White Ribbon Alliance



October 1, 2014
by Betsy McCallon, Executive Director, White Ribbon Alliance | Global Secretariat

Citizen leaders made a splash around this year’s United Nations General Assembly by taking the place of ‘Usual Suspects’ to be heard at a wide range of important events on women and children’s health. While this created exciting momentum, I’ve also heard a few questions: Why did we do this? Why did we target those individuals? And where are we going with this?

Accountability is one of the biggest buzzwords within the global health and development space, and there is increasing recognition that sustainability and accountability are linked. Citizens, coordinated by civil society organizations, have an immense role to play in translating government commitments beyond New York and beyond the capital cities to ensure that they are delivered. This often means the rather unsexy work of identifying barriers to commitments being delivered and then systematically advocating for the changes that will further progress towards the commitments. It means bringing together communities, health care providers, district leaders, and elected officials to discuss what isn’t working and coming up with practical solutions.

Asking for space for these citizen leaders was not a token exercise to give voice to those on the ‘frontlines’ to provide a reality check of sad and heart wrenching stories. Instead, the platform given showcased the evidence that progress on achieving commitments can be greatly accelerated with strong citizen engagement. With less than 500 days remaining until the end of the Millennium Development Goals, we want to highlight how much more can be done if citizen leaders are supported to lead the change and continue to work with and push governments to deliver.

We targeted strong leaders within and outside the UN system (and more than just on the poster!) because we know that they believe in citizen engagement to see sustainable changes. These individuals demonstrated their leadership by actively commending the campaign and making space for citizen leaders. We look forward to continuing to work with them as we move forward. For example, Richard Horton, Kathy Calvin and Ted Turner all called themselves ‘Usual Suspects’ on their platforms before handing over to citizen leaders to speak in their place.

Director General Margaret Chan and Flavia Bustreo of the World Health Organization enthusiastically commended the campaign as they recognize the important role citizens can – and must – play in accelerated progress and want to play their part to support these efforts.

So what’s next? Over the course of the next year, White Ribbon Alliance and partners will be holding a series of national level dialogues to influence the Sustainable Development Goals and contribute to shaping the next phase for Every Women Every Child to ensure that momentum is not lost, existing commitments are not swept under the rug, and gaps are prioritized. We’ll be advocating for several of the Independent Expert Review groups recommendations including a new independent accountability mechanism with formal citizen engagement. We’ll be feeding into the Global Financing Facility consultations, including advocating for civil society funding as a central part of the accountability strategy. We’ll keep up the global drumbeat and amplify national successes.

Next time we are in New York (or London or Geneva) applauding new policy, financing and program commitments to women and children’s health, I hope that we will fully recognize and support the hard work to follow by citizen and civil society leaders to ensure these promises truly make a difference in the lives of women and children in their countries.