From the 5th — 6th April 2013, the UN is observingÂ MomentumÂ 1000 which marks a 1000 days milestone before reaching the deadline of 2015 in achieving the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs). There may be an appreciable amount of progress today in achieving these goals. Leaders may be convinced by the figures and statistics which they endorse as achievement but they should realize that they are not just numbers but real people, real flesh and blood.
Individuals, communities and institutions have been mulling over since 13 years on what could be that magic wand that could ameliorate millions of impoverished around the globe. The years of contemplation lead to a recent conclusion that was an absolute answer to six out of eight of the MDGs- “Investing in women and children”. Asia-Pacific Economic Corporation (APEC) is the first ever forum that gathered in September 2011 to discuss inclusion of women as an economic growth strategy. Hilary Clinton called it a “Participation Era” where women participation would bring about a dramatic impact on growth of economies. How would you expect a society, a nation to develop and grow with half of the population not contributing to the economy?
To achieve women’s participation in contributing to the GDP is a distant dream unless the various deterrents in its way are done away with- Incomplete education, child marriages, sanitation and health of adolescent and pregnant women, HIV, gender-bias and violence against women. In order to address these above what we fundamentally need is an “enabling state”. Also, the UN has challenged to reduce maternal mortality rate by three quarters by 2015. This is something which is unavoidably and technically linked to the mother’s health.
“When you save women’s lives, you are really making an economic investment not just in a family, but in the whole community and the nation”- Jill Sheffield, Executive Director of Women Deliver. Worldwide, 15% of pregnant women have complications from preeclampsia to cesarean birth. The main cause of concern is the lacking of essentials such as transportation, sterilization and secured blood samples. Iron deficiencyÂ anemiaÂ accounts for 100,000 maternal and 600,000 prenatal deaths annually.
Women from middle and low-income groups do not have access to services and protection of themselves and their children from HIV AIDS. Without access to care during pregnancy and post pregnancy period, 1/3rd children are born with HIV and died within a year, 50% by 2 years and 80% by 5 years. In Malawi, 60% of people with HIV are women, putting their unborn children under the risk of being exposed to the HIV virus.
Because women give birth to children on the dirty floor of their homes and the umbilical cord is cut with an unsterilized knife, it gets infected and leads to tetanus deaths. 2 million people in the world lack sanitation facilities and access to portable water. Basic hand-washing remains a challenge.
As Hillary Clinton said “Violence against women is not culture, its criminal”. 6 out of 10 women experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Victims of Sexual abuse are three times more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies. Violence against girls below 16 effects their mental health and school performance which ultimately leads to dropping out of school without completing secondary education.
What can be more pathetic and painful than a child’s death? India looses 4,200 children under age of 5 every day (The Hindu: No country for new born). Due to lack of basic practices such as breast feeding andÂ immunizationÂ 16 lakh babies die every year. However, India recorded a fall of 48.7% between 1990 and 2010. Yet, Under Five mortality rate is stagnant which constitutes majorly to child deaths.
We talk about reproductive health, family planning and maternal health before we fight the biggest pandemic in the developing world- “Child Brides”. “A girl who is married as a child is one whose potential will not be fulfilled”- Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, UNFPA. 10 millions girls worldwide are married before 18. Nepal, Ethiopia and Afghanistan are countries where child marriages are more rampant. In terms of figures, India has the highest number of child brides with Kerala alone at 50% increase, Jharkand 14%, West Bengal 13.6%, Bihar 9.3%, Uttar Pradesh, 8.9% and Assam 8.8%.
Poverty eradication, Primary Education, Gender Equality and Women Empowerment, Child mortality reduction, Improvement in Maternal health and Combating HIV/Aids, Malaria and other diseases are the 6 out of 8 MDGs which can be accomplished with one break through long term solution “Educate Girls”. It is this laconic statement that should be followed “if you educate a man, you educate a person, if you educate a woman; you educate a family and benefit the entire community.”
What happens when we educate young girls? Girls and women are a power house who have the potential to up root global poverty. Even one extra year’s education plays a role in income earned by women. Financially independent women are more likely to spend for their family and communities. Women would influence markets and create growth by focusing their spending habits on purchases such as food, healthcare, education, clothing, consumerÂ durableÂ and financial services. Child marriages deprive young girls of their right to education and eventually pushing them and their children into poverty. The viscous cycle of poverty percolating into next generations can be broken only if girls are educated with at least minimum of secondary education. Parents should be counselled and made to take cognizance of the importance of educating their daughters.
Identifying and encourage women leaders and intellectuals at all levels is also an important part of empowering women. Women entrepreneurs should be provided with state sponsored financial services to help them develop. Thus, enabling the contribution of women to the GDP.
Children of mothers who are educated and well informed about hygiene habits and health services are healthier and have prospects to live longer than the children of illiterate mothers. Education gives them information of basic habits from washing hands to cooking healthy food. This may help in reducing maternal and under five mortality.
What is the role of an enabling state? We need an enabling state to impose strict laws to curb human trafficking of girls, child brides and children. The government of the nation should ensure the security of women at all levels. It is within the state’s capacity to provide andÂ fulfillÂ needs of pregnant women and adolescent girls. Focus should be on girls of age group 15 to 19 as they constitute 1/6th of country’s fertility. Contraceptive needs, HIV checkups andÂ immunizationÂ to new born are the state’s responsibility. The state should lead campaigning about AIDS and involving men and boys in the dialogue is the best way to prevent HIV. School should be provided with proper sanitation facilities, lack of which is the reason why most girls drop out of school once they reach puberty. Information on menstruation, incorporation of gender equality lessons and sex education, distribution of low cost sanitary pad are what an enabling state has to implement which are actual grass root foundations to reaching the MDG targets.