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Governments challenged to protect women’s, children’s, adolescents’ health

Reproductive Health - By Fredrick Obura

Up to 2000 delegates from all over the world took part in a live event held this week alongside the UN General Assembly 2020, which called on governments, donors, and other key actors in global development to demonstrate greater accountability for supporting and improving women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health (WCAH) and rights during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

The Accountability Breakfast, jointly hosted by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), White Ribbon Alliance (WRA), and Every Woman Every Child (EWEC), took place at a pivotal time.

Poor and marginalised women, children, and adolescents are among those worst affected by COVID-19’s indirect consequences, which can compound and exacerbate the many social and health inequalities they face in their daily lives. Yet, they are still excluded from making decisions that inform the design of programs meant to help and support them.
Staging the Accountability Breakfast as a virtual event increased opportunities for people from a diverse range of backgrounds across the world to participate, who might otherwise have been unable to attend had the event been held in a physical space in New York, as originally proposed.

By bringing high ranking government ministers together with representatives from grassroots organizations, the event provided a platform for those with the power to make changes to hear directly from those calling for fundamental changes to be made.

“This important event provided a safe and inclusive platform for women and young people, campaigners and health workers involved in improving WCAH outcomes, as well as other citizens with important lived experiences and perspectives, to share their views, speak truth to power, and help forge a new agenda for change,” said Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and Board Chair of PMNCH.

The programming of the Accountability Breakfast includes the presentation of data and evidence for greater equity during Covid-19; a citizen’s parliament featuring a panel of women and youth citizen leaders from India, Kenya, Mexico, and Nigeria discussing strategies to strengthen accountability and ensure future preparedness; and powerful grassroots testimony with leadership commentary and response. PMNCH, which is marking its 15th anniversary this month, will also be launching its 2021-2025 Strategy.

The event took place as the global Every Woman Every Child movement’s new report published last week, warns that a decade of remarkable progress, including under-five deaths reaching an all-time low, maternal deaths falling by 35 per cent, 25 million child marriages avoided, and one billion children vaccinated is now threatened by conflict, the climate crisis, and increasingly by the health, social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every Woman Every Child has been fighting for the health and well-being of women, children, and adolescents worldwide for a decade. The Protect Progress report provides evidence that committed leadership, global cooperation, wise investments, and innovative financing mechanisms can and have changed the trajectory of millions of lives,” said Vivian Lopez, Executive Coordinator of Every Woman Every Child.

“As the triple threat of COVID-19, conflict and the climate crisis threaten this important progress, now more than ever, leaders need to recommit to the EWEC agenda and protect the health and rights of all women, children, and adolescents.”

The Accountability Breakfast also highlighted the multi-sectorial dimensions of COVID-19 on the health, wellbeing and broader lives of the world’s women and children, through the participation of the world’s largest partnerships on education, nutrition, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), as well as leading regional and media partnerships.

It aimed at converting talk into action with the launch of PMNCH’s Call-to-Action in response to the devastating effects of the pandemic on the health and rights of women, children, and adolescents. Partners joined forces to advocate for firm political commitments, as part of a 24-month program of action to reinvigorate WCAH during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

“We are pleased that today’s Call to Action reflects many of the top demands from more than one million women and girls who responded to the global What Women Want survey about their needs for quality reproductive and maternal health. White Ribbon Alliance strongly believes that when citizens and decision-makers come together, it creates stronger policies that are based on actual needs. Public platforms like the 2020 Accountability Breakfast help to put a spotlight on challenges, hold leaders to account, and in turn, accelerate progress,” says Kristy Kade, Deputy Executive Director, White Ribbon Alliance and Co-Chair of the Global What Women Want Campaign.

Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and Board Chair of PMNCH

COVID-19 not only threatens hard-won gains for women, children, and adolescents around the world, it could also push new progress yet further away. Going forward, the moral, political, and fiscal choices we take about what, how, and who we support, will shape the future direction of our planet for decades.

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