Getting Governments and the United Nations to Focus on Women and Youth

"Although things have changed a great deal here in the U.S., we still have to fight for women's rights every day. And the fight is even more robust in developing nations where women are marginalized, abused and discriminated against on a daily basis."

Rep. Mike Quigley made these remarks in October in Chicago, at the first of 12 community consultations held by the United Nations Association and United Nations Foundation allowing people across the United States to weigh in on what issues the UN and all nations should prioritize to improve the state of our health, lives, and planet. Similar events took place in every region of the world.

These gatherings mark an important and historic opportunity to advance women and girls worldwide, a priority for a growing consensus of U.S. policymakers and citizens, especially young people. The consultations comprise part of a process to allow civil society to express opinions and suggest priorities for the UN to take under consideration in setting the new global development agenda.

In 2000, when the global community set an ambitious set of measurable targets to end extreme poverty called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), sexual and reproductive health and rights were left off the agenda. And as a result, so was global funding for and focus on family planning and reproductive health.

The MDGs expire in 2015 and this time around, leaders and advocates from across the nation spoke up to ensure that the health and rights of women and young people take center stage in the setting of new goals.

In an article in advance of the consultation in Southern California this weekend, Rep. Karen Bass put it this way:

Around the world, mothers are the center of households and key to shaping our communities, our economies, and our nations. Unfortunately, across the globe, too many women's lives are at risk when they become mothers.

At a similar event in Florida, Laura Robinson, a student at New College of Florida pointed to the particular needs of the next generation:

Globally, youth are especially marginalized from sexual and reproductive healthcare and they are the group primarily affected by these issues and the lack of education regarding them. As a young person in the U.S., I believe it is essential for us to include sexual and reproductive health in the new global development agenda not only to improve the health of our peers around the world, but also to make a statement that these issues are important.

These excerpts mirror statements from residents across the country and from consultations held across Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, North America, Africa, and the Arab States. They also echo preliminary findings from the My World 2015 Survey, an online tool allowing individuals worldwide to tell UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon what development issues they feel should get his -- and the world's -- attention.

Governments around the world, including ours, will use the new UN goals as a guide to set policy and allocate funding. With these community events coming to a close, it is now up to us to push leaders in the administration and in Congress to keep the issue alive in our ongoing work at the UN and in Washington.

Now is the time to keep up the momentum. We must make our voices heard to ensure that the health and rights of women and young people get the focus they deserve, at home and abroad, as the global community decides how best to allocate attention and resources.