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Speech by The Minister for Development Cooperation on  The Seminar "Reducing Maternal Mortality is Possible"

Speech by Søren Pind, Minister for Development Cooperation, on "Reducing Maternal Mortality is Possible", Mother’s day seminar at the University of Copenhagen, 11 May 2010.

Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen,


First of all, let me thank University of Copenhagen for bringing us all together today to discuss the important and urgent matter of maternal health. I am very encouraged by the presence of so many partners and experts in the field and would like to extend a special thanks to the participants from Tanzania and Ethiopia who have travelled a long distance to share their experiences with us. Participating in today’s event gives me the opportunity to underline the importance of women’s health and the key role women play in achieving sustainable development in the poorest parts of the world.

This Sunday we celebrated Mother’s Day. Some of us sent flowers, gave gifts and made an extra effort to show our mothers that we love and care. We are fortunate. I trust that most of us here today know the sad facts that accounts for the women and mothers in developing countries: Every year hundred thousands of women die as a result of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Every year there are an estimated 19 million unsafe abortions in the developing world resulting in thousands of deaths. Millions of children are left without their mother to care for them. This has serious implications for the survival of the children – nine out of ten infants die before the age of 5 if their mother died.

Just last week I visited Tanzania and the Dodoma Regional Referral Hospital. I went to the hospital’s maternity waiting home. At the hospital women identified with potential risk symptoms during their pregnancies receive care and services while waiting to deliver. I was very touched and moved by seeing and hearing the real life stories from these women. One woman told me that she has three children, was expecting triplets and travelled 60 km from the village to the hospital to have a safe delivery. Denmark supports health systems and institutions like this hospital. It is of key importance to support hospitals, health clinics and other services so that women can deliver in a safe environment without the fear of losing their lives and expected newborns.

Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Denmark is in the forefront of helping countries to reduce maternal mortality. We support the health sector in 5 African countries and a range of key international organizations working with advocacy, capacity building and reproductive health services at country level. To give you an example: Our support to Marie Stopes International will contribute to provide 1 million safe abortions and distribute more than 160 million condoms.

We will continue to actively support and promote women’s health. Because it is a fact that healthy women provide more and better for their children, families and communities. Women who can plan the timing and number of their children have greater opportunities for work, education and involvement in the development of their society. Healthy women who are able to earn an income are more likely (than men) to spend their earnings on food, education, medicine and other necessities for the family.

Freedom – equal opportunities – are key words in Denmark’s development cooperation. It is unacceptable that in 2010 we continue to witness far too many women around the world with no rights to decide over their own body, and that we witness so many women and girls denied their rights to full and equal participation in the development of their societies.

With only 5 years left to achieve the Millenium Development Goals the need to improve women’s health and overcome social and cultural barriers to sexual and reproductive health and rights is more urgent than ever.

In 2008 Denmark initiated the “MDG3 Global Call to Action” to promote gender equality and empowerment of women. We are convinced that Millennium Development Goal 3 on gender equality is not only a goal in itself but also a means to accelerating progress and achieve on the other development goals. As part of our global initiative more than 140 torch bearers have committed to “do something extra” for gender equality – for equal rights, for women’s equal economic and employment opportunities and for their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The Danish commitment to promote gender equality was clearly demonstrated at the high level MDG3 conference held recently in Copenhagen. The conference discussed how to increase women’s employment opportunities and their economic empowerment. This resulted in a set of recommendations – one of them specifically dealing with women’s health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The recommendation on women’s health underlines the strong link between women’s empowerment and women’s access to health. Access to free and skilled maternal health services and effective health systems shall be ensured by increased political leadership. The recommendation further emphasizes that neglected areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights, including unsafe abortion and the provision of expanded access to family planning should be addressed. In this regard effective implementation of national health plans, strengthening of health systems and active community work is key.
Denmark will actively feed the recommendations from the MDG3 conference into the UN High-level meeting on Millenium Development Goals in September.
Let me finally draw your attention to the current work with a new strategy for Denmark’s development cooperation. It states that our development policy is based on the fundamental concept that all human beings are born free and equal with inalienable rights. Without political and economic freedom people are kept in poverty.

The new strategy comprises five specific focus areas for Danish development cooperation. One of these focus areas is gender equality, including also a strong focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The priority given to gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights is embedded in the freedom and rights concept. It is accordingly based on our conviction that we need to empower women so that they can claim their rights and ask for equal opportunities – otherwise we will not see sustainable development.

Thank you.