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The health of girls and women: What will our legacy be?

May 28, 2013

We are at a critical moment in our collective effort to advance the health and lives of girls and women in the developing world. For decades, the U.S. has funded evidence-based, cost-effective programs that address the multitude of issues that girls and women face. We can be proud of our progress, but we must recognize the work that remains to be done.

Approximately 800 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, and 99 percent of these maternal deaths occur in developing countries. Girls make up more than half of the world’s 143 million out-of-school youth, and one in seven girls in the developing world marries before the age of 15.

This is the reality today. But it does not have to be our legacy.

The U.S. and our partners across the globe have the knowledge, power and resources to provide girls and women access to essential health services; to increase their opportunity to attend school; to enable them to enter the workforce and, ultimately, to help achieve gender equality worldwide.

As Chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, my role is to ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. I know that by funding programs to improve the health and lives of girls and women in the developing world, we are making smart investments. Studies show that every year of schooling increases a girl’s future earning power between 10 and 20 percent. Ensuring skilled care in delivery and, in particular, access to emergency obstetric care, would reduce maternal deaths by about 74 percent. Beyond that, even small investments in girls and women change the lives of their families, communities and countries.

I expect that the thousands of advocates gathered at the third Women Deliver Conference in May will mobilize U.S. and international leaders to act. We must keep that momentum moving forward. We face daunting challenges, but we must hold each other accountable to our bold commitments so that our legacy will be to have advanced the lives of girls and women far beyond what they experience today.