White Ribbon Alliance

Woma carries baby in Mozambique

UN chiefs urged to give up seats for civil society groups at maternal health talks

The Guardian

October 7, 2014
Advocates warn that citizen leaders are excluded from high-level talks in New York and urge agency leaders to include them

A global network of maternal health advocates is calling on the heads of UN agencies to give up their seats to civil society leaders at next week’s high-level meetings in New York.

The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood (WRA) wants what it calls the “usual suspects” to offer up their places at often closed discussions during the UN general assembly (UNGA), which would give civil society representatives a global platform to talk about the issues that directly affect their work and their countries.

Civil society groups have often complained that they are excluded from key meetings at forums such as the general assembly, or, if they are invited on to panels, feel their inclusion is more tokenistic than influential.

WRA has produced a mock tabloid newspaper – Citizens Post – to highlight its message, which will be distributed during the UNGA.

Kathy Calvin, president and CEO of the UN Foundation, Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UN population fund, and Flavia Bustreo, deputy director general of the WHO are among the UN leaders specifically targeted by the WRA.

The campaign has received some positive responses.

Calvin said on Twitter: “I hear you @WRAglobal. Glad to support new voices of adolescent girls at#UNGA #Commit2Deliver #MDGMomentum.”

Joy Phumaphi, co-chair of the independent expert review group for Every Woman Every Child, said: “This is a brilliant idea! I love it! I will get back to you during the coming week, after talking to the various organisers, where I have been invited to speak.”

Bustreo, replying on behalf of her and Chan, said: “We will encourage the organisers of the various events to consider allowing representatives of this constituency to take our places at some of the events at the UNGA where the voices of civil society need to be heard and are absent.”

As a result of the campaign, Faridah Mwanje, a communications officer from WRA Uganda, has been invited to take part in a meeting on Sunday, alongside Chan and Bob Orr, UN assistant secretary general.

“It’s not that we don’t need meetings; when a woman’s risk of dying in childbirth is a hundred times higher in one country than in another, the more attention the better,” said Brigid McConville, director of WRA.

“[But] we think the wrong people are at these events. It’s the same people, saying the same thing.

“Let’s hear from people making change happen in their own countries, who know what the problems are. Let’s have them on the panels at the UN instead.

Rose Mlay, national coordinator at WRA Tanzania, added: “Without citizen leaders at the top tables there is limited accountability for promises made in NYC at the big UN general assembly meetings. What is said in New York, stays in New York.”

WRA will be using the UNGA to call on leaders to keep their promises to improve maternal healthcare and reduce deaths in childbirth and pregnancy. With less than 500 days until the deadline of the millennium development goals, commitments to reduce by three-quarters the number of maternal deaths is still far from being a reality for most countries. A recent report in the Lancet said only 16 countries were expected to meet MDG five by the end of next year.

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