A group of some 60 parliamentarians, representing 35 countries and every continent, publicly declared the need for a more focused investment of development dollars on women and girls in a resolution released on May 17, 2011. The resolution highlights the vital, but neglected, role of women in combating population and development issues, and calls on world leaders to enhance the protection of girls through measures such as HIV prevention and the elimination of barriers to family planning. Their appeal took place at the Global Parliamentarians’ Summit, held May 26–27, 2011, notably just a week ahead of the annual G8 meeting, when government leaders of the world’s largest economies met in Deauville, France. At the G8 summit, leaders also discussed global development issues and released a declaration that reaffirmed prior commitments to maternal health, but was otherwise silent on issues of gender equality or women’s rights.
The parliamentarians’ summit, titled “Women and Girls: the Forgotten Drivers of Development,” was held at the French National Assembly in Paris. Participants ranged from academics and public health advocates to representatives of international organizations and governments. From all participating, a common articulation arose: investment in the developing world’s 600 million young women is the most cost-effective way to drive development. “Investing in women will give a boost to health, education, the economy, and democracy,” noted Aïcha Bah Diallo of the Forum of African Women Educationalists. “It will also promote peace and stability.” The parliamentarians’ call to action served as a strong conclusion after two days of discussion and planning themed around the role women and girls play in both the management of population growth and human and social development.
Current estimates are that women receive less than two cents of every development dollar. “If development policy is all about fairness, why is it so sexist?” asked Danielle Bousquet, vice president of the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development. Accordingly, the appeal aims for government leaders to take into account that “equality between women and men is far from being achieved,” pointing specifically to the feminization of HIV/AIDS and the severe underrepresentation of women in government.
“Women and girls are the backbone of our societies,” noted former Canadian parliament member Raymonde Folco, “but we’re failing to support their full potential.” In the appeal, the delegates named the vulnerability of girls and women as one of the major challenges in the management of global population dynamics. In particular, they highlighted some of the injustices and inequities hindering “social and human development, both at a personal and a societal level”: forced domestic work, lack of education, child marriages, unwanted pregnancy, early childbirth, and sexual abuse. Their resolution also urged G8 leaders to follow through on promises related to maternal health made at last year’s G8 summit and to be accountable and transparent in those efforts.
The Deauville G8 Declaration, released May 27, does address maternal and reproductive health issues by reaffirming leaders’ support for the Muskoka Initiative, a funding commitment established at the 2010 G8 Summit to promote, among other things, “sexual and reproductive health care and services, including voluntary family planning; health education; [and] treatment and prevention of diseases including infectious diseases.” The initiative, which promises US$10 million between 2010 and 2015, sought to accelerate progress toward meeting Millennium Development Goal 5, a goal created at the 2000 G8 summit to reduce the maternal mortality rate by three quarters and achieve universal access to reproductive health by 2015. This year’s declaration states, “[we] reaffirm our commitment to improving maternal health and reducing child mortality, most notably through the Muskoka Initiative for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health launched in 2010.”
How much progress G8 leaders are actually making on the Muskoka Initiative, however, remains unclear. An accountability report released just before this year’s summit revealed how much money each nation has promised to give, but not whether they have actually dispersed those funds, or what specifically they plan to do with them. The G8 members have stated that they are fulfilling their Muskoka commitments, but it is not known if or to what degree they are in fact delivering on those promises. The UN has said that at the current rate of progress, it is unlikely that the G8 will achieve Millennium Development Goal 5 by 2015.
Additionally, the Deauville Declaration does not extend its focus on women beyond maternal health. Aside from reaffirming their commitment to the Muskoka Initiative, the declaration’s only acknowledgment of women is a brief nod in the preamble: “In light of the recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, we renewed our commitment to support democratic reform around the world and to respond to the aspirations for freedom, including freedom of religion, and empowerment, particularly for women and youth.” Neither gender equality, education and autonomy for women and girls, nor the role of women in world development were mentioned.
“Supporting the Muskoka Initiative is important,” comments Jen Heitel Yakush, Public Policy Director for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, “but leaders at next year’s G8 must increase their accountability and make women and girls a real priority.”
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