Malawi this week welcomed high-level members of the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health (GLC) to Lilongwe, at the invitation of Her Excellency Mrs. Joyce Banda, also a member of the group of former presidents, global health leaders, and philanthropists who are dedicated to advocating at the highest political levels for women’s rights to reproductive health and family planning services.
The delegation is led by former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, chair of the GLC, brought six members of the group to Malawi to support President Banda’s Initiative on Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood, and to promote the need for increased funding from donor nations for reproductive health services for Malawi and other countries in the developing world.
“We are here to celebrate Malawi’s embrace of reproductive health for women, and their right to choose when they have their children and how many to have,” said Peggy Clark, Director of the GLC Secretariat at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC. “We honor President Banda’s commitment to using these vital strategies to help bring down the terrible rate of maternal mortality that she has vowed to overcome.”
President Robinson will join five of her colleagues on the GLC in meeting with Malawi’s top leader and in visiting communities and clinics on the frontlines of the battle to ensure that the demand for family planning services are met in Malawi. The other leaders, advocates and philanthropists here this week are Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women, Annie Lennox, award-winning Scottish singer and HIV activist, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former Deputy President of South Africa, Joy Phumaphi, former Minister of Health for Botswana and Vice-President of the Human Development Network of the World Bank, and former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga.
“Family planning, maternal and child health, and reproductive rights are issues of great importance to me,” said President Robinson. “And that is why we are here to support the efforts of the people of Malawi, and of our colleague, President Joyce Banda.”
Malawi was one of four recipients of the 2012 Resolve Award, a highly competitive, non-monetary prize given by the Global Leaders Council to recognize innovative and workable approaches by governments that are striving to achieve universal access to reproductive health. In addition to Malawi, the other 2012 winners were Ethiopia, Nepal, and Rwanda, with a special mention given to Yemen.
“Investing in women’s sexual and reproductive health pays off,” added President Vike-Freiberga, in congratulating Malawi’s leader. “The two go hand in hand, and this has been proven time and time again.”
When visiting New York in September for her first speech before the UN General Assembly, President Banda published an article on the website of CNN, the global news source, highlighting the centrality of women and reproductive health to the prosperity of a country. According to Clark, Banda’s words reflect the power of her ability to engage with leaders in other countries.
“President Banda has a way of making the plight of the poorest women something that we should all care about,” Clark said. “Her message is that the biggest threats to security and peace are poverty, lack of opportunity and lack of hope.” President Banda wrote, “When we empower women with education and access to reproductive health services, we can lift an entire nation. Women who can choose when to have children and how many they will have are more likely to complete their education, start small businesses and participate actively in society…This is why efforts to improve the lives of women and children reinforce efforts to strengthen our economy and reduce poverty.”
In Malawi this week, President Banda’s colleagues will join her in calling on the global community to make reproductive health services central not only to the people of Malawi, but to the next-generation goals the United Nations will propose for reducing poverty and boosting sustainable development.
They will cite the President’s Initiative on Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood as an example of how to provide better access to reproductive health services for women in Malawi and globally.
Singer Annie Lennox said her approach to advocacy builds on her experience of being a woman and mother to engage women worldwide in the battle for the rights to reproductive health services and good medical care. “My entry into this is through my gender,” Lennox said. “I am a mother and I have given birth to a stillborn child. I realized at the time that millions of other women have gone through this experience, and if I did not have good medical care, I could easily not have survived.”
The link between population and natural resources, and between population and security and economic development, is well known, but until recently international financial support for family planning has failed to keep up with other global health funding.
In June, a study by the Guttmacher Institute and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found an increase in the number of women in the 69 poorest countries using contraceptives. However, the number of women in these countries who want to avoid pregnancy but are not using modern contraceptives increased from 153 million in 2008 to 162 million in 2012.
Recently, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reported that the global use of contraceptives saves 272,000 lives every year by preventing maternal deaths during childbirth. The researchers also said that providing family planning to the more than 162 million women who want it could reduce deaths by another 30 percent.
“The fact is, we cannot wait,” said GLC member Joy Phumaphi. “We must push and work for effective solutions—and there are many, chief among them access to family planning and reproductive healthcare…Life and good health cannot be a privilege; it is a human right.”
The Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health is an unprecedented effort to increase momentum at the highest political levels for improved reproductive health. Chaired by former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, these senior leaders from more than a dozen countries believe that expanding access to reproductive health will be a breakthrough strategy for lasting development and prosperity worldwide. The Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health is a program of Aspen Global Health and Development at the Aspen Institute.
The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.