- Top United Nations officials have called for investing in women and girls during the global financial crisis to help promote economic recovery and tackle poverty and inequality.
"There is no smarter investment in troubled times," said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
In a statement to mark World Population Day, observed on 11 July, Ms Obaid noted that women and girls were the majority of the world's poor, even before the current financial crisis hit. "Now, they are falling deeper into poverty and face increased health risks, especially if they are pregnant."
Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading killers of women in the developing world today, and maternal mortality represents the largest health inequity in the world. "This health gap will only deepen unless we increase social investments, maintain health gains and expand efforts to save more women's lives," said the Executive Director.
Noting that the global financial and economic crisis threatens to reverse hard-won gains in education and health in developing countries, she called on world leaders to make the health and rights of women a political and development priority.
Investing in reproductive health is especially cost-effective, she said. "An investment in contraceptive services can be recouped four times over – and sometimes dramatically more over the long term - by reducing the need for public spending on health, education and other social services."
Also in his message for the Day, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on decision-makers to "protect women's ability to earn income, keep their daughters in school, and obtain reproductive health information and services, including voluntary family planning.
"Together, let us advance the rights of women and girls, and empower them as highly productive members of society capable of contributing to economic recovery and growth. There can be no better investment on this day or any other," said Mr Ban.
Earlier this month, the UN systems also made an appeal family planning and other reproductive health services for women had fallen off the development radar of many poor countries, donors and aid agencies.
Sounding the warning the UN and the World Bank, said the drop would impact heavily on the already high maternal mortality rates.
According recently released figures from the World Bank, the official global development aid for health increased from $2.9 billion in 1995 to $14.1 billion in 2007, or roughly a five-fold increase in 12 years.
During the same period, the World Bank said aid for population and reproductive health made a more modest increase from $901 million to $1.9 billion.
The bank said the global economic crisis has compounded the lack of funding for such programmes, thereby jeopardizing the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for maternal health, which is already lagging behind.
"With the financial crisis and the reduction in budgets for health, this goal will be even harder to realize," Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), said at a meeting at the World Bank, ahead of this year’s World Population Day, observed on 11 July.
"It is not a lack of knowledge that is hindering progress; it is a lack of political will to protect the health and rights of women," she stated.
UNFPA estimates that more than 500,000 women die each year during pregnancy and childbirth from mostly preventable and treatable medical problems. For every woman who dies, another 20 women suffer injuries and disabilities that can last a lifetime.
Africa has the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality - at least 100 times those in developed countries, according to the UNFPA.
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