Investing in women, girls critical to SDGs attainment

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019 04:46 | By
Lokichar Girls Primary School perform a Turkana dance ‘Giraffe’ at the 93rd National Music Festival at Kabarak University. Photo/RAPHAEL MUNGE

Dr Githinji Gitahi       

Next month, governments, advocates, health organisations, women’s and youth activists  gather in Nairobi to mark the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which first took place in Cairo in 1994. It is important to reflect on the deliberations and the commitments that were made 25 years ago. 

The conference will offer an inclusive platform to discuss and agree on actions to accelerate the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, which is critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.  

Investing in the power and potential of women and girls and their reproductive health and rights is the only way to attain SDGs. However, most people in reproductive age worldwide, more so in Africa have inadequate access to reproductive health services. 

Yet if we are to achieve the SDGs, particularly universal health coverage, we must ensure girls and women have access to quality sexual and reproductive health services. 

Kenya, for instance, has made significant progress on sexual and reproductive health and rights, especially maternal and child mortality.  Whereas only about one in four married women used modern contraception 25 years ago, two in four do so today. This has resulted in a favourable reduction in the fertility rate from six children per woman 25 years ago to 4.7 today. 

Today, many more women make their choices and play a key role in planning their families. But even with these gains, Kenya and Africa in large continue with the struggle to curb teenage pregnancies, which have remained a persistent problem in the continent. This trend robs many young women a chance to develop their full potential as it often results in school dropout, early marriages and sometimes death from complications of early pregnancy or unsafe abortions.

Amref Health Africa has been at the forefront of ensuring and lobbying for sexual and reproductive health and rights, especially for the youth and women across Africa. Many commitments have been made by governments across the continent in a number of international and regional declarations, conventions and agendas. 

For example in February, Amref Health Africa together with other partners under the Health Systems Advocacy programme–Uganda and ACHEST convened an inter-generational dialogue that brought together different stakeholders including young people, youth leaders, religious leaders, local government, Ministry of Health officials and like-minded organisations in health advocacy for sexual and reproductive health. During the dialogue, it was clear in the discussions that the ability to achieve healthy and empowered adolescents and young people hinges on a supportive legal and policy environment.

This is why the youth should be the key to fulfilling the promise, empowering them at the community level and instilling in them the importance of the rights to sexual and reproductive health for women and benefits of educating girls by eradicating harmful practices such as FGM and early marriages. At Amref Health Africa, we envision a continent free of FGM, where girls are empowered to continue their education and achieve their dreams.

In communities where FGM happens, the women are denied a right to education and a chance to reach their full potential. All this said the gaps need to be filled. There’s needs to invest in generation of disaggregated data to tell us where we are lagging behind. Let’s walk the talk.

—The writer is CEO, Amref Health Africa 

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