Time to Deliver for Women: The Post-2015 Agenda

May was a great month for showcasing the centrality of women to every single goal on the international agenda for development and poverty eradication. Dare I call it a watershed moment? It depends on what happens next.
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May was a great month for showcasing the centrality of women to every single goal on the international agenda for development and poverty eradication. Dare I call it a watershed moment? It depends on what happens next.

The third Women Deliver conference -- a global call for action to improve the health and well-being of girls and women -- closed on the day that the UN's High Level Panel on post-2015 development objectives issued its recommendations. Both groups declared that poverty cannot be eradicated until no one, especially girls and women, is left behind.

The message: we must all get out of the "silos" that have each of us working against one problem in the development world while ignoring the rest. We must instead recognize that just as our targets are interlinked -- HIV/AIDS, family planning, maternal mortality, violence against women, child marriage -- so must our work -- and our spending -- be comprehensive as well.

In Kuala Lumpur, Women Deliver brought together advocates, donors, service providers, researchers, policy makers, royalty, and celebrities from around the world to share stories of progress in advancing the status and leadership of girls and women. We cheered success stories in tackling the persistent challenges and barriers that block women from achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights -- and there are more and more such stories.

Women Deliver has created a vision of what we want for girls and women around the world, and of what is required to achieve it - -in family planning, maternal health, and the battle against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, including HPV. Those three areas of health cannot be separated in any woman's life. Therefore they must be addressed holistically.

To combat HIV/AIDS, for example, interventions must have women at the center, because HIV now has a woman's face: Women represent about half of all people living with HIV worldwide and more than half in sub-Saharan Africa. Twenty years ago, at the International Conference on Population and Development that set the course for so much of what we have done since, HIV/AIDS was not seen as a women's epidemic. Now that we know it is, we must make sure that for the next 20 years we include access to HIV prevention, care and treatment as a sexual and reproductive right, and as a core part of family planning and maternal health programs.

We must put them together. Treatment for prevention of HIV is critical and necessary, but alone it will not reduce a woman's chances of getting pregnant or protect her from complications of pregnancy. Quality maternal health care and family planning must be made available to all women, including those living with HIV. Separate funding for these three approaches has long discouraged collaboration among activists and hampered the creation of comprehensive programs -- the very kind that we need most.

On the last day of Women Deliver, across the globe from Kuala Lumpur, the UN's High Level Panel released its report: "A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development." It focused on merging the sustainable development agenda with the Millennium Development Goals that mostly won't be achieved by their 2015 target date. It stressed that no one can be left behind if extreme poverty is to be ended. That means women, young people, the disabled, the marginalized, and everyone else.

The panel's recommendations include specific targets on child and maternal mortality, immunization, empowering girls and women, ensuring access to universal sexual and reproductive health and rights, preventing and eliminating violence against women, ending child marriage, and eliminating discrimination against women in political, economic, and public life.

It's a simple message, the same as that from Women Deliver: women who are safe, healthy, educated, and empowered to realize their potential can transform their families, their communities, their economies and their societies. It's what we have been saying for decades, and it is more than heartening to hear it again from so many powerful voices at once.

To end poverty worldwide we must become a serious, broad-based coalition of social movements and global health advocates committed to human rights and systemic change. We must work together for gender equality in a pact of mutual accountability among global and national decision-makers, NGOs, and international donors and agencies.

So let us then be up and doing, as the poet said, reaching out from our silos to connect to each other over our core goals. If we can do that, we will be able in 20 years to look back at May 2013 as what I believe it was: a watershed moment in progress for women's sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world.

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