International Women’s day on 8 March is an opportunity to put women’s rights and gender equality on top of the international development agenda. We have met with Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director at UNFPA, who says we must accelerate efforts to combat gender inequality.
The progress towards strengthened women’s rights and gender equality has been uneven since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing 20 years ago, when the states of the world agreed on strengthening the position of women. Nearly 800 women die every day from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Millions of women around the world lack the power to decide over their own bodies, including 8,000 girls who risk genital mutilation every day.
“We need to do more of what we have done before, making sure that girls are given their space, that their rights are respected, that they stay in school and become agents of their own lives”, says Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director of UNFPA.
Sida supports UNFPA’s midwifery programme and its Maternal Health Thematic Fund (MHTF), which aims to improve the lives of women and adolescent girls in 33 countries around the world where maternal and child mortality is at its highest.
“We have been able, with the assistance from Sida, to reach more women than ever before through this programme. And most importantly, through the midwifery training institutions, we have been able to establish midwifery schools and train midwives who have ensured that women don’t die giving birth”, says Babatunde Osotimehin.
Cooperation needed to combat gender-based violence
Combating gender-based violence is another important aspect in the work for women’s rights and increased gender equality.
“Gender is by far the most sensitive issue in the international development agenda because of the various cultural and religious aspects brought into it. What we do challenges norms in various countries, and we know that,” says Babatunde Osotimehin.
For programmes against gender-based violence to be successful, Babatunde Osotimehin says working with governments and leaders at national and local levels is critical:
“It’s about establishing long-term trust and relationships, to bring forward an alternative view and let the community leaders make choices themselves. If you don’t work with communities, and if they don’t buy into the agenda, you cannot reach sustainable change.”
A new mutual initiative has been established by the UNFPA midwifery program and the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), focusing on the active involvement of midwives in the work towards eliminating this harmful practice. In 2014 Sweden allocated 40 million SEK in support of the initiative.
Standing up for equality “the right thing to do”
Babatunde Osotimehin is not only a global leader in the area of public health but also a physician and a father of five. His decision to stand up for equal rights of boys’ and girls’ was not a difficult one. “I have four daughters so that gives me a reason”, he exclaims.
“I grew up in a community where gender equality was ignored, so I think it’s important to respect women and their space and to give them the opportunity to be all they want to be”, he continues.
On the occasion of the International Women’s Day 2015, Dr. Osotimehin sends a clear message to all men, boys, women and girls all around the world:
“2015 is the year where we must make gender equality happen. It is not just the right thing to do. It is the most acceptable thing to do given the fact that each person must be allowed to decide over his or her own human rights.”