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Women, girls crucial to progress on MDGs

NEXT week leaders from around the globe will meet in New York for the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit.  The actions they take over these three days could hold the key to creating a stable, successful future for millions of the world’s poorest people.

The MDGs were agreed 10 years ago with a palpable sense of urgency. Something needed to be done to save the lives of mothers dying needlessly in childbirth, to get the millions of children missing out on an education into school, to fight the spread of killer diseases and first and foremost to halve the number of people living in poverty across the world.
Those leaders, a decade ago, set themselves a deadline of 2015 to achieve the goals. So with the clock ticking down to 2015, now is the time to take stock, review progress and press hard on the accelerator pedal to speed up in the areas which need the most urgent attention.
The Summit takes place in the tailwind of the global financial meltdown. In this difficult economic climate the temptation is for nations to pull back from the international commitments they have made. It is a temptation that the UK government is determined to resist. The new coalition government has been clear — we will keep the promises made to the world’s poorest people, and maintain our commitment to reducing poverty around the world.
But aid is only part of the story. Trade and investment are the engines of economic growth, offering the only sustainable way out of the grinding poverty that afflicts nearly a billion people across the globe. Boosting private investment and enterprise in the developing world has the potential to help us meet every single one of the MDGs. People with secure jobs and fair wages have the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty.
The UK goes to the Summit putting women and girls at the forefront of its efforts. Investing in them will reap dividends. How can countries propel themselves towards sustainable economic growth when 50% of its talent are not given the opportunity to make a contribution? Every day about 1 400 women die in pregnancy or childbirth, nearly all of them in the developing world.  This cannot be allowed to continue. The UK will be making a huge effort at the Summit to bring an end to this daily tragedy and will be pushing other governments to do likewise.
In Zimbabwe, maternal mortality has worsened significantly over the last 20 years; moving further away from the MDG target. This is a huge concern. The UK has been providing support to health improvements in Zimbabwe for a number of years, protecting the lives of mothers and newborn children, especially those affected by HIV and Aids.  We have improved access to family planning services, including contraceptives, life-saving obstetric services and newborn care. 
And what of the 2000 deaths a day — mostly children, the vast majority preventable  — from malaria? The disease leaves only tragedy in its wake  — families suffering, countries robbed of future talent and huge burdens on health services already at breaking point. It is right that tackling malaria is also right at the top of the UK’s agenda for the summit.
Everyone of us has an interest in meeting the MDGs, but they can only be met with the determination of governments, charities and businesses, civil societies and citizens. We now urge others attending the summit to join the UK in agreeing a course of action that will meet the MDGs by 2015, setting us on the path to eradicating poverty once and for

Mitchell is the UK Secretary of State for International Development.


By Andrew Mitchell

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