Yesterday women around the globe celebrated their extraordinary contributions in all areas of society – as professionals, as bread-winners, as care givers and caretakers. Women must also focused on the stark reality that women suffer disproportionately from inadequate health services, including maternal health and family planning services, discrimination, the effects of war, and, at times, victimization by harmful traditions.
The statistics on women are staggering as several hundred thousand girls and women are trafficked every year as illegal workers and/or forced into prostitution. An estimated 100 to 140 million women and girls undergo female genital mutilation, the act of cutting, removing, or otherwise harming the female genital area, a major threat to their health and well being.
More than 530,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth every year. The vast majority of these deaths are avoidable with known, simple, and cost-effective health interventions.
More than 200 million women in the developing world would prefer to postpone their next pregnancy or not have more children, but are not allowed access to modern methods of contraception, leading to 52 million unintended pregnancies and 22 million abortions.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by hunger, disease, and death. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 58 percent of all people living with HIV are female. In some countries, girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have three to six times higher HIV prevalence than boys their age.
Inaccessible medical care, poverty, and malnutrition cause at least 80,000 women to suffer complications during pregnancy that include obstetric fistula.
The consequences of this condition, when untreated, are life shattering. Many times the child dies, and the mother has lifelong reproductive and urinary complications. Every year, 51 million girls are married before their 18th birthday.
Girls who marry as children are more susceptible to the health risks associated with early sexual debut and childbearing, including HIV and obstetric fistula. Lacking status and power, these girls are often subjected to domestic violence, sexual abuse and social isolation. And early marriage almost always deprives girls of their education or meaningful work, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty as well as gender inequality and sickness.
Despite these startling statistics women around the world have an undying spirit, are surmounting obstacles, and are committed to making their lives, their families’ lives, and their communities better.
Here in Sierra Leone, the United States has demonstrated a strong commitment to the cause of women’s health. Through numerous discussions with local stakeholders and medical professionals, we have sought to share American expertise and lessons learned with local health care workers.
The Ambassador’s Girls Scholarship Program has enabled over 4,000 Sierra Leonean girls to attend school. Our Defense HIV/AIDS Prevention Program has provided education and medical assistance to members of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces and their families.
The US Embassy also supports the First Lady Sia Koroma’s WISH program, and had promised to continue to bolster Sierra Leonean efforts to improve the health of women in Sierra Leone.
On behalf of the American people, the United States Embassy in Freetown is proud to celebrate this year’s International Day of Action for Women’s Health. In partnership with the people of Sierra Leone, the U.S. supports education for all girls and critical health and family planning services, including HIV/AIDS and reproductive health programs, and also opposes violence and discrimination against women.
In a release the US Embassy promises to continue drawing inspiration and strength from our partners around the world – to work together to protect and improve the lives of every woman and child on this globe. For in doing so, we will fulfill the great promise of prosperity and progress for all people, and for all nations.