Nearly 20 years ago, then First Lady Hillary Clinton declared to the United Nations that "it is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights." A core component of women's rights is ensuring that all women -- regardless of religion, nationality, or income level -- have access to quality healthcare. And at the center of women's health is ensuring that they can access quality family planning options.
In 2000 the United Nations adopted the "Millennium Development Goals," a historic set of measurable objectives designed to put greater international focus on the improvement of the lives of people throughout the world. The goals range from eradicating extreme poverty to combatting HIV and AIDS, and the United Nations specifically addressed the impact maternal mortality and access to quality healthcare have on societal and economic growth.
This key goal for the United Nations, and for me personally, is improving the health care that mothers and expecting mothers can access.
Around the world, mothers are the center of households and key to shaping our communities, our economies, and our nations. Unfortunately, across the globe, too many women's lives are at risk when they become mothers. Only half of women in developing regions receive the recommended amount of health care they need. Nearly 50 million babies worldwide are delivered without skilled care, and in 2010, nearly 290,000 women died worldwide while giving birth. These deaths impact all of us -- leaving families and communities without the very women whom they need to help raise children.
Recognizing the key link between healthcare for mothers and the impact on the social and economic fabric of countries, the United Nations included within the "Millennium Development Goals" the desire to reduce by 75 percent by 2015 the mortality rate for mothers from what it was in 1990 and to achieve by 2015 universal access to reproductive health for all the world's women.
We have made giant strides since 2000, but we still have important and necessary work to do. Worldwide, death rates for mothers have declined by 47 percent since 1990, and in Eastern Asia, Northern Africa and Southern Asia, these deaths have decreased by two-thirds.
As the Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Africa, I have the unique opportunity to address issues facing African women, and we need to face the hard facts about the health of mothers in sub-Saharan Africa. Even though death rates for mothers in sub-Saharan Africa have dropped 41 percent in the last twenty years, sub-Saharan Africa has the world's highest maternal mortality rate and accounts for over half of global maternal deaths. The evidence is clear: maternal mortality tends to be lower in countries where there is greater access to both family planning and skilled attendance at child birth. To decrease the number of women dying in Africa we must increase both access to contraception and to healthcare providers.
Sub-Saharan African women are not alone. Throughout the world, women simply do not have access to necessary and desired family planning choices, and the results are often disastrous. 140 million of the world's women who are married or in a union say they would like to like to delay or avoid pregnancy, but these women continue to not have access to family planning. And complications during pregnancy or childbirth remains one of the leading causes of death of adolescent girls.
For me, ensuring that women have the ability to plan their families and their lives is a basic and fundamental human right. It dictates women's lives, their access to education, their place in the world's economy, and the basic principle that their body is theirs and theirs alone.
Moving forward the international community must continue to focus on expanding access to family planning and work to ensure that no matter where a woman gives birth they can safely welcome their child into the world.
Southern Californians now have a unique opportunity to have their voices heard on these important issues.
The United Nations Association of the United States of America is seeking your ideas, your voices, and your opinions the dialogue about the post-2015 development agenda that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals and set out a new framework on how best to address these important issues.
For more information, and to RSVP, please click on this link.
The more our voices are heard, the more women and children will benefit in the future.
This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.