“Nothing About Us, Without Us” – A Call for Citizen’s Engagement on Goals for Women and Children’s Health

Above photo: The Centre for Catalyzing Change

Empower citizens and see the difference

Meera Devi is a ward member from Muzaffar district in Bihar. She admits that when she was first elected she did the basic work. When she got reelected, she had a chance to take the women’s leadership programme by the Centre for Catalyzing Change. She learned a lot more about rights and entitlements. Today Meera is an active voice on issues ranging from education to women’s empowerment.

“I realized how much more I can do, and the power I had in influencing change for my people,” said Meera at the Citizen Hearing in Delhi, the national capital, “Today I dream with my eyes open. Change is possible.”

Over 150 people joined Meera, including government representatives, media, community representatives and civil society members. The White Ribbon Alliance, The Centre for Catalyzing Change, Plan, FPA India, IPPF, Save the Children India, World Vision India, action/2015 and partners helped to organize the event.

Geeta Regar, former Sarpanch (village head) from Rajamand, Rajasthan, is another inspiring example of a catalyst for change whom also underwent a similar programme as Meera on rights and entitlement. During her tenure, Geeta noticed that participation of communities and women in particular was very minimal.

“Engaging women was the start, it was important to engage families – men, mother-in-laws,” she said.

One of the first things she did was to ensure a functioning primary health centre. Women either delivered babies at home or had to travel far to facility. She started with delivery room.

“When I heard the first cry at the birth in that room, the happiness was unparalleled. It became my mission that every woman will have a safe delivery and every child will have a healthy start.

She took people along in her mission. And there we had indeed a healthy start.

Leave no woman, no child behind

If statistics are to go by, every year as many as 44,000 Indian women die needlessly during pregnancy and childbirth, and 1.3 million children in India lose their life every year due to preventable causes.

Today, the world is at the brink of a major breakthrough to ensure mothers, newborns and children everywhere survive. If there is one place to trace the seeds of this brewing revolution it is India.

India has witnessed dramatic a decline of maternal mortality of 70 percent between 1990 and 2012. The staggering number of newborn deaths has been reduced from 327 per 100,000 live births to 167 per 100,000. In the same period child mortality in India has come down to 52 per 1000 lives from a whopping 114. Speaking at the hearing, Dr Rakesh Kumar, Joint Secretary, Reproductive and Child Health, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said that the keyword is ‘preventable deaths’, the fact that we still have women, newborns and a child dying is somewhere the failure of the system towards people. He stressed the need to draw lessons learned from India’s successful polio campaign.

“We have lots to learn from the polio eradication campaign. But most important was the people’s participation, people’s engagement. That was the key to mitigate challenges on ground,” he stressed, “Citizens engagement is critical for generating demand from the communities. Just the availability of services is not enough.”

Dr. Aparajita Gogoi, National Coordinator for the White Ribbon Alliance India. Photo: The Centre for Catalyzing Change

The year 2015 – an opportunity for people and planet

As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed to in the year 2000 are to expire at the end this year, there is an opportunity to approach the next set of goals differently.

2015 is a turning point, with the Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) replacing the MDGs. There are clear opportunities to influence mechanisms for greater citizen engagement in the next round of proposed goals, at the local, national and global levels.

What will truly set apart the next development framework from the preceding one is engaging citizens in not just setting the goals but also in realising them more meaningfully than ever before. The collection of Citizen Hearings is one such significant step in including the voices of people to inform the global and national development agenda for the next 15 years.

Political will must pave the way

More than ever before, there is an deliberate effort to take the closed door discussion on next set of goals to wider civil society engagement, from ivory towers to people.

As Raghav Chaddha, spokesperson of Aam Admi Party (AAP) said at the Citizen’s Hearing, “The principle of Swaraj (self rule) recognises the role of people in identifying their problems and also solutions to their problems.”

Setting the stage for dialogue on participatory governance, Raghav Chadha, Spokesperson, AAP, spoke the participatory budget development exercise initiated by AAP and said that the vision of the party is to “Move from a parliamentary democracy to a participatory democracy. Creating accountability structures, citizens’ engagement for policy making, the AAP government is working to include citizens through the Mohalla Sabhas (neighbourhood meetings) and the newly developed Delhi Dialogue Council,”

Supporting this call for engaging citizens, Shri, Rakesh Kumar, Joint Secretary (RCH), Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, said “People need to be more responsive and demanding so that no mothers die in India. We need to empower citizens to demand fulfillment of entitlements and quality health services.”

For citizen engagement to truly work, mechanisms need to be created where citizen’s voices are heard and acknowledged in designing, implementing and monitoring the programs for women’s and children’s health.

There is a growing need to create space that recognizes the citizen’s voice and empowers people to make better sense of efforts that will directly impact their lives.

Indeed ‘nothing about us, without us.’

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