and the well-being of their children. And we know that a child born to a mother who can read is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of five.

When mothers are educated and healthy, chances are their children will be too.

In fact, studies show that when women are healthy and educated, and can participate in the economy, the benefits are many. Poverty, poor health and malnutrition decline, and living standards and economic growth rise higher.

For these reasons and more, UN Women was established more than a year ago. We were established in the belief that greater progress for women will bring greater progress for all. And we are working with partners to advance women's equal rights, participation and opportunity.

Partnerships are spreading and I would like to commend you for your Healthy Women, Healthy Economies Initiative! In this regard, you may be interested in a new research project that is underway being led by the Government of Norway.

The effort involves the UN, the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other organizations to provide better understanding of the ways in which investing in women's health can contribute to economic growth. This research will be presented in the Lancet next year in 2013 and it will put even more fuel in our tank so we can go faster and further ahead.

I also have some more news for you. Just last month UN Women joined other UN agencies and organizations in a global partnership to advance the health of Every Woman and Every Child.

This partnership was started by the UN Secretary-General in 2010 to accelerate progress on MDGs 4 and 5 to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health. We need to do more because women and children are still dying at alarming rates. This year some 350,000 women will die while giving life and around 8 million children will not make it to their fifth birthday. In Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, more than half of all births still take place without the assistance of trained personnel.

Some 215 million women who want to plan and space their births still lack access to effective contraception. And we know that ensuring access to family planning could cut maternal deaths by an estimated 20 to 35 percent.

This is especially important for young women. Pregnancy and maternal conditions are the number one killers of 15-19 year old adolescent girls worldwide. These adolescent girls are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth compared to women in their 20s; for those under 15, the risks are 5 times higher.

And yet despite these risks, too many girls continued to be married as child brides. Today, one in seven girls in the developing world marries before the age of 15 and this threatens her health and her future.

Every Woman Every Child is not just about maternal mortality or a specific disease. It is also about girl's and women's empowerment. For those reasons, as part of Every Woman Every Child, you can find commitments by partners to tackle child marriage, to advance training, and to address non-communicable diseases that are leading killers such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease.

You can also find commitments to promote integrated healthcare and stronger health systems that reach every person wherever they live.

Yes, this mission to save 16 million women and children by 2015 is challenging. But it is achievable with our collective strengths. And we cannot leave this work to Governments alone.

To date, nearly 200 partners from public and private sector, philanthropic communities, NGOs and civil society have made commitments totaling over $40 billion.

All of you and GBC Health are uniquely positioned to help make some of the biggest gains for women and children around the world. As you mobilize the power of the global business community to build a healthier world, the Every Woman Every Child platform can help you pursue and realize this important mission.

Soon the UN Commission on Live-saving Commodities will issue recommendations on simple but proven medicines and solutions that will provide critical guidance for future efforts in defining forward.

There will be specific roles of the business community, and the private sector writ large, to engage and even lead in meeting these recommendations to support the scope of Every Woman Every Child.

To achieve success, we need to work together both within and beyond the health sector. We all know that the conditions in which people live, and whether they have access to food, safe water and sanitation, and whether they can live free from poverty and discrimination, play a large part in determining their health and also the health of those around them.

There's so much good work that all of you are doing, and so much good work that remains to be done! So I want to encourage and welcome you to join Every Woman Every Child — this fast growing global movement — to help improve women's and children's health around the world.

In Defining forward, I hope you push women's health and equal opportunities for women and girls forward. This will not only enhance business performance, it will also help make our world more inclusive, fair and sustainable.

Again I thank you. All of us at UN Women and all of us working to improve the health of Every Woman and Every Child look forward to working with you!