White Ribbon Alliance

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Moving from dialogue to action

PMNCH

May 26, 2016
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - A Global Dialogue for Citizen-led Accountability for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ health took place on the sides of the World Health Assembly on 26 May 2016. The event followed the first ever Global Citizens’ Dialogue at the World Health Assembly in 2015 and although consigned to the Save the Children Offices this year, has been growing in momentum.

Richard Horton, Editor-In-Chief of The Lancet in his opening remarks described the movement as an “explosion in citizen-led accountability…which feels like not just a transformation but something of a revolution taking place in the dialogue around health and wellbeing in countries”. He highlighted the fact that the hearing was not at the United Nations Palais this year but urged participants to embrace their position as outsiders, as a critical advantage, citing persistence, anger, advocacy and lobby as the change makers.

The event was co-hosted by the Governments of Bangladesh, Sweden and Zambia as well PMNCH and Board Members of its NGOs Constituency Group (International Planned Parenthood Federation, Save the Children, White Ribbon Alliance, and World Vision International). Mr Andreas Halverson, representing the Swedish Mission in Geneva outlined some of his government’s reasons for co-hosting the event. These took into account the role of accountability in the context of the Global Strategy and SDGs; the importance Sweden places on citizen engagement which has been a cornerstone and foundation of Sweden’s welfare state and democracy all strengthened by the fact that 25% of SIDA's health-related development aid is channelled through CSOs.

As the representatives from Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sierra Leone were introduced, Betsy McCallon, Executive Director of the White Ribbon Alliance and PMNCH NGO Constituency Chair, took a moment to address the issues of barriers in the process of meaningful engagement and accountability. She questioned if more is being done at the global level to facilitate inclusion and equity, pointing to some of the problems faced in getting an application approved to hold the Dialogue at the UN Palais and by many of the citizen representatives who did not get visas to Geneva to share their experience and raise their concerns for their compatriots at the international level. She ended by calling on all to make concerted efforts to remove barriers in health to participation and implementation.

The representatives described their involvement in coordinating Citizens’ Hearings in their countries Ms Joanna Tom Kargbo, civil society activist from Sierra Leone who worked with more than 10 CSO organisations in her country described the process as “the beginning of the journey”. She facilitated hearings in 15 districts in Sierra Leone and explained how through a coordinated effort under the banner of “nothing about us, without us,” created a media storm. The media campaign rallied groups from all levels of government and society to join the hearings on issues around accountability, effective and efficient delivery of services and the need for government to fast track action on commitments made.

Ms Imma Mukrimatunnisa, a 24-year-old midwife from Indonesia who has seen many women die during childbirth explained how her intention was to raise attention to maternal and newborn deaths at these hearings, conducted in five provinces in Indonesia. Outcomes of these discussions reached the national level with a report sent back to citizens.

Ms Shahnaz Munni a journalist from Bangladesh was involved in hearings in five districts in Bangladesh that brought together community and government officials. She explained that it was her responsibility as a journalist to highlight the issues these citizens’ hearings raised and some of the critical themes that came up around child marriage and child pregnancy, lack of resources at health facilities and the need for better accountability by health service providers.

The conversation moved on to some of the knowledge, action and results and that have come out of these citizens’ hearings. One was the importance of inclusion, knowing first and foremost that these hearings are happening, where and how citizens can engage. Further to that was putting in place proper accountability mechanisms and reporting back to citizens. The panellists discussed the importance of engaging adolescents as well as working together and forging partnerships across sectors, particularly with parliamentarians to elevate conversations happening at the grassroots to the national level.
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