This guest post was written by Catharine Taylor, Vice President, Health Programs Group, Management Sciences for Health.
The evidence is clear: to achieve progress in the world, now is the time to prioritize and invest in women and girls. As key drivers of sustainable development, when women are empowered to fully participate in society, everyone benefits. We know, for instance, that women spend more of their income on their families than men do – prioritizing healthcare, nutrition, and education, setting up families and communities for more prosperous futures. We also know that when women are empowered to care for themselves and their children’s health from pregnancy through childhood and adolescence, families and communities grow stronger and more productive.
As I prepare to join the Commission on the Status of Women next week, where the focus will be on women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work, I am reminded of a visit to Malawi last month. For many years, women in the country’s remote villages had no access to health care during pregnancy and childbirth, which meant no information on how to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy for themselves and their baby, and no care if and when complications arose, almost certainly resulting in death. But now, more than 90 percent of all women in Malawi go to a health care facility to deliver their children, up from only 53 percent in 2000. The investments in midwifery education and an expanding system to make healthcare free for the poorest have greatly contributed to better quality of care and improved health outcomes. Women’s participation in Village Savings and Loans associations, agribusiness groups, and livestock activities has increased markedly in the past few years, securing women‘s access to household income and greater engagement in non-traditional roles.
The power of investing in women is paying off.
Today, there’s a new generation of young Malawian women who are finding that family planning tools are helping them take charge of their futures. And there are more and more women confronting barriers to education and adding their voice in the workforce or in political spheres. By focusing on women and children, the country has also made incredible progress in addressing the HIV and AIDS epidemic, reducing the number of new HIV infections per year by more than half in just over ten years.
Under the new sustainable development agenda, countries and development actors from across the spectrum have an opportunity to work together to help communities ensure that women and girls have access to a comprehensive range of services promoting their right to health. On International Women’s Day, we at Management Sciences for Health mark the achievements of women and call for continued recognition that investments in global development programs yield a return that improves our security, prosperity, and advances the values of our nation. By helping women drive development to advance their health and well-being and that of their families, their communities, and societies, we will build lasting change that benefits all.
Catharine Taylor is the Vice President of the Health Programs Group at Management Sciences for Health – a leading organization dedicated to building stronger health systems for greater health impact. Catharine is an internationally recognized expert in maternal, newborn, and child health policies and programs, a champion for women’s health and rights, and an advocate for universal, equitable access to high-quality care. Follow Catharine on twitter @CTaylor_MSHVeep.