2012 Was a Year for Women and Girls: Will We See the Same Momentum in 2013?

In March of this year, on International Women's Day, I asked, "Is 2012 the Year for Women and Girls?" Now, as we enter 2013, I find myself looking back on my call for stronger partnerships, more global coalitions and wondering, Are those enough?

2012 was a year for women. We saw tremendous renewal of the commitment by world leaders to ensure that countries and communities have the political support and financial resources needed to improve access to sexual and reproductive health. Many thanks are due to passionate champions such as Melinda Gates, Hillary Clinton, David Cameron, as well as Mary Robinson, Gro Bruntlandt, and countless international, national, and grassroots leaders.

I have witnessed with great admiration the breakthroughs in countries such as the Philippines, which just this month passed a bill ensuring the right of all its citizens to access family planning information and services regardless of economic status or other social disparities.

2012 gave all of us cause to celebrate with the news that globally, maternal mortality rates are beginning to decline, albeit more gradually than we would like to see. It is astounding that maternal mortality rates have decreased by almost 50% over the past 20 years. And that is not the only health indicator going in the right direction. 2012 also brought the confirmation that new worldwide HIV infections are down considerably. Indeed, we have made as much progress in halting new infections over the past two years as we did over the preceding decade!

And 2012 was most certainly a year for girls, and all young people. Repeatedly this year, we have seen the voices and needs of youth breaking through the tangle of competing priorities. In April, the UN Commission on Population and Development adopted a historic resolution on adolescents and youth at its 45th session held in New York. Building on this foundation, 2012 is likely to be remembered as a landmark year when the fundamental freedoms and rights of young people to decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their own sexual and reproductive health is finally recognized by the international community.

This achievement gained strength and affirmation again in June at the Rio+20 Conference, and most recently in Bali when young people from around the world gathered at the Global Youth Forum to discuss what they wanted on the international agenda for youth. The call was clear. Recommendations include access to safe, legal, accessible abortion for youth without judgment; non-discrimination and protection for LBGTQI and a clear call for sexual rights. Kudos to the incredible young people and advocates who made this happen!

As I reflect on all of this progress, I am still left wondering: will this momentum carry into 2013? Leadership at all levels stepped up -- from civil society to governments, global coalitions to individuals. But, as I reflect on 2012, I must admit that I believe we need something else if we want to see real progress. We need the kind of progress toward universal sexual and reproductive health and rights that will make the tragedy of Savita Halappanavar's death unimaginable, not just in Ireland, but in every country.

We may not be able to prevent the death of every single woman who dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, but we can and should be doing everything possible to ensure that women survive by ensuring access to family planning services and skilled care during pregnancy, and access to abortion services and post-abortion care.

We also need to garner support for funding interventions that will save lives, including funding for contraceptive services and education. It should be untenable for leaders in any country to cut funding for these life-saving interventions as a means to resolve budget deficits.

Taking on the challenge to further advance the progress we have made on sexual and reproductive health and rights will mean that we have to tackle the most difficult barriers: profound gender inequality, and a failure to understand that reproductive rights lie at the center of most development and human-rights obstacles. We cannot make progress as individuals or as a society if we cannot first and foremost make decisions about our own bodies.

So, let us take up that challenge. Let us celebrate that 2012 was a year for women and girls, be inspired by the courage of our global champions, of the youth who are advocating for themselves and making themselves part of the debate, of the unnamed women fighting for their rights in remote regions of the world each and every day. Let us also do what we can in our own ways to assert and protect the rights of all people to determine their own sexual and reproductive health. This year has instilled a renewed energy in me to take this effort to the next level. I hope it will inspire the same in you.