At the start of the new millennium, world leaders pledged to tackle poverty, disease, ignorance, and inequality. They went beyond generalities and committed themselves to eight specific Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be met by 2015.
Ten years later, the goals — particularly those relating to women — remain a distant hope. Although women were the focus of discussion at the MDG Summit in New York last September, progress on the goals directly relating to women, namely: “Promoting gender equality and empowering women” and “Reducing by three-quarters the maternal mortality ratio” has been discouraging.
The maternal mortality ratio in sub-Saharan Africa is by far the highest, where one in 23 women face the risk of dying, compared to one in 2,300 in Europe. Children living in Africa have a much higher chance of dying before five years of age.
In Kenya, the maternal mortality ratio during the 10-year period before the 2008/9 Kenya Demographic Health Survey was estimated at 488 per 100,000 live births, which is higher than the figure of 414 per 100,000 live births reported in the 2003 survey.
This implies that in the period between the two surveys, the rate of maternal deaths had either stagnated more or less at the same level, or had actually increased.
Either way, it is clear that these figures do not depict a declining trend towards the target of 147 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births set for 2015.
Most of the world’s women either are or someday will be mothers. Our mothers are of primary importance to each one of us. They are the women who gave us life and, in most cases, educated and nurtured us through childhood.
Mothers as a group form the cornerstone of any healthy society. Not only do they give physical birth to new life, they give moral and intellectual birth to children who will become productive members of society. Thus a society whose mothers are not valued and protected is doomed to slow but certain disintegration.
By putting into consideration the welfare of mothers, there is a ripple effect of a better welfare for the child. It is a double-edged sword.
Ensuring the health of a mother and child during pregnancy and at delivery is central to the development of society. Most causes of complications are preventable and can be addressed by improved access to basic healthcare, nutrition, medicines, and technology.
Essential programmes to ensure healthcare for mothers must be given priority in the development and funding of local, national, and international health initiatives.
As efforts are being made to develop social and economic policies to improve the livelihood of women in Kenya, it is critical to mobilise resources and strengthen political will to promote maternal health.
The world leaders at the UN Summit met to re-energise global commitment to achieve the MDGs. Women’s issues receive heightened attention. But women don’t need attention; they need developments and investments that recognise their dignity and intrinsic worth.
It is only through respecting the dignity of our women and fostering solidarity among individuals that this goal will be achieved by 2015. This way, we can finally live in a new millennium that we are proud to bequeath to future generations.
By Felogene Anumo
Ms Anumo is a committee member of the World Youth Alliance Africa. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was published in Daily Nation, a leading Kenyan Newspaper.