Education, Gender and Maternal Health: Social and Public Goods

New York City – This week as the United Nations met to assess the Millennium Development Goals and what sustainable development goals should be like post 2015, Dianova International joined with notable faith inspired and community based organizations to present a parallel event to the Commission on the Status of Women, or CSW58.

Speakers participating in the event were Rev. Liberato C. Bautista, Assistant General Secretary for United Nations and International Affairs member of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church; Shannon Trilli, Director of Global Health initiatives, United Methodist Committee on Relief  (UMCOR); Elizabeth Ketels, Vice President of Goldman Sachs and representative of Freedom from Fistula Foundation; and Mercedes Acevedo, a Nicaraguan tenth grade student of the high school and first year of Medium Agricultural Technician at the Dianova School “Esther del Rio -Las Marias”.

After Rev. Liberato C. Bautista, introduced the panel members, Susan Burton, Director for Women’s and Children Advocacy of the General Board of Church moderated the event. 

The panel discussion started with the lingering question on how to realize social justice for the women despite the structural and cultural barriers they still face or witness.

Later on, Mercedes narrated the story of her childhood growing up in a rural community with four other siblings and what it took to surmount the obstacles to finish her 10th grade in a Dianova run school. Presently a student at the Medium Agricultural technical school also run by the Dianova Nicaragua, she was grateful for the opportunities that are likely to come her way after her graduation from the technical school. 

Although their situation has somewhat improved in recent years, the vast majority of rural women in Nicaragua do not have the same opportunities that Mercedes had. As pointed out by Rafael Guerrero, Director General of the Dianova Foundation in Nicaragua, only 39% of women have access to primary education and 7% to secondary education in this country. As regards technical and university-level studies, only 0.3% and 1% of rural women have access to them respectively.

In addition to secondary education and technical studies, the Dianova Foundation in Nicaragua provides rural women with health education programs to help them acquire abilities and basic knowledge on issues related to family planning and sexuality amongst others.

As stated by Mr. Guerrero, while health and education are important for everyone, they are especially significant for rural women and girls. Not only because education is an entry point to other opportunities, but also because rural women's educational achievements can have a ripple effect across generations and within the family, nurturing confidence, self esteem and empowerment. In conclusion, Rafael Guerrero stressed that Dianova International has always been in the forefront in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. 

Elizabeth Ketels then spoke about the scourge of fistula in Africa brought about by the lack of basic health care for women. Currently, about 2 million women in Africa are suffering from obstetric fistula caused by prolonged, obstructed childbirth and lack of access to maternity care. She despaired that only 5000 of then could be cared for and cured. The Freedom From Fistula Foundation has a number of projects of its own in Kenya, Sierra Leone and Malawi and also helps fund partner projects in Kenya, Liberia, Zambia and Ethiopia. She reiterated the need for the projects alliance with like-minded organizations. 

From her very rich experience as the Director of Global Health Initiatives, Shannon Trilli brought to light the unfortunate condition of women and children care in a number of countries. She also explained how enhancing the marital understanding between men and women could be very productive for women and children care, for example through a proper understanding of the use of contraceptives. She then outlined the many areas UMCOR is involved in, and more specifically the issues of health, sanitation, poverty, sustainable agriculture and nutrition, and the commitment of UMCOR to address the root causes of these problems, empowering hospitals, schools, churches and other stakeholders. Ms Trilli eventually praised Mercedes Acevedo as the investment and result of the vision of Dianova.

During the session participants have also emphasized the role of religious based and faith-inspired aid and development organizations, stressing that many of them are often wildly successful in their host countries because faith can serve as a point of departure for dialogue between radically different groups and populations.

In conclusion, Rev. Liberato Bautista acknowledged the presence of the different staff of the organizations that participated to the event. He also stressed that such an event had set an example of coherence and collaboration, an example of bringing our thoughts and joining together in a "global partnership for development", as stated in MDG goal number 8, in order to be able some day to fulfill all the other goals. Then, following a lively audience participation the side-event finally came to an end with many useful viewpoints.