In January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon helped set an important tone for 2012.
A father of two daughters himself, the Secretary-General called on leaders to increase their investment in girls’ and women’s health – calling it “the right thing to do and the smart thing to do for national economies and global stability.” His words echoed the groundbreaking research and advocacy efforts of campaigns like the Girl Effect, 10×10, Girl Up and others that have proved that healthy girls and women have the power to lift families, communities and entire countries from the lowest rungs of poverty.
Mr. Ki-moon’s call did not go unheeded. On the contrary, 2012 saw an outpouring of new investments, partnerships and enthusiasm for programs that target health challenges facing girls and young women. Awareness, at last, has turned into action.
Examples of this shift are evident as one reflects on the year. In July, at the London Summit on Family Planning, private and public stakeholders from around the world pledged U.S. $2.6 billion to scale up family planning programs. During the same month, at the 2012 International AIDS Conference, we saw examples of how private companies like Johnson & Johnson, Alere and P&G are working with non-profit organizations to support HIV interventions for young women, mothers and couples across the developing world. These private-public partnership models build on successful projects like the Nike Foundation’s 12+ Program in Rwanda, which educates young girls about HIV, delaying sexual debut and other important health issues.
In August, U.S. President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order on “Preventing and Responding to Violence Against Women and Girls Globally.” This presidential order will dramatically increase coordination among U.S. government agencies, including the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally.
In September, the new UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children (launched in March) defined a priority list of 13 overlooked life-saving commodities and recommended concrete actions that will rapidly increase both their access and use. The Commission hopes usage of these 13 commodities alone will save more than 6 million women and children by 2015. One month later, the United Nations followed this initiative with the October launch of the first-ever International Day of the Girl Child, highlighting the critical topic of child marriage.
Collectively, these 2012 milestones will help to fill critical gaps in the new global health policy and donor landscape. Public budgets have constricted and, as a result, governments alone do not have the capacity to address serious challenges like HIV, family planning, pneumonia and malnutrition without strong partnerships. What are needed now are private investments and private-public partnerships to springboard scientifically proven health solutions that have the potential to reach millions of girls and women.
The year 2012 was a pivotal step in the right direction. It’s imperative to build on these successes and make sure that access to basic health care will no longer be a barrier for girls and women worldwide to reach their full potential.
It starts with a girl.