Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for concerted efforts to end what he described as the “scandal” of women dying in childbirth, saying even simple clinical procedures such as clean delivery rooms and the presence of a trained midwife could greatly reduce pregnancy-related deaths.
“Some simple blood tests, consultation with a doctor and qualified help at the birth itself can make a huge difference,” Mr. Ban said in an address to an international conference in Washington aimed at finding solutions to problems affecting women and girls worldwide.
“Add some basic antibiotics, blood transfusions and a safe operating room, and the risk of death can almost be eliminated,” he told delegates attending the gathering known as the “Women Deliver” conference.
Mr. Ban said women’s health in the developed world had come a long way in his lifetime, noting that he was himself born at home in the Korean countryside and not in a hospital.
“There was nothing strange or special about that fact,” Mr. Ban said. “I remember as a child asking my mother why women who were about to give birth would gaze at their simple rubber shoes, which they left at the back door as labour drew near.
“My mother explained that the women wondered if they would ever step into those shoes again. Giving birth was so risky. They feared for their lives,” he said.
“Her answer started me on the journey that has brought me here today. A journey to help every woman step back into her shoes after giving birth,” he added.
The Secretary-General said women were the “glue that holds our societies and our nations together.” They make “the world work,” hence the need to ensure that they did not face undue health and social challenges.
While noting that the world had too often let mothers down, he acknowledged that there was currently a global movement for an end to the “silent scandal” of women dying in childbirth. “No woman should have to pay with her life, for giving life,” Mr. Ban stressed.
Stressing the importance of global partnerships to improve the lives of women and girls, he said the United Nations was committed to helping governments deliver for mothers and children.
The new UN Joint Action Plan aims to accelerate progress on women’s and children’s health to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the global anti-poverty targets world leaders have pledged to achieve by 2015.
“This plan calls for every part of the world’s health infrastructure to work together, towards one goal. Governments and health services in developed and developing countries alike, international organizations, businesses and private foundations, non-governmental organizations and civil society,” Mr. Ban said.
“Invest in women – it pays. This is one of the best investments we can make for this and future generations. Working together, we aim to make 2010 a turning point for women’s health,” he added.
The Secretary-General said that efforts to alleviate health problems that bedevilled women cannot succeed if they are not accompanied by work to end gender discrimination of all kinds, a priority of the UN.
“First, we are working to combat the worldwide epidemic of violence against women. Women can never fulfil their potential or participate fully in society when they live in fear… Fear of rape as a weapon of war… Fear of domestic violence… Fear of being trafficked for sex.
“I have launched a global campaign aimed at raising awareness. Wherever I travel, I tell leaders that this is a matter of moral leadership… a matter of political will. All of us must see it as our business to put an end to these practices,” Mr. Ban said.
He noted that UN Member States had last year agreed to unite the functions and mandates of multiple UN bodies that deal with women’s issues into one. “Women and girls will have a powerful new champion, both on the world stage and within the UN,” he added.
“Since I became Secretary-General, the number of women in the top posts at the UN has increased dramatically. Many of these are the first women appointees to positions that have been held by men for the past six decades. And let me tell you, it does make a difference.
“Women more than hold up their half of the sky the world over. The United Nations should be no exception. Indeed we must lead,” the Secretary-General said.
The three-day conference in the United States capital is the largest-ever gathering on maternal health, drawing 3,500 participants from 140 countries, according to organizers.
While in Washington, the Secretary-General also addressed the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a group of more than 220 members dedicated to maintaining the fight against the diseases a global priority.
He then spoke to the UN Association for the United States’ National Convention, before lunching with the National Association for Evangelicals and meeting US Senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry.
The Secretary-General’s trip to Washington coincides with a related visit by Helen Clark, the Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
She took part in a live webcast today in Washington on “Women and Power,” along with actress and humanitarian Ashley Judd, former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, and US President Barack Obama’s Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett.
Miss Clark spoke about how highly successful women change makers have dealt with their power – getting it, keeping it and using it wisely.