Accountability Breakfast 2020: Advancing women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health during COVID-19

Oct 2, 2020 | News

More than 2,200 viewers from 110+ countries tuned into a four-hour live broadcast focused on greater accountability for women, children and adolescents [Watch recorded event], co-hosted by PMNCH with Every Woman Every Child and the White Ribbon Alliance.

The “Accountability Breakfast” – a flagship annual event on the side of the UN General Assembly – traditionally attracts speakers from top levels of government, civil society, academia, and the UN. This year, speakers included the heads of state of Ethiopia and Estonia, along with Nobel Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and US representative Barbara Lee, whose proposed bill on racism as a public health threat is making its way through US Congress.

Throughout the four hours, the event covered issues including women’s leadership during COVID-19; the latest UN data and evidence on gaps and progress for women, children and adolescents’ health; as well as citizen-led testimonials and dialogue with government ministers from India, Nigeria, Kenya, and Mexico on lived experiences and solutions for progress.

“This conversation is critical”, said Rt. Hon. Helen Clark, PMNCH Board Chair and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, as she opened the first panel of women leaders. “Two months ago, we gathered for the first lives in the balance summit to discuss early projections of the impact of COVID-19 on women, children and adolescents, …the projections have turned into testimonies.”

Participants also spoke of the importance of women’s, leadership, empowerment and partnership as key to developing effective policies and programmes. “The way to improve accountability for women and children is by helping women claim their rights and secure more political power,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee of the United States of America. “It is up to women to make government accountable to issues that impact women and all other issues, because women bring a perspective to make countries and societies stronger”.

Participants agreed that the idea that accountability lay solely in the hands of government was no longer viable, but instead was something that should be of concern to all in the era of this pandemic. “Accountability is finding innovative ways to still deliver on the promises regarding maternal, newborn and child health,” said Sahle-Work Zewde, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. “It is not the sole responsibility of one group but all citizens… We are in this together.”

Another theme during the event was the use of data to understand the impact of the pandemic on the health of women, children and adolescents. This turned the conversation to the findings of the recently launched Every Woman Every Child 2020 Progress Report: Protect the Progress: Rise, Refocus and Recover, presented by lead writer Dr Jennifer Requejo from UNICEF. The report details great progress over the last 10 years, but points to an uneven distribution of these gains, further exacerbated by the pandemic. Reflecting on actions and solutions needed to secure a more inclusive and equitable future, Dr Shannon Hader, Deputy Executive Director, UNAIDS pointed to having , “the ability to measure and track results (…) beyond averages so that we can unpack them to focus on what is going well but really who is being missed and what is left to do as responses evolve”.

However, data and evidence need to be accompanied by partnership to advance women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health and this is not always the case. “There are system failures where diverse departments are all failing” said Ms. Gerda Verburg, Executive Coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, “what needs to be done is to develop a responsibility and accountability system in which there is recognition of collaboration and there is a recognition of each player bringing solutions that are owned by people— community action, community ownership and community monitoring”.

Community ownership and voice to find solutions that fit the context echoed across many of the speaker interventions. “We need to listen to women when we are designing policies and programmes, and women’s voices must inform evidence and decision making,” said Smita Bajpai, Executive Committee member of White Ribbon Alliance India as she presented the demands from India’s What Women Want Campaign. Furthermore, “accountability must be democratized, so that the voices of people and communities are heard and acted upon,” said Joy Phumaphi, Co-Chair of the Independent Accountability Panel for Every Woman Every Child. “This means that communities, women and adolescents must participate in assessing the quality of the services they get and their access to the services,” she said.

Ensuring no one is left behind in access to services and bridging the digital divide further widened by COVID-19 , introduced conversations around the need to engage the private sector in the delivery of technology as well as multicomponent, context specific, tailored approach to providing digital solutions to certain groups, particularly young people and adolescents. Speaking to her organizations experience in using digital platforms to provide services to young people, Toyin Chukumozie, Education as a Vaccine, Nigeria, and member of the PMNCH Adolescents and Youth Constituency, underlined the importance of trust in these systems and availability, saying, “Young people will access services in an environment or through a medium they can trust so it is important to protect their privacy and maintain confidentiality”. She also stressed the importance of the existence of laws and policies that make it possible for solutions to reach those who need them most.

Oriana López Uribe, Executive Director of Balance, Mexico and spokesperson for MARIA fund, Mexico, described the missed opportunities in Mexico over the last 20 years for young adults and even women to get all the information and all the access to services and contraceptives they need. “There are not enough campaigns”, she said, “and people do not know how to access contraceptives, they do not know they are free, and they do not know what options are available to them”.

The breakfast event took place at a pivotal time for PMNCH, one of the co-hosts, as it turned 15 years old and launched a new 5-year Strategy to 2025 setting out collective goals its partners would work towards. Some of these goals (which encompass much of the issues raised during the event) are embedded in a 7-point Call to Action that will be realized via a 24-month long campaign. As Helga Fogstad, PMNCH Executive Director announced the launch of the campaign she also called on partners to sign an open letter named ‘Protect our Progress’ to be presented to the UN Secretary General on UHC Day in December – during the Lives in the Balance COVID Summit (more information on the summit coming soon).

The Accountability Breakfast event was moderated by Mercy Juma of BBC Africa, who closed the event by inviting a moving testimonial from Mohamed Sidibay, Education Champion with the Global Partnership for Education. Reflecting on his personal circumstances —as a child soldier from the age of five to nine, until UNICEF gave him a chance through education— Mohamed spoke passionately on the importance of equal access to education saying, “no child should ever have to rely on fortuity to claim that which is rightfully theirs—quality education. Education should never be politicized, it should never be about nationality, country of birth or the status of your family”. While ending his remarks, he made a rallying call to young people and citizens, saying, “we are the face of accountability, let us use our power our voice and our vote today to demand that leaders make the change we need to ensure no one is left behind”.


H.E. Ms. Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia and co-Chair of the High-Level Steering Group for Every Woman, Every Child

H.E. Ms. Sahle-Work Zewde, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

H.E. Ms. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Former President of Liberia and Nobel Laureate

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13), United States of America

Ms. Shukti Anantha, Adolescent leader, The YP Foundation, India

Ms. Naina Subberwal Batra, Chairperson and CEO of The Asian Venture Philanthropy Network

Dr. Jennifer Requejo, Senior Advisor, Health and HIV, Division of Data, Analysis, Planning & Monitoring, UNICEF, and Lead writer of the EWEC 2020 Report: Protect the Progress: Rise, Refocus and Recover

Ms. Gerda Verburg, Executive Coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement

Dr. Shannon Hader, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programme

Dr. Smita Bajpai, Project Director, CHETNA, India

Ms. Ana Claudia Carletto, Secretary for Human Rights and Citizenship of the Municipality of São Paulo, Brazil

Ms. Beth Schlachter, Executive Director, Family Planning 2020

Dr. Monique Vledder, Head of Secretariat and Practice Manager, Global Financing Facility

Ms. Toyin Chukumozie, Education as a Vaccine, and member of the PMNCH Adolescents and Youth Constituency

Ms. Joy Phumaphi, Co-Chair of the Independent Accountability Panel for EWEC

Ms. Reena Yadav, Member of Legislative Council, Bihar, India (video testimonial)

Hon. Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Health & Family Welfare, Government of India

Ms. Pauline Anyona, Representative for the Organization of African Youth Kenya and PMNCH Adolescent & Youth Constituency Member

Hon. Prof. Margaret Kobia, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Public Service and Gender, Government of Kenya

Ms. Oriana López Uribe, Executive Director of Balance and spokesperson for MARIA fund, Mexico

Hon. Dr. Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez, Vice Minister of Health, Mexico

Dr. Abiola Akiyode Afolabi, Feminist Alliance for Rights; Nigerian lawyer and civil rights activist; Executive Director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Center (WARDC)

Hon. Dr. E. Osagie Ehanire, Minister of Health of Nigeria

Dr. David Imbago Jácome, Board Member of PMNCH Adolescent and Youth Constituency and Vice-president for Development at the International Youth Health Organization

Ms. Lisa Hilmi, Chair of the PMNCH NGO Constituency and Executive Director of CORE Group a Ms.

Ms. Helga Fogstad, PMNCH Executive Director

Recorded event is available at

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