IPU advances accountability for women’s and children’s health

26 MARCH 2013 | QUITO, ECUADOR

Workshop marks one year anniversary of resolution on the role of parliaments in achieving maternal, newborn and child health as basic right

More than 100 speakers of parliament, parliamentarians and other interested parties participating in the 128th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly came together for a workshop to advance accountability for women’s and children’s health. The event was organized to commemorate the one year anniversary of the IPU resolution on the role of parliaments in achieving maternal, newborn and child health as basic right, which was adopted at the 126th IPU Assembly in Kampala.

Participants examined good practices developed by parliaments to implement the IPU resolution, reviewing findings of a new IPU report assessing the impact of these measures that demonstrates how, by taking a series of priority actions as prescribed in the IPU resolution, parliaments can help advance women’s and children’s health as a fundamental human right. Mechanisms for future reporting by parliaments on implementation of the resolution were also discussed.

Ensuring accountability for women’s and children’s health: how parliaments are making a difference

Two technical presentations provided an update on trends, accountability mechanisms and key global processes relating to women’s and children’s health. The first presentation was delivered by PMNCH Deputy Director Dr Andres de Francisco Serpa and the other by Dr Lale Say, Coordinator, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, World Health Organization.

Leaders from three parliaments also took the floor: Shawkat Ali, Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Bangladesh; Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of Parliament, Uganda; and Senator Salma Ataullahjan, President of the IPU Canada Group. They spoke about how their parliaments are promoting women’s and children’s health and their experiences using the IPU resolution to deepen these efforts. They also highlighted the important ongoing role of the IPU in supporting such actions by parliaments and the need for partners in civil society to support and complement the efforts of parliaments.

During the plenary discussion common areas of and action by parliaments were identified. In some cases changes in parliamentary institutional arrangements had been made since the passing of the IPU resolution in order to allow for improved handling of women’s and children’s health. For example, in Uganda, the Speaker of Parliament had spearheaded the splitting of the Committee on Social Services into a committee on health and another on education. In Bangladesh, a new Parliamentary Caucus on Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn and Child Health was recently formed.

Other common strategies have included consultations between parliamentary groups with communities and other stakeholders; motions in parliament; questions placed to members of the executive; proposals to increase health budgets and to make budgets more gender sensitive; as well as visits by parliamentarians to health facilities and remote areas.

Room for improvement

Discussion during the workshop reaffirmed the centrality of gender equality and education and touched on other inequity related challenges. The right to the highest attainable standard of health for some specific groups was recognized as requiring closer attention, for instance women in detention facilities and their children, as well as those in conflict and post-conflict situations.

A number of other themes requiring greater attention and solidarity among parliaments were also highlighted, such as advocacy and legislative reforms to address adolescent pregnancy, gender-based violence including early marriage, access to family planning information and services and sexual and reproductive health rights. The role of parliamentarians in changing mindsets regarding harmful traditional practices was also discussed. Workshop participants noted the need to engage with leaders at all levels, including religious and other community leaders, to address this challenge.

Parliamentary oversight and influence

Participating parliamentarians also agreed on the importance of using their oversight function to ensure accountability for women’s and children’s health. Good practice was shared by parliamentarians from Bangladesh where a National Commission on Information and Accountability is now in place.

Parliamentary oversight was also recognized as being central to the promotion of access to integrated health services of acceptable standard, ensuring progressive levels of financing and staffing of women’s and children’s health, strengthening of health systems and ensuring robust health information systems and ethical approaches to reporting on trends in women’s and children’s health by governments.

Parliamentarians present encouraged each other to persevere in exerting their challenging oversight function. The recent successes of the Ugandan Parliament in compelling the government to make much contested budgetary allocations to improve the conditions and staffing levels of health workers at county levels were also highlighted.

Partnership and capacity building

Parliamentarians expressed their commitment to deepening their technical engagement with issues relating to women’s and children’s health and requested the support of the IPU, the United Nations system and other non-governmental organizations and networks. They also requested the IPU to continue to provide such platforms for parliamentary solidarity as well as opportunities for parliaments to learn from each others’ experiences. The learning visit to Sweden by a group parliamentarians from Bangladesh, supported by the IPU, was shared as an example.

Conclusions

The workshop demonstrated a clear growing awareness of, interest in and commitment to action in support of women’s and children’s health by parliaments. However participants agreed that while progress has been made, much still remains to be achieved, and that parliamentarians must guard against losing focus on women’s and children, especially in the context of discussions on the post-2015 development framework.

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