This blog was originally written by Ramona Ridolfi, the Gender Advisor at HKI Bangladesh.
Last week I had the pleasure to attend the third Women Deliver Conference, one of the largest world conferences of the decade focused on the health and well-being of girls and women, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Women Deliver brought together more than 4,500 leaders and advocates, representing over 2,200 organisations and 149 countries, over a three-day event.
The key message of the conference, “Investing in women and girls is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do,” was repeated across every single day. It reiterated that good health is a fundamental human right, and investing in women’s and children’s health saves lives, increases the ability of women and families to earn money, allows children to access education and contributes overall to a better quality of life. It also reminded us that gender equality is a core development objective in its own right, and also smart economics.
In these three extraordinary days of conversations and networking, I heard talks from the impact of climate change on sexual and reproductive health, to abortion, mobile health technology, maternal and newborn health, women’s economic sustainability and post-2015 strategies. I was particularly pleased to attend sessions on the need to include men in the work toward improving the health and well-being of women and girls. Involving men in securing and retaining women’s universal human rights has in fact proven to be crucial.
In our BEAM project at HKI Bangladesh, we developed and pilot-tested an integrated gender and nutrition curriculum with activities that directly discuss and challenge existing intra-household inequalities that underlie food insecurity and malnutritrion. Drawing from HKI’s fieldwork and considering local discriminatory practices against women, the curriculum was designed to include all family stakeholders (mothers, fathers, mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law) in discussions around nutrition and gender-related problems. Increasing the status of women within the household and allowing them to decide over exclusive breastfeeding, as well as their own nutrition and that of the children, can only happen if all family members, not just women and girls, are aware of the importance of an adequate diet. While working in a context where women’s decisions are almost always mediated by their in-laws and family members, we realized the importance of including in our work all household members, in order to see behavior change.
Within the overarching context of the conference – the new development framework post-2015 and the lessons learnt from the MDGs - the main learning point for me was the call to invest in young adolescent girls (aged 9-14). As debated at Women Deliver, the social, health and economic needs of these girls have not been considered enough. Despite the fact that most girls within this age range are pulled out of school and married off, at the expenses of their education and health, they have too often been forgotten by development policies worldwide.
Looking ahead, I do hope to see a more proactive debate and actions to ensure that young girls are included in the future framework: by ignoring them, we are denying them of their rights and slowing the process of improving the health and economy of our entire societies.