Celebrating International Women's Day: Triumphs and Challenges

by |March 8, 2012

MCI and Partners Strive to Create Replicable Models and Fill Key Gaps
for Women and Girls i
n the Millennium Cities

There is much to celebrate, this International Women’s Day. Three fabulously courageous women won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, and just a year earlier the United Nations established UN Women, a new agency dedicated to gender equality worldwide and headed by another strong woman leader and role model, former President of Brazil Michelle Bachelet. School enrollments of girls are unprecedentedly high, the world has finally begun to mobilize around safe childbirth and other women’s health issues, and the World Bank is reporting this week that we have achieved the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG), halving extreme poverty, well before the United Nations’ 2015 deadline, thereby easing the lives of hundreds of millions worldwide.

Yet a tremendous amount of work waits to be done. In Millennium Cities across sub-Saharan Africa, regional capitals where MCI has carried out public health, gender and education needs assessments, maternal mortality ranges between 14 – 41 times the U.S. rate, due largely to post-partum hemorrhaging and the dearth of safe blood, adequate emergency obstetric capabilities and emergency referral systems. Across the continent, an estimated 92 million girls aged 10 and over have undergone feminine genital mutilation, and another three million are at risk each year. Gender-based violence has reportedly victimized at least one in four women and girls in several of the Millennium Cities, where formal sector employment and political representation are far lower for women than for men.

In a modest way, the Millennium Cities Initiative has taken on this challenge. In partnership with the Ghana Health Service, the multinational corporation Siemens and MCI, the International Society for Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology has carried out ultrasound trainings. Thanks to Ben Gurion University, the Government of Israel, American Academy of Pediatrics, Johnson & Johnson and the non-profit AmeriCares, we have trained some 130 Ghanaian health practitioners in neonatal resuscitation and saved countless newborn lives in Ghana’s two largest cities, Accra and Kumasi. MCI partner Physicians for Peace has carried out a number of fistula repair surgical missions in the Millennium City of Segou, Mali, where, together with the Mali Ministry of Health, the American Red Cross, the Center for Disease Control and the MDG Centre for West and Central Africa, we are working to establish a model of safe regional blood-banking that can save the lives of women and children across this beautiful but impoverished rural landscape.

The early childhood education program MCI has facilitated in Kumasi, developed by the Mount Carmel Training Center, the Government of Israel and the Ghana Education Service, has prepared hundreds of pre-school girls and boys to be lifelong learners and to treat each other equally and with respect. MCI’s own School2School Connectivity Project also works with girls and boys and their teachers in 27 Kumasi junior high schools, bolstering their confidence in their science, math and technological abilities and connecting them with their peers in American schools. And our collaboration with the non-profit LitWorld, to create Girls’ LitClubs designed to strengthen girls’ literacy skills, self-expression and self-esteem, has already touched the lives of some 500 girls in Kumasi, Ghana, and Kisumu, Kenya, by encouraging their interest in reading, connecting them with Girls’ LitClubs worldwide, fostering their creative expressions and sparking their curiosity about the world beyond their previous experience.

Now MCI is undertaking a hugely ambitious and exciting challenge, again with marvelous partners: to design, build and establish a comprehensive Women’s and Girls’ Center where grassroots, national and international organizations can train, treat, counsel and empower enough girls and women to transform an entire community and set it firmly on the path out of poverty. Located at the heart of Kumasi’s commercial district, close to a vibrant market and numerous girls’ and co-ed schools, the Center is being designed as I write by a multinational team of architects from Columbia’s Urban Design Lab and Kumasi’s Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.

MCI is working with local groups of women and girls, as well as regional and national government officials and international NGOs, to determine which services and activities might be offered at the Center. Among the most frequently expressed suggestions are a reproductive health clinic and day care center; a learning center for trainings in job skills, banking, adult and financial literacy, Internet technology, environmental protection, branding and product marketing, as well as community and retirement savings programs; and multi-purpose spaces to serve as a venue for recreation, celebrations, film screenings, speaker series and special exhibitions.

MCI welcomes partners of all kinds in this exciting experimental effort, as we look to the women and girls of this Kumasi community to show us the way. Who knows: perhaps on International Women’s Day a decade from now, we will celebrate the new head of UN Women, or the latest woman Nobelist, who will have gotten her start in the gardens, workshop or Girls’ Club gatherings of the Kumasi Women’s and Girls’ Center, which we hope will be the first of many such warm, comprehensive and empowering safe havens for women and girls.

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