|Putting Our Faith in the Millennium Development Goals|
By Adrienne Germain and Jennifer Kidwell
Monday Developments, August 8, 2005
Five years ago, the world’s governments defined eight Millennium Development Goals to inspire action and monitor progress on eliminating global poverty by 2015. They represent a vision for collaboration among all people committed to moral, as well as material, global progress.
Putting Our Faith in the Millennium Development Goals
The MDGs are not just a list of numeric targets. They are grounded in enduring values — compassion, justice, fairness and peace — because much of the anti-poverty community, including many in the women’s movement, are people of faith and spirituality. Faith helped frame the MDGs, and it can help transform them into reality.
As Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recognized, women’s health and rights are also essential to fulfilling the MDGs. After all, as the ancient Chinese proverb says, “Women hold up half the sky.” Nonetheless, every year more than 500,000 women die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth — 99% in developing countries — because we have not yet invested in simple, low-cost reproductive health services that save women’s lives.
Failure to ensure universal access to reproductive health services puts not only women but also children and families at risk of death and debilitating illness. HIV infection rates among women and girls are rising in every region of the world, and four-fifths of women living with HIV/AIDS have been infected by their husbands or primary partners, not as a result of their own behaviors.
None of the MDGs will be achieved unless we give priority to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Girls and women cannot advance in education, income and empowerment unless they can decide whether, when and with whom they have sex and bear children. To be healthy, and to keep their families healthy, they must be able to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. They must live free of sexual violence, coercion and discrimination, and they must be afforded equal opportunity and justice under the law. These are basic humanitarian principles which we in the women’s movement share with most communities of faith.
Moreover, sexual and reproductive health and rights are inextricably and deeply linked with how societies and individuals perceive and value faith and morality. Implementing the MDGs thus presents a pivotal opportunity for moral and religious leaders. Religious communities have made unparalleled contributions to health services and human rights in some of the world’s poorest countries.
Today more than ever, the world needs leaders of these communities to reassure policymakers, especially in Washington, that reproductive health services, comprehensive sex education and programs to eradicate sexual coercion and violence are life-affirming and life-saving.
As U.S.-based organizations, we also share a moral obligation to persuade the U.S. government to work in concert with the rest of the world to achieve the MDGs. Many of us already are speaking up — and we can sustain each other to persist in our demand that policies be based on science, not ideology. Surely we can agree that with 6,000 young people becoming infected with HIV every day, we must equip adolescents here and abroad with accurate information and comprehensive health care. Surely we can also agree that HIV/AIDS prevention strategies must include higher-priority investment in microbicides research and development, work with boys and men to end sexual coercion and violence against women, and greatly expanded reproductive health services to reach all women.
Finally, together, we can surely persuade the heads of state at the 2005 World Summit in September — where they will assess the progress made and outline strategies toward achieving the MDGs — to recognize how central sexual and reproductive health and rights are to achieving the MDGs.
Especially in times when division and conflict are often the focus, the MDGs provide an opportunity to concentrate on our common agenda: life with dignity, justice and human rights. After all, as our Nigerian colleague Ngozi Iwere, a feminist and a deeply spiritual woman, said recently, “The main business of living is to reduce the harm that we do to each other as we live our beliefs.”
This article is also available on InterAction's website.
Adrienne Germain is the president and Jennifer Kidwell is the assistant officer for media and communications at the International Women’s Health Coalition.