Listening to Women: A Crucial Step Toward Gender Equality

In September 2015, 193 world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development.  Important campaigns such as Deliver for Good are highlighting what the evidence clearly shows – that investing in reproductive and maternal health and rights creates a ripple effect that advances progress across the SDGs.  However, every day around the world, decisions are made by policymakers and health and development partners without first engaging the girls and women who will be affected by these policies and programs.  This risks furthering a socioeconomic and gender disparity where girls and women are beneficiaries, rather than architects, of our health and well-being.  Women must direct our health – our bodies – as a fundamental basis for pursuing equality in all other areas of social, economic and political life.

The What Women Want campaign seeks to support a broader movement for gender equality and women’s empowerment by starting with a basic – yet profound – question to one million girls and women worldwide: What is your top request for quality reproductive and maternal healthcare services?

The process itself is incredibly powerful as the truth is most girls and women have never been asked this simple yet critical question. Importantly, some have been asked to give feedback on services they have received or their perceptions of their experience of care, and most will talk about, reflect on and share these experiences as they internally process their responses.  For example, midwives and health care provider advocates leading the U.S. maternal health movement can speak eloquently about the problems in the system and some of the solutions.  But when individually asked to speak on her own behalf, it can be more difficult to answer. The act of asking alone is a positive step in supporting girls and women to advocate for her own rights and strengthen her agency to negotiate with a system.

The responses to date are beginning to paint a striking picture: my own bed during childbirth; no verbal and physical abuse; access to affordable mental health during pregnancy and postpartum; clean water and proper sanitation; access to contraception without judgement; information about my choices.   While still early days, there is a clear call for health systems investments such as more trained midwives and better equipped facilities. Coming out equally strong are issues that call out the systematic gender, racial and economic inequities that persist throughout the world.

The data collected will be aggregated globally and disaggregated in various ways to help to propel a clear advocacy agenda defined by girls and women. The results will call on and support policymakers to directly respond to the needs and demands of their own citizens while helping to fill the gender data gap with vital qualitative information to drive results for girls and women.

At the same time, a groundswell of girls and women will see that their voice matters and that they have support to organize and to push for changes in their own communities on the issues that impact them.

The Global Goals will only be transformative for gender equality if we challenge the status quo.  A powerful starting point is supporting girls and women’s right to define quality healthcare and to demand it!

So, we ask all women and girls, no matter where you live, the religion you practice, your economic status or who you love, to stand up and be heard. Your voice matters, and hearing it is a crucial step toward gender equality.

Take the survey – available in eight languages – at www.WhatWomenWant.org