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At Large
Limelight on mothers—and on all women

By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:45:00 06/09/2010

Filed Under: Women, Health

WASHINGTON D.C.?PERHAPS THE REASON the health of mothers and babies has been on my mind lately is that I?m in this city to take part in the second global conference of ?Women Deliver.? First held in London in 2007, ?Women Deliver? focuses the attention of policy-makers, demographers, health personnel, activists, and others working for and in behalf of women on the health of mothers and would-be mothers, including girls and teens, as well as of infants and families.

Of particular interest is the issue of maternal mortality, the deaths of women due to causes related to pregnancy and delivery. The saying that each time a woman gives birth she has ?one foot in the grave? demonstrates not just the risk still inherent in childbirth but also the way societies have come to reconcile themselves with the reality of women ?dying while giving life.?

But as Jill Shefield, president of Women Deliver, states, women don?t have to die while pregnant or while giving birth or as a consequence of these. ?Now in 2010, we return to demonstrate to the world that we know what needs to be done and how to do it. We know what it takes to improve maternal and reproductive health, we know the value of keeping girls in school, we know how to redress gender inequities, we know how to invest in women?s livelihoods. The solutions for girls and women exist!?

Alongside the general plenaries and concurrent session are special meetings among parliamentarians, health ministers and first ladies, each with a special agenda for discussion and action.

Lined up as speakers in the three-day conference is an impressive roster of international officials and thinkers. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon will open the conference along with Chile?s President Michele Bachelet, while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will deliver a greeting via video. Among the other speakers are Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, who will be speaking in a session on ?Legal Barriers to Maternal Health Care,? WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan, and UNFPA chief Thoraya Obaid, while media personalities like Christiane Amanpour, Ariana Huffington, Nancy Gibbs and Ashley Judd will chair roundtables. Melinda Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will also address a ?lunchtime conversation? where she is expected to announce a bold new plan to address the issues of maternal and child mortality and reproductive health.

* * *

THE SECOND day of the conference will center on the 50th anniversary of the oral contraceptive pill, with questions about the impact of The Pill on women?s lives and societies, and the challenges that lie ahead in employing contraception and family planning to prevent maternal deaths and improve the lives of women and their families.

Among the questions posed during this special symposium are: How did the pill and its progeny contribute to development and how was it received in developing countries? Why is there still a large unmet need for contraception and how can that need be met? Why the backlash against the pill?

The third and last day will give young women a voice?to talk about the impact on their lives of reproductive health measures, including the evolution of thinking and language, and thus of policies, on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

* * *

CO-CHAIRS Dr. Fred Sai of Ghana and President Bachelet, in their introduction, pointed out that ?Women continue to bear a vastly disproportionate burden of the work in this world, and they continue to be paid less than men if they are paid at all. Women feed Southeast Asia, providing 90 percent of the labor for rice cultivation. African women produce 80 percent of all food and carry two-thirds of all goods from producer to market to consumer. Women?s unpaid work?farming, managing their homes, caring for children?equals about one-third of the world?s GDP.

?It is said that women are the economic heart of the developing world. If women are not healthy and educated, then their families, communities and nations will not grow.?

?Women Deliver? is as much a battle-cry as an expression of concern. Part of the organizers? advocacy is that women can play an even greater role in the development of their societies if only they are given the attention and resources they deserve. Then, healthy, knowledgeable, confident and happy, they can contribute their energy, wisdom and empathy to improving not just their own lives, but also those of everyone around them.

* * *

SEEKING to provide greater access to food sources, the Department of Agriculture has been promoting the ?Programang Gulayan ng Masa? among households and schools. To date, some 102,000 backyard gardens have been established in communities, while 740 school gardens (?Gulayan sa Paaralan?) in public elementary and secondary schools provide students not just with free (and fresh) vegetables, but also with a first-hand experience in growing their own food.

Local agricultural offices play a key role in the promotion of the program. Interested groups in a community or school need only coordinate with the staff of the local DA office which will conduct an orientation seminar. The local offices will also facilitate the provision of seeds or seedlings free of charge.

DA?s ?Programang Gulayan ng Masa? is part of the Accelerated Hunger Mitigation Program (AHMP) implemented by the Anti-Hunger Task Force consisting of 29 member-agencies, with the National Nutrition Council of the Department of Health performing oversight function. The AHMP is being implemented in consonance with the objectives of the Philippine Medium-Term Development Plan.

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