A veritable whirlwind

Sitting in a  traffic jam in New York, wiith the city gridlocked. Because President Obama and State Secretary  Hilary Clinton are in town  seems a good place to try to write a blog! At least a better thing to do than worry about whether or not I’lll make the plane.!

A few quick hiighlights from yesterday – a day of meetings, and side events, and conversations – some great  MPs – from Denmark and Belgium – what commitment the Danes have to ODA, srhr and young people – and how valuable that has been.

Meetings too with possible new donors, and several side events which deserve a proper discussion. At one on PMTCT, hosted by UNICEF and UNAIDS, a member of South Africa’s Mothers for Mothers spoke so clearly and simply of her shock and fear when first diagnosed, -‘I was afraid of living, and afraid of dying’. Today she is a mentor for others experiencing the same fear.

At UNICEF there was a robust discussion by 4 INGOs of issues raised in a new UNICEF report, including the issues of local ownership, and equity, and the importance of reaching the hardest to reach, as we work so hard to do in IPPF. According to UNICEFs new. research, this is not only the right thing to do, in terms of equity, but is also cost effective- an important point to counter those who would suggest we should focus on  reaching the most accessible.

I also had a stimulating meeting with Cecile and senior people at PPFA, hearing about how they have worked to build a more collaborative shared culture across affiliates, including developments like their new  website, with information for young people and clients, and an on line learning platform- the number of visits is remarkable, and there is much that we can learn from all this  which they’re generously willing to share, and I’m looking forward to finding out more. 

They are also a Member Association which has an extraordinary history, and a commitment that has never wavered – a real example of ‘brave and angry’ or perhaps it’s more like intelligent rage as they continue to counter the challenges that continue to confront them.

This morning’s side event, with UNFPA  on young people driving development went well,  over 120 people, which was impressive,  given that it was a relatively early start, and so much else was on. Another great young chair – Maria Antonieta from our WHR office who kept us all firmly within time!

The panel was a good intergenerational mix of young, (Samuel from Ghana,) and not so young, (Thoraya Obaid, Michael Cashman European MP and me)!  a range of topics which included, the need for policies and programmes that recognise realities of young people’s lives, youth advocacy and leadership, the recent Mexico world youth conference, the role of church and state, and there was also time to acknowledge Thoraya’s commitment to engagement with civil society and young people. We can only hope her successor will have the same.

There was time too  for a few questions – and a strong contribution from the First Lady of Georgia, who is very knowledgeable and active on SRH issues.-what a difference that kind of leadership can make.

 (I’ll interrupt this here just to say that I’ve made it to the airport, where we are experiencing a major storm – thunder, rain and lightning – worthy  of ‘King Lear’ – and all flights are delayed – it’s beginning to seem like one of those nights when the all things conspire against me!!)

But back to today – if you’re still hanging on in there….

I was forunate to be invited to the UK Mission to a meeting of UK based  NGOs with Deputy PM Nick Clegg, and Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell. Both seemed to take on board the variety of issues that we raised with remarkable speed, (water, women, nutrition, health, MDG5B, disability, innovative financing, education, civil society engagement…) and responded thoughtfully, and with genuine interest.

Responding in this way – and making time  to do meet are positive signs of a willingness to engage with civil society – hopefully they will encourage this with other partner governments – and the UN!

From there I joined the line for the launch of the Secretary General’s global health strategy for women and girls’ Every Woman Every Child. During the wait in line (anyone from the UK read queue!)  I met a Canadian FIGO member from Canada, who is keen to explore a relationship between their new hospital, and our MA, met a friend who had just been to NZ to contribute to a midwifery conference, caught up with a couple of donors, and exchanged notes on books about assessing impact.

The temporary ECOSOC room was packed, and checked out by security dogs (golden retrievers -an unusual choice?) The moderator was Zeinab Badawi – a well know UK tv broadcaster who interviewed  Dr Mahmoud Fathallah, on BBC, when he received his award from IPPF last November, and recently covered some of our issues at the AU summit – wearing a beautiful white jacket with double rows of buttons she looked a little like a ringmaster as she paced in front of the podium, endeavouring ‘with respect’ to keep heads of state within their 3 minute time limit-not an easy task!

On the first of the four panels, the Secretary General, spoke of the strategy as a ‘clear road map’ and a broad partnership’ and talked of investing in women’s and children’s health as having a multiplier effect, of wome’s empowerment and women leading the way. He introduced Micelle Bachelet, (red jacket),  the new head of UN women who received enthusiastic applause. The Nowegian PM was unequivocal – the present situation for women and girls is unacceptable’. Talking of more money for health and more health for the money, he pledged to allocate increased finds, remarking that what makes the Strategy different is that it has gained commitments from governments and civil society.

I think I’d add that it has also encouraged specific country commitments rather than a general and  collective commitment by all member states-some of which have seen little concrete implementation.. Nigeria for example pledged to reach the Abuja target, and Tanzania made a number of very specific commitments, including some related to family planning.

Hilary Clinton (red jacket too) announced a joint initiative between the Aid agencies of UK,US, Australia and Gates, to increase access to family planning, reduce maternal newborn and child mortality, Nick Clegg, outlined the commitments already made , remarking that donors are finding ‘money is tight but time is getting tighter’.

Melinda Gates spoke of commitments to fp, and the need for low cost high impact interventions, while Kevin Rudd ( now Australias foreign affairs minister) said it would go down ‘as a good day for women’ and challenged  donors to multi year commitments of funding.

World Vision represented BRAC, CARE, SAVE ie those who gave financial commitments, and those. Who made other commitments and endorsements spoke of the role of civil society and their commitment of 1.5 billion over 5 years. (Unfortunately our 2 commitments were compressed to gether under one short para, and we will need to follow up how they will appear in future.

On later panels Graca Machel thanked the DG for ‘finally’ placing the issue high on the agenda, ther role women will need to play, the importance of health systems that deliver near to where women are.

So a few points I hope that give a flavour-and now to catch a plane I hope, and reflect on the value of the week.

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