Why We Need a Development Approach That Prioritizes Gender Equality and Better Health

This is a cross-post from a blog that originally appeared on the Global Citizen's Advocacy Health platform 6 July, 2018

We can put a stop to preventable deaths.

Every six seconds, a woman, child, or adolescent dies from a cause that we can prevent — during pregnancy or labor, or during newborn, early childhood, or adolescent life stages.

These millions of lives lost serve as are a shocking reminder that gender inequalities remain worldwide. But we can put an end to these preventable deaths by approaching development in a way that prioritizes health, nutrution, and gender equality together — if we work to ensure that she is equal.

The Global Financing Facility (GFF) was launched in 2015, at a time when just over 10% of all low- or middle-income countries (15 out of 134) achieved Millennium Development Goal 5 to reduce maternal mortality.  To bend the curve, the GFF works with governments to transform how they prioritize and finance health and nutrition, starting with women, children, and adolescents. We focus on neglected interventions, populations, and geographies in countries with the greatest needs.

The GFF takes a holistic, sustainable approach to development, and we know that improving gender equality and improving health are inseparable. Chronic, systemic underinvestment in areas like quality maternal and newborn care, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health including family planning, and nutrition remains a huge barrier to progress.

For many countries, funding is predominantly invested in primary and community health systems, as well as programs that increase access to contraceptives, emergency obstetric and newborn services, exclusive breastfeeding promotion, and cervical cancer screening and treatment.

While this kind of investment in frontline services is necessary, it is insufficient. Preventing more than 5 million deaths per year requires a genuinely holistic approach to the social, economic, and cultural factors that drive practices, including demand for — and uptake of — essential services. We must explicitly tackle deep-rooted gender inequality.

Education plays a vital role in improving gender equality, and not just because it improves literacy rates and increases a woman’s earning potential. It also helps to reduce the number of adolescent pregnancies, which not only result in poorer health outcomes and limit life changes, but are also a leading cause of death.

Keeping girls in school helps reduce child marriage and adolescent pregnancy rates, which is why we are working with the government of Bangladesh to help schools create environments that are sensitive to the needs of girls.

This is just one example of how approaching development with a gender equality lens could truly impact the health of millions.

Better sanitation and access to menstrual hygiene, nutrition services, counseling, and learning about health and reproductive rights are all aimed at reducing drop-out rates among adolescent girls. Improving the education environment while improving access to essential health services work hand in hand.

While it may seem like a secondary issue, improving data collection on health and gender issues must also also be a top priority. 

Civil registrations, such as birth and marriage registrations, are helping to combat child marriage, which contributes to a wide range of poor health and nutrition outcomes, and limits socioeconomic prospects.

Vital statistics systems are essential if countries are to understand causes of death. It allows them to tackle emerging problems, and to understand where and why population health is improving. Helping countries to build the capabilities to capture this important data is part of our work. 

The GFF was launched to help countries to transform their health systems and turn the theory of empowerment into a reality by focusing on health and nutrition. By working together in this way, we can give women and adolescent girls more control over their bodies and access to the vital care they need, for them and their children, now and in the years to come. 

By focusing on health and nutrition, we will make leaps of progress towards a more equitable world where women and children not only survive but thrive. It will be a world where she is equal.