This past week I traveled to India and Burma to meet with leaders of the private sector, civil society, and government who are charting their nations’ bright and prosperous futures. In Mumbai, I had the opportunity to sit down with a group of courageous women advocates to discuss gender-based violence. It was especially meaningful to have this conversation leading up to International Women’s Day, particularly because this year’s theme is A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence against Women. It was only recently that thousands of young men and women took to the streets in India to protest the tragic death of a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern who was the victim of a brutal gang rape in Delhi.
At our meeting, we discussed the opportunity to shift ingrained social and cultural practices that perpetuate sexual violence among women, girls, and boys and the importance of educating India’s future generations. We also talked about the need for better data, stronger laws, and expanded services to both prevent and respond to gender-based violence.
I was honored to inform them that the young woman known worldwide as “Nirbhaya” (Fearless) would be honored posthumously by First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry at the Department of State’s Women of Courage Awards event this year.
A few days later, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Aye Aye Mu, who has been practicing medicine in Burma since 1977. It quickly became clear that the Doctor and I share the same vision for development—beginning with the community level and drawing on the strengths of both private sector and civil society. Dr. Aye Aye Mu is part of a network of active health providers that is supported by our Agency and covers 217 of Burma’s 324 townships.
Through an innovative approach called “social franchising,” Dr. Aye Aye Mu helps encourage doctors running their own private clinics to improve the scope, quality, and accessibility of their services by joining the franchise called the SUN Quality Health Clinics. Started by our long-standing partner Population Services International in Myanmar, this network provides affordable, quality health care services nationwide.
Today, this network is contributing in remarkable ways to USAID’s ambitious yet achievable goal of ending preventable child death and improving the lives of women and children. In 2012 alone, Dr. Aye Aye Mu conducted over 5,000 reproductive health consultations, diagnosed and treated 107 pneumonia cases, and diagnosed and treated 243 tuberculosis cases with a treatment success rate of over 80 percent. By leveraging the local private sector to deliver health commodities and better quality, affordable health care services, she receives quality birth spacing products and anti-malarial drugs at subsidized prices and passes the savings to those who need it them most.
Our Agency is working hard to save lives, especially among children. Building upon the Child Survival Call to Action, USAID is introducing a global public private partnership, Survive and Thrive, which will be linked to local partnerships to increase coverage of high impact and high quality interventions delivered by midwives to women and newborns wherever births occur. Working closely with our partners, these efforts will help improve the quality of maternal and newborn health by linking Burmese health care providers at the community level to their peers from American professional associations.
From India to Burma, these efforts advance the aspirations of the first-ever United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, which was released this past year. The strategy pledges to improve coordination across U.S. government agencies to improve the quality of our programming and strengthen our impact. In a world where rates of gender-based violence show no signs of abating, it is increasingly important that we work together to improve women’s lives.
This past week has been an incredible experience. Even as we advance gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide, it is important to remember on this International Women’s Day that women and girls are not just victims. They are leaders, change-agents, and innovators, courageously improving lives and expanding opportunities around the world for individuals, families, and communities. As our policies and initiatives gain traction and implementation gains speed, we will work beside them to ensure our aspirations translate into concrete results around the world.