Giving Women a Stronger Voice in Global Health

The following post was originally published at UN Foundation Blog. Kim Cernak serves as Deputy Director at Friends of the Global Fight.

As the global community looks to 2030, advocates and leaders are putting women at the center of their development agendas. The gender focus of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) illustrate leaders’ belief that the empowerment of women and girls globally will be crucial to eradicating poverty, hunger, instability, and deadly epidemics. As such, global health leaders are working diligently on expanding programming to make this empowerment for greater well-being a reality.

SDG 3 highlights the aim for everyone to lead healthy lives. While the world has made great progress fighting epidemics like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria, much work remains.

In particular, women and girls face serious barriers to accessing health services, due in great part to gender-based inequities. For example, more than 1,000 adolescent girls become infected with HIV daily. Women in southern Africa are twice as likely to be living with HIV as are men their own age. And both HIV/AIDS and TB are among the leading causes of death for women of reproductive age.

Global health organizations are supporting a growing roster of on-the-ground efforts to expand gender parity and ensure that women have equal access to health care, education and economic opportunity:

  • Over the past six years, Global Fund spending has increased significantly to address gender-related global health issues; today, 55-60% of Global Fund investments benefit women and girls. Those investments are working: Between 2005 and 2014, AIDS-related deaths among women experienced a 58% decline in African countries hit hardest by the epidemic.
  • The UN Foundation is leading the charge to empower adolescent girls through initiatives such as the Girl Up campaign, powered in part by a team of Teen Advisors who know girls’ challenges firsthand. These advisors learn leadership skills and work to reach others in places where it’s hardest to be a girl. Girl Up focuses on anything girls need – whether it be doctor visits, living free from violence, or even just access to school – and invests in girls to strengthen communities and end global poverty.
  • The ONE campaign’s initiative, “Poverty is Sexist,” says it all. This campaign highlights the stark realities faced by women in poverty, stating, for example, that a woman in Sierra Leone is 183 times more likely to die bringing a new life into the world than a woman in Switzerland. The initiative’s report calls out 10 critical areas where governments, civil society, and private sector partners must act in 2016 to create lasting change for women, including robust support of the Global Fund’s upcoming Replenishment.
  • Many additional programs are working hard to better target the health of women and girls, as highlighted here.

Later this month, advocates will unite for Women Deliver, the largest conference of the past decade on the rights and wellbeing women and girls. Participants will discuss how health investments should pave the way for more women to make decisions about their own lives. While it may be easy to dismiss women and girls as just one demographic in a complex development puzzle, they should instead be seen as key to unlocking better health for all – and the source of a win for SDG 3.

Supporting and empowering them is how we will end epidemics and continue saving lives by 2030 and beyond.

UN Foundation Blog Editor’s Note: This post is part of the blog series, “Her Goals: Our Future,” which highlights the connections between girls and women and the Sustainable Development Goals. Guest blogger views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the UN Foundation.