Delivering for Women and Girls, Imperfectly, Impatiently, Optimistically

This blog was originally posted on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists.

“The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men." – George Eliot

We are facing huge, often seemingly intractable challenges to improving the lives of women around the world: from maternal mortality and access to family planning to girls’ education and gender inequity. We cannot let perfect be the enemy of improvement.This morning, I awoke in Kuala Lumpur for the first day of Women Deliver and found the quote above along with this email: “May have seen this already, but this seemed kind of appropriate for Women Deliver. - Dad”

It was an inspiring quote for the first day of this, the largest global event of the decade to focus on the health and empowerment of girls and women.

Women and girls are not waiting for perfect, nor can they afford to wait.

We are facing huge, often seemingly intractable challenges to improving the lives of women around the world: from maternal mortality and access to family planning to girls’ education and gender inequity. We cannot let perfect be the enemy of improvement.

Events like Women Deliver provide space and discussion to find an important balance between optimism, realism, and the urgency to do more. Nearly 3,000 participants from around the world, including government leaders, policymakers, healthcare professionals, NGO representatives, corporate leaders, and global media outlets are here this week to focus on solutions. Perhaps not the perfect, but the better. And with every move towards better, we’re improving.

As Jill Sheffield, president of Women Deliver, pointed out yesterday, “We are making progress. In 2007 at the first Women Deliver, maternal mortality numbers were staggering. Since then, maternal mortality has dropped by half.”

Gains have been made for women and girls around the world because we haven’t waited for perfect. Yet we need to push for more, particularly in access to family planning.

The proportion of married women using modern contraception barely changed between 2008 (56%) and 2012 (57%) according to Guttmacher Institute findings. An estimated 222 million women in developing countries continue to have an unmet need for family planning; if that was a country, it’d be the 5th largest in the world. 

In this area in particular, change is particularly challenging. Family planning is intensely personal. It touches on some of the most fundamental, yet private aspects of our lives—deciding if, when, and how often to have children. It is not just about availability of contraception (which remains a barrier), but about significant changes in gender dynamics so that women and men can have these discussions in partnership with one another.

We have to be imperfect, impatient optimists, with better solutions, to ensure we deliver for women and girls—particularly in improving access to family planning.With this issue in particular, what would be a perfect solution? There isn’t one. No one approach can fit every couple or woman.

So I look forward at Women Deliver to hearing what variety of solutions may exist. What’s working. And what we can do better.

We have to be imperfect, impatient optimists, with better solutions, to ensure we deliver for women and girls—particularly in improving access to family planning. And I’m hopeful that Kuala Lumpur is full of 3,000 of us this week.

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