Finding the Solutions: International Women’s Day 2015

Sarah McKee

Project Associate

It has been over a century since the first International Women’s Day in 1909 and enormous strides have been made in addressing not only inequality in health, but also the disparities in health care access for women and girls.  To celebrate progress for International Women’s Day 2015, Management Sciences for HealthPathfinder International, and the Universal Access Project organized a panel in Washington, D.C,  titled “Tailored Solutions to Prioritize Women and Girl’s Health Globally.”

Kicking off the panel, Sharon D’Agostino, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship at Johnson & Johnson, shared the impact of increased public and private partnership in building stronger health interventions. D’Agostino described a current Johnson & Johnson project partnering with the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition to use mobile phones to communicate vital information to new mothers. Disseminating health information in this project gives women and girls the knowledge needed to decide whether to seek services.

Dr. Catherine Baye, a member of the International Youth Alliance on Family Planning and a medical doctor that has practiced in Cameroon, agreed with D’Agostino on the need for information, “Knowledge and information is lacking, but myths and misconceptions of contraception are prevalent.” Additionally, young people have far too long been left out of the conversation about adolescent health and strategies to increase access to family planning. Youths have an opinion and need to be engaged, Baye said, “We want to influence decisions from the beginning, we deserve engagement and ownership over youth targeted health programs.”

Engagement was the buzzword of the panel as Luis Tam, Global Technical Lead for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health at Management Sciences for Health, continued with the theme.  Describing the need to prevent maternal mortality, Tam touted the successes of social networks and peer groups in preventing maternal deaths.  “Community support groups for pregnant and post-partum women can decrease maternal mortality by 40%,” he shared.  By linking women to other women, you not only empower them but link them to life saving services.

Sarah Eckhoff, Technical Advisor for Gender at Pathfinder International also spoke of connecting women with lifesaving services. “One in three women will experience gender based violence in their lifetime,” Eckhoff said. One solution is creating one-stop centers where multiple services for survivors are located in one location including legal, psychosocial support, police, and health services. However, until the health services to women and survivors of GBV are destigmatized, disparity of services provided to women and girls will remain.

None of the solutions discussed at the panel are possible without the health of women and girls being an international priority. As D’Agostino succinctly stated, “We need to ensure that women and girls’ health stays at the forefront of the Sustainable Development Goal agenda.” And staying on the agenda takes effort every day of the year. Advocacy is needed to highlight women’s health and ensure accomplishments are shared and celebrated beyond International Women’s Day. 

Photo: Dr. Catherine Baye (far right) speaks as co-panelist, Louis Tam, Seema Dalan, and Sarah Eckhart look on.