Parliamentarians speak out on women’s and children’s health: 125th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union

18 OCTOBER 2011 | BERN

Access to health as a basic right

Panel event at the 12th IPU Assembly

Women’s and children’s health was a leading item on the agenda of the 125th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Bern, Switzerland. More than 300 parliamentarians attended a panel event on a draft IPU Report entitled, “Access to Health as a Basic Right: The Role of Parliaments in Addressing Key Challenges to Securing the Health of Women and Children”.

The discussion, which featured interventions from nearly 50 countries over the course of nearly four hours, was a consultation session to finalize the report and to inform the drafting of an IPU resolution on maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH), intended for presentation at the 126th assembly of the IPU in Kampala, Uganda, in April 2012.

Canadian senator Salma Ataullahjan, Ugandan MP Paula Turyahikayo, and Indian MP Francisco Sardinha presented the report to the meeting in their capacity as co-rapporteurs. PMNCH Director Carole Presern and WHO Assistant Director-General Flavia Bustreo contributed to the panel presentation as technical experts. The event was chaired by the president of the IPU’s standing committee on Democracy and Human Rights, the Hon Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu of Ghana.

Discussion during the meeting focused on the representative, legislative, budgetary and accountability roles of parliamentarians in relation to advancing MNCH and accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

Areas for action discussed during the session included, among others:

  • enhancing legal frameworks to address gender inequality and promote reproductive rights; improving access to quality care and medicines among poor and marginalized populations; expanding maternity protection for working women;
  • increasing the legal age of marriage; ensuring more sexual and reproductive health education for adolescent girls; and
  • constructing mechanisms and structures to improve accountability and remedial action, including greater collaboration with civil society.

Other IPU highlights on women’s and children’s health

Women’s and children’s health was also highlighted at several other points during the Assembly proceedings and associated events, including by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during his address to delegates on 16 October, and by Micheline Calmy-Rey, President of the Swiss Confederation.

Mrs Calmy-Rey devoted her 17 October welcome dinner speech to the issue of parliamentary action on MNCH: “I want to talk about an issue close to my heart: Women’s and children’s health. Maternal mortality and morbidity are symptoms of gender discrimination, and advancement of human rights must be a priority. As members of the IPU and national parliaments, you can play a critical role in this process.”