Policy Dialogue with First Ladies

PPD ARO organized a meeting on 26 July 2010 on the topic of “Achieving the MDGs through Accelerated Reduction of Maternal and Child Mortality in Africa.” The session was held in conjunction with the African Union Summit in Kampala, Uganda, and was organized by PPD ARO in partnership with the Organization of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), the African Union, and the Office of the First Lady of Uganda, under the auspices of OAFLA at their 8th General Assembly meeting. The session was attended by ten First Ladies of Africa in person (Sierra Leone, Malawi, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, Principe and Sao Tome, Zimbabwe, Guinea-Bissau and Namibia), and three representatives of First Ladies (Egypt, Libya and Senegal). In addition, 131 observers attended the session. These included government officials, civil society organizations, development partners and the media.

The meeting gave the First Ladies the opportunity to increase their knowledge on issues of maternal and reproductive health and family planning in Africa. H.E. Bience Gawanas (Commissioner for Social Affairs at the African Union), H.E. Dr. Thoraya Obaid (Executive Director, UNFPA), Dr. Gill Greer (Director-General- IPPF), and Dr. Jotham Musinguzi (Regional Dirctor, PPD ARO), all gave comments and presentations on the session’s topic of “Achieving the MDGs through Accelerated Reduction of Maternal and Child Mortality in Africa.”

In the lengthy discussion on the subject, the First Ladies also shared their country experiences of reproductive health advocacy, in addition to making useful contributions and suggestions of how they could move forward in advancing issue of maternal health and family planning. Significant discussion points made by First Ladies included the following:

1. Advocate for:
The use of family planning to reduce maternal mortality;
Free health care for mothers (women) and children in all African countries;
Increased budgets in health sector, particularly for maternal and child health;
Strengthened health systems that are fully capable and accessible—and that are driven by skilled human resources to ensure women’s safe passage to motherhood;
Enhanced participation of civil society, NGOs, and women’s groups at grassroots to channel their knowledge and expertise;
Enhanced gender equality and women’s empowerment;
Empowered families and communities who abandon FGM and other harmful traditional practices; and
Increased number of women in leadership positions from grassroots to higher political office (e.g. members of parliament).

2. Work with women parliamentarians on raising community awareness on family planning and reproductive health issues.

3. Cultivate partnerships at national, regional, and global levels to share good practices (e.g. stopping FGM in Afar Region in Ethiopia due to campaign led by Ethiopia’s First Lady), and in particular to convene a forum of First Ladies for extensive and deeper discussions on best practices that can be replicated.

4. Do resource mobilization (including with donors) and as reproductive health (RH) champions.

5. Involve all stakeholders (particularly the grassroots) into a mass movement to end maternal and child mortality.

The most significant resolution coming from this meeting was agreed on at the concluding session of OAFLA. First Ladies of Africa, through OAFLA, have traditionally met over matters of HIV/AIDS. But after listening to the situation of maternal health in Africa and the poor progress towards attainment of MDG 5, they agreed to a resolution to include maternal health in the work of OAFLA.

PPD ARO considers this a great success. First Ladies in Africa have great influence in their countries, and through expanding the mandate of OAFLA to maternal health, it is likely that increased progress on issues of FP/RH will continue. PPDARO plans to continue their work with First Ladies and other strategic advocacy partners in Africa, through continued cultivation of them as FP/RH advocates at national, regional, and global levels.

Dr. Gill Greer, Director-General at IPPF, as a representative of the Civil Society Organizations said, “The MDGs have been described as the world’s ‘biggest promise’, but the world’s biggest promise has failed women and girls, and their children, particularly in Africa, where women have a 1 in 16 risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth, compared with 1 in 7,000 in high income donor countries, and girls have the highest rate of HIV infection. Pregnancy anywhere in the world should be a reason for celebration, not fear, despair, disability and death.” Dr. Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, called on the First Ladies to lobby their governments in particular the respective presidents of their countries to invest more in maternal health through increased funding. “There are many demanding issues on the budget, but we would like to see maternal mortality issues prioritized. No woman should die giving life,” Obaid stressed.

The African Union (AU) commissioner for social affairs, H.E. Bience Gawanas, said “AU decided that there should be no more declarations, no more resolutions concerning women’s lives and dignity because it is time for action. That’s why we applaud our host Uganda, who passed a law against female genital mutilation,” she said. In addition she declared that 15 African countries had launched CARMMA. She called on all African governments to launch CARMMA as a way of addressing the unacceptably high maternal and infant deaths in Africa. She applauded the First Lady, Hon. Janet Museveni, for championing the abstinence and HIV/AIDS prevention programmes in schools and among youth out of school. H.E. Gawanas also called for more efforts in reaching the women in rural areas with information on safe motherhood.

Hon. Janet Museveni said Uganda had launched the roadmap to accelerate the reduction of maternal and infant mortality rate. More women and children however, she added, continue to die hence the need to step up action. “Most women die due to bleeding and infection, which are largely preventable hence the need for more access to emergency care, equipment and access to information about the availability of these services,” Hon. Janet Museveni said. She noted that more deaths occur in rural areas that lack clear messages on family planning, which she described as the basic tool for safe motherhood.

Dr. Jotham Musinguzi, Regional Director at Partners in Population and Development Africa Regional Office, called on the first ladies to mobilize resources for family planning, maternal and child health, act as family planning advocates, including advocating for free reproductive health (RH) services and participate in launching of CARMMA and other related activities geared towards the reduction of maternal, neonatal and infant deaths.