From Geneva to New York City & Everywhere in Between Citizens’ Voices Are Being Heard

Nov 14, 2017 | Blog, Global Secretariat, Opinion

By Betsy McCallon, CEO, White Ribbon Alliance

The Global Citizens’ Dialogue gives citizens a platform to voice their concerns, solutions, and criticisms. This blog series presents highlights from the 3rd Annual Global Citizens’ Dialogue, which was held during the 70th World Health Assembly and brought together adolescents and youth from Bolivia, Nepal, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda and the Philippines with health ministers and other leaders.

When White Ribbon Alliance, World Vision, Save the Children and International Planned Parenthood Federation came together to form the Citizen-Led Accountability Coalition, our hope was that global, national and local health leaders would actively recognize the value in having citizens systematically involved in identifying the challenges and solutions around reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health. Nearly four years later, that vision is well on its way to being realized.

Hundreds of citizens’ hearings across dozens of countries have led to innovative solutions and improved care. Three Global Citizens’ Dialogues have taken place alongside — and inside — the World Health Assembly, connecting women, youth and families with the highest level of health policy makers. And, the UN Secretary General appointed the Independent Accountability Panel (IAP) to transparently review progress and challenges on the implementation of the Every Woman Every Child (EWEC) Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health, with the ultimate goal of strengthening the response from the international health community and countries.

This year at the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the IAP released a follow-on to their inaugural report with a focus on accountability for adolescent health. I was honored to represent NGOs and civil society in thanking the Independent Accountability Panel for this important report and the decision to focus on adolescents to help illuminate what more we all must do in the coming years to realize the Survive, Thrive, and Transform goals set out in the Global Strategy.

We had other important feedback and clear calls to action.

In its report, the IAP importantly notes the restrictions on civil society which hamper progress and deny adolescents and all people ability to claim their rights and actively participate in transforming their communities and nations. They recognize that accountability must go beyond monitoring and requires remedial action.

We call on all partners within the EWEC architecture to stand with us and make stronger links between health and transparency, democracy and governance and human rights. We must be clear: there are POLITICAL issues that must be addressed, not only technical ones, if we are to achieve the goals of Every Woman Every Child, and women, children and adolescents everywhere need our support to stand up for their rights.

The report makes a clear recommendation of ensuring people affected by policies and programs, including adolescents, are involved in the design and monitoring — in other words ‘Nothing about us, Without us,’ the Coalition’s motto. The IAP further notes emerging best practices in citizen-led accountability where initiatives are followed up and supported appropriately, not ‘one-offs’. We agree whole-heartedly.

We are committed to continuing to build the citizen-led accountability movement and to support people –particularly adolescents and women — to know their rights and demand them. However, the reality is that structures are non-existent or incredibly weak in most settings. Support is needed — from ward-level committees in the community to the national level — to create processes for meaningful engagement that leads to actionable change.

NGOs are working with all stakeholders to make progress but need buy-in and commitment from governments, UN partners, and donors, including to institutionalize processes at global fora such as the World Health Assembly and High Level Political Forum.

While we welcome the thematic approach of this report, we ask the IAP to consider how it will concentrate on and follow up with other important issues in the EWEC results framework across the continuum of reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health, and how this can be done collaboratively with the PMNCH/EWEC Progress report. Thus, we join the call for two reports.

This Coalition and the broader NGO constituency commits to create dialogue around the recommendations at all levels, to see what more we can do in partnership with others, including reviewing our own commitments to EWEC, and looking to strengthen our approaches to meaningful engagement of adolescents and young people. Together, we can create a world where meaningful citizen engagement is standard practice at all levels of health policy and practice, identifying simple and innovative solutions on a regular basis, so that every woman, child and adolescent can and does access the healthcare they need to survive, thrive and transform.

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