Helping girls and young women in developing countries transition from school to work isn’t always an easy path. In many places, early marriage and childbirth prevent girls from pursuing an education, putting their earnings potential—and future prosperity—at significant risk.
So the big news out of the MDG Summit today is the launch of Every Woman, Every Child, the new joint action plan to help reach MDGs 4 and 5 on child and maternal health.
The World Bank, numerous UN agencies, governments and civil society groups have all pledged their support. But another document with pledges is not going to make much difference to poor mothers and children in developing countries unless we act on three things.
Almost two thirds of developing countries reached gender parity at the primary school level by 2005. Maternal mortality rates have dropped by a third. As many as 76 developing nations are on track to reach the goal of access to safe drinking water.
The statistics tell us there is a clear path to achieving the goals. So in New York, the focus should be on action and the next concrete steps to turning the goals from paper targets to reality. Given a decade has passed, the time for just more talk has also passed.
The Millennium Development Goals Awards ceremony last night in New York was a brief moment of celebration for the wonderful progress that some countries have made towards the goals. Even as we dwell this week on sobering statistics and the tough road ahead, these awards are an inspiring reminder that success is possible in the face of tremendous odds in poor countries.
This morning, on my way to an advocacy event on “Delivering for Girls, Women, and Babies” at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, I was thinking about a pregnant Tanzanian woman in a film preview I saw recently. The preview of No Woman, No Cry had captured with terrifying clarity the helplessness of a sick pregnant woman in a remote village in Tanzania. I couldn’t help thinking the Manhattan streets around me were far removed from such painful realities.
But, as Graca Machel pointed out during the event, this wasn’t always the case. A women’s hospital had once occupied the site of the historic Waldorf Astoria—it was in fact the last hospital in the United States for women with obstetric fistulas. “We should make every fistula hospital in the world just as unnecessary as this one was found to be,” Machel said.
It’s been 10 years since the World Bank signed on to the Millennium Development Goals. At the time, I managed the Bank's HIPC initiative, providing debt relief for the most heavily indebted countries, and I remember the hope we all felt. I am now responsible for IDA—the World Bank’s fund for 79 of the poorest countries, for whom the MDGs are critical, and I can say that our commitment to these goals remains as strong today, if not stronger.
We have made considerable progress on many of the goals. Growth over the past decade has contributed to reductions in extreme poverty. In 1990, over 40 percent of the population in developing countries lived on less than $1.25 per day. By 2005, that share fell to roughly 25 percent and is expected to fall to 15 percent by 2015, more than meeting the goal to halve extreme poverty.
As the global summit gets off and running in New York to look at progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, we have a great deal to celebrate. At the same time, we have some big challenges ahead in order to realize the promise of the goals: a world that overcomes poverty and hunger, where all citizens have access to opportunity and hope.
On the celebration side: 30 years ago, 52 percent of people in developing countries lived in extreme poverty; by 2005, that share had been cut by more than half. In Africa before the triple blow of the food, fuel and financial crises in 2008, primary school enrollment rates were rising faster than in any other continent, and child mortality rates had fallen by 25 percent in about 13 countries in just 4 years.
Yesterday, I attended the TEDxWorldBankGroup event, entitled Global Challenges in the New Decade. This first TEDxWorldBankGroup event was organized by the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) to add to the critical discussions taking place during the Spring Meetings. The event aimed to encourage conversation on gender, climate change, agriculture and water, and to find possible solutions to these global issues.
The speakers at the event were great and made excellent points about each of the chosen issues. One of the takeaways from the event was that the development community should act as one in addressing critical issues and take a wholesome approach to resolving global challenges instead of tackling them piecemeal.
Jason Clay, Senior Vice President of Market Transformation at World Wildlife Fund (WWF), who presented on water issues at the event said that every time the development community tries to maximize efforts in one area, it takes away from another; therefore looking at all of these issues as a whole is the most effective way to solve them for the future generations.
In their discussions this weekend, the Development Committee will be assessing five strategic priorities for the Bank in a post-crisis environment. Gender is considered a cross-cutting issue that will factor into all of the Bank's work in these priority areas.
This past Sunday, at an event co-hosted by the Hüsnü M. Özyegin Foundation, global business leaders came together to discuss the impacts of the ongoing economic crisis on women. The event culminated in the announcement of several new partnerships to support women around the world.
Highlights of the new partnerships and initiatives announced at the event include:
- The Özyegin Foundation and Goldman Sachs will expand the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program to Turkey.
- Boeing announced Forum member efforts to track and spend $2 billion over the next three years on goods and services from women-owned businesses in supply chains.
- Belcorp announced a partnership with the World Bank to train 50,000 women in financial literacy in Latin America.
- McKinsey presented their new research, “The Business of Empowering Women,” which maps out potential business sector contributions across women’s life cycles.