* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“If we don’t give opportunities to our girls, what are we going to do?” Dr. Maria Calle, Director of Adolescent and Youth Programming in Peru’s Ministry of Health, posed this question last month when describing the government’s effort to develop a strategy to reduce adolescent pregnancy.
As a long time advocate for women and girls, Maria's sentiment resonated with me and the funding and advocacy that we do at the Global Fund for Women. This is the time to act in support for girls. The cost of inaction is far more detrimental to our world and our hopes for post 2015 development aspirations.
We focus on adolescent girls for the 2014 Resolve Award because, as one of the nominators said, “Young people are our future, of course. But they are also our present.”
Reproductive health and rights are critical to empowering women and girls globally and to unlocking development progress. The Global Leaders Council for Reproductive health believes in this, and it is why I am in Geneva during the World Health Assembly to present the Resolve Award to four countries for their leadership in advancing reproductive health and rights, especially for girls. As leaders from around the world gather to discuss global health issues and shape the priorities for the post-2015 development framework reproductive health and rights must be at the center.
The 2014 Resolve Award recipients are addressing reproductive health needs in challenging circumstances. Maria and her colleagues in Peru are strengthening cross-sectoral collaboration to address root causes of adolescent pregnancy. Our colleagues in Cambodia and Tanzania are developing and implementing innovative approaches to reach remote and underserved communities with quality, comprehensive reproductive health care. In Afghanistan, government officials and NGOs are shifting attitudes about family planning and birth spacing, galvanizing parliamentary support and strengthening interdepartmental coordination to better meet the reproductive health needs of women and girls.
We applaud all four winners for engaging women and girls to creating enabling environments so that they can make critical decisions about their own lives. This means providing access to the information, services, supplies and support they need to achieve highest standards of sexual and reproductive health.
We know that young women and girls are not all alike in their needs and experiences. Some are in school, some are not; some are pregnant or already have children; some live in crowded urban centers; and some live in remote rural villages. Their needs and their dreams differ from place to place, and from girl to girl. But I have learned not just from the women and girls I have met throughout my life, but from everyone: all people prosper with access to health services...
Girls need the tools and knowledge to shape their own futures. Another nominator described it this way: “All our activities are organized by girls themselves. This is important, because the issues faced by girls are different than those faced by boys; no one understands those challenges better than the girls themselves.”
The Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health recognizes the governments of Afghanistan, Cambodia, Peru, and Tanzania for their leadership and for being the hub around which civil society, the private sector, donors, and so many others can engage. These governments demonstrate that their strength is not is trying to go it alone, but in the wisdom of collective impact.
We need this leadership to drive progress for sexual and reproductive health so that more women and girls’ lives will be shaped by opportunity, not defined by limitations.