We know what we can achieve.
And we know what needs to be done.
We know that improving access to family planning can reduce maternal and child mortality. Moreover, as long as women are unable to negotiate the number and spacing of their children, gains will be limited. We know that exclusive breastfeeding provides an infant the best start in life. Yet, evidence shows that a child born to a mother who has had access to quality education, especially secondary education, has a greater chance of surviving to see her fifth birthday than a child whose mother has no education. In countries around the world, we have reduced dramatically the incidence of HIV. Yet, gender violence and sexual exploitation will need to be addressed as part of the solution if we are to halt the spread of the disease.
Last week, the United Nations General Assembly debated the post-2015 agenda, and it has never been more clear that women and girls must be top of mind in the global development discussion. Only when we transform unequal gender norms will we be able to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges. This means taking a broader approach than what we have done in the past by integrating gender concerns and putting women and girls front and center in every post-2015 priority.
At FHI 360, we see how making connections between multiple areas of human development can transform lives. Our experts in health, education, nutrition, environment, economic development, civil society, gender equality, youth, research, technology, communication and social marketing enable us to make vital connections — whether through ideas, services or skills — that are making a real difference in people’s lives.
And we see how women and girls are a central part of the equation. Through our Four Pillars Plus project in Kenya and Nigeria, for example, we address the key factors that prevent girls and boys from completing their education. Scholarships help mitigate economic constraints. Mentoring helps girls build life and leadership skills, improves their self-esteem and increases their ability to protect themselves against HIV. Parental and community engagement creates a supportive environment that places high value on girls’ education. The results of the project, funded by the GE Foundation, hold real promise for transformative change: In Kenya’s 10 participating primary schools, enrollment for girls has increased by 29 percent and student pregnancy has been eliminated. Programs like this clearly demonstrate the impact that can be achieved through integrating interventions.
We all need to work harder to put women and girls front and center. As we approach 2015, we need to remember the inextricable link between gender and human development, and the power of women and girls to transform communities and nations. The discussions last week have been crucial to placing gender high on the international agenda, and we at FHI 360 are committed to making true gender equality a reality.