Using Social Media to Advance Women’s and Children’s Health

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This is Part II of an interview with UN Foundation’s Director of Millennium Development Goals Initiatives Anita Sharma. Read Part I of the interview to learn about Every Woman Every Child, an initiative launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to spur progression the MDGs related to maternal and children’s health.

What role can online movements and social media play in advancing the MDGs and Every Woman Every Child?

There are several answers to that. The first is influencing the United States and this is me [referring to the] UN Foundation as opposed to just Every Woman Every Child. There is a major awareness-raising role that still needs to happen, both with the general American public as well as the congressional and administrative leadership. We have to tell people what this effort is, why it matters and why they should care. Social media could and is starting to play a very important role by connecting people, sharing information and making it very easy for people to contact their lawmakers to say, ‘We think this is very important.’ [Follow Every Woman Every Child at @unfewec.]

The second part is not only in the United States. You can use [social media] to share information, get better informed and then undertake advocacy, for example, toward the U.S. government, which has made a major commitment for the Global Health Initiative. That is a five-year initiative to scale up results for women and for maternal and child health and family planning…For example, you could use social media to commend the U.S. government for [passing the birth control mandate] and say, ‘And by the way, I think you should be doing the same for family planning globally and supporting these programs.’

I think about the blackout undertaken by prominent websites in protest of SOPA/PIPA. When it’s something that everybody gets rallied around, you can connect on it and see real results. I wonder what you can do to apply that momentum to an issue that really does affect everyone but people aren’t as willing to talk about.

I think it’s what you said. It’s how you connect to why. Everybody understands it’s so important but isn’t exactly sure how to affect the change. For Every Woman Every Child to really be successful it has to be embraced by everybody. It can’t necessarily be the United States telling the government of Malawi how they should be implementing their programs. That is for them to decide. But it is also for the people of Malawi to know that they can hold their government accountable if their government is saying, ‘We are making health services free for everybody,’ and then women in the villages go to the clinic and there is either no clinic or the clinic is never open or there is no medicine there.

You’ve said that the results are happening, but not at the pace you need. How does that affect what you’re going to do between now and 2015?

We have to continue the momentum…And it is really easy to stall the momentum, especially when you are facing tough economic times, people are having to make hard choices about where they put their resources, [and] there are other competing issues of attention. In terms of how you generate interest, Every Woman Every Child is two years old, so it’s not necessarily the shiny, new thing. The way we do it is, one, we have to bring in new partners and new networks and reach out to the private sector. We have to pick up the pace in terms of innovation and that’s how you can scale up…change in a really exponential way. By that, there have been some really great advances on health, [for example], how you use your cell phone to transfer diagnostics so that a midwife or community health worker in the rural areas can transmit information. Innovation may also help to bring down costs and hopefully that will allow for big advances. And obviously advances in science. If indeed these immunizations work, we could see malaria be radically reduced, for example. You can’t necessarily wait around for the medicinal cure-all, but I think there are ways.

As we think about 2015, that is going to be another area where people are going to be re-energized because 2015 comes and goes and the need is still there. We haven’t eliminated extreme poverty and achieved all of the MDGs. So there will be something else, a new framework that will need to be created. And how groups engage, the type of framework, the goals that are involved – that is a real opportunity for people to use their voices to say, ‘We care about this, we do believe.’ Even though it sounds impossible, we do believe we can get to zero. If you are in Somalia, you [can have a child that] lives to be six years old and a woman doesn’t have to risk her life giving birth. These things are possible. When people set the goal for 2015 [in 2000], they thought, ‘Wow, we have got 15 years.’ Now the clock is ticking, and there is that sense of urgency that will force us to be ever more vigilant and engaged.

Above photo: Insecticide-treated mosquito nets are one of the most effective methods to prevent malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. Sleeping under bed nets helps to protect millions of children and mothers from one of the most serious threats to their survival.

Cassandra_Gaddo

About Cassandra A. Gaddo

Cassandra A. Gaddo is managing director of Step Up Women's Network in Chicago. A passionate advocate for gender equality and the advancement of women and girls, she is also a board member of Rape Victim Advocates, and a Young Professionals Ambassador for The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She writes and speaks about local, national and international women's issues, including in her blog, "Twice As Well."