Remembering every woman and every girl, everywhere

On International Women’s Day, people all over the world take a moment to celebrate the remarkable progress that has been made for girls and women. The Arab world has much to be proud of this year, with historical acts such as Saudi Arabia swearing in 30 women to its Shura council and Arab country leaders signing the Dubai Declaration to save the lives of mothers and children in the region.

For the past few years, the global community has been watching closely as the Arab world undergoes rapid change. It has been inspiring to see women in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria at the forefront of these movements, fighting to improve their lives and their communities. History may have been written differently without the work of women to catalyze and drive this transition.

Investing in women

However, there is still work to be done. The coming years will be critical for women in the region as they strive to reach economic, social, and political equality. It has been shown over and over again that empowering girls and women spurs economies, drives social change, and improves the health and well being of families and communities. As one powerful example, educating girls and women enhances their political participation, reduces child and maternal mortality, and improves economic productivity and growth. It is simple, really. Investing in girls and women pays.

Many of these women in the Arab world face challenges, including violence, barriers to education, rising unemployment, a lack of access to family planning, and high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity

Jill Sheffield


Yet, despite evidence about the benefits of investing in women, women in Arab countries experience the largest gaps in access to resources and opportunities in the world, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Gender Gap Report. Many of these women in the Arab world face challenges, including violence, barriers to education, rising unemployment, a lack of access to family planning, and high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity.

Global drive for equality

Progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – a set of promises from 189 nations to free people from extreme poverty and multiple deprivations – has been uneven in the Arab world. While some countries, including Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Oman, are on track to meet MDG 5 to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters by 2015, other countries in the region, such as Iraq and Sudan, have made little or no progress toward this goal. Meeting the 2015 deadline for MDG 5 and other MDGs will require a dramatic increase of political and financial commitments at the national, regional, and global levels.

That is why Women Deliver, a global advocacy organization, is making extended efforts to engage Arab organizations and individuals for Women Deliver 2013, our third global conference. On 28-30 May 2013, 5,000 experts and advocates will come together in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to make sure that girls and women everywhere remain priorities in the final push towards the MDGs 2015 deadline and beyond.

We are expecting that attendance from the Arab world at Women Deliver 2013 will surpass that of our 2007 and 2010 gatherings in London and Washington, DC. The conference will feature special meetings and sessions to focus on how to integrate women’s health into the broader empowerment efforts in the Arab world. We are inviting policymakers, grassroots activists, healthcare professionals, and private-sector representatives from the region, all in the hopes that the conversations about Arab women will be dynamic and help to create a lasting impact for the women and their communities.

As the world continues to watch the rapid changes in Arab countries, we must make sure that the girls and the women of the region are a part of every moment, of every change. Now is the time to make sure that the girls and women of the Arab world are priorities in the coming years. Because when girls and women survive, families, economies, and communities all thrive.



(Jill Sheffield is a global educator and advocate who has worked to promote women’s health and rights around the world for more than three decades. Sheffield is the founder and President of Women Deliver, an international advocacy organization that convenes global leaders to galvanize action on maternal health and women’s empowerment. Sheffield was awarded the United Nations Population Award for outstanding work in sexual and reproductive health and rights (2008), the American Public Health Association's Lifetime Achievement Award (2008), and was appointed to the U.N. Secretary General’s Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health. Sheffield received her MA in Comparative and International Education from Columbia University. She has held board and advisory positions for International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region, Population Communications International, Global Fund for Women, and Center for Health and Social Policy. Women Deliver can be followed on Twitter: @womendeliver.)

Last Update: Friday, 8 March 2013 KSA 10:56 - GMT 07:56
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.

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