Sexual health creates economic wellbeing
Finland together with Zambia, Costa Rica, UN Women and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) co-hosted a high-level breakfast event at the UN Headquarters on 20 September.
The event was opened by Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Kai Mykkänen. The speakers included Costa Rican Second Vice President Ana Helena Chacón Echeverría, First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, and the Executive Directors of UNFPA and UN Women.
The event focused on women’s economic empowerment through the realisation of their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). The event was organised on the margins of high-level meetings during the opening week the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly. It was attended by a large number of participants, totalling approximately 150 persons.
Strengthening girls’ and women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights is an effective way to support their social and economic position. The participants emphasised that the realisation of SRHRs is a human rights question and highlighted the significance of health and education. Strengthening girls’ and women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights is important because it has a direct impact on individuals’ improved socio-economic position.
One of the matters brought up in the discussion was that when 10 per cent more girls go to school instead of staying at home and having children, a country’s GDP is estimated to increase on average by 3 per cent. At present more than 200 million girls do not have access to contraception to prevent early motherhood.
The fewer there are teenage pregnancies or health problems caused by pregnancies and failure to attend to sexual health, the greater the likelihood is that women are able to gain higher education, earn a better living and take care of themselves and their loved ones. Women’s education, health and active participation in working life create wellbeing and equality for society as a whole.
Innovative solutions and technology have gained much more attention worldwide after the 2030 Agenda, and their importance was stressed at this event, too. Caren Grown, Senior Director for Gender at the World Bank Group, told that as a result of an SMS-based campaign on sexual and reproductive behaviour in the Dominican Republic, young women’s knowledge of sexual matters and their sexual behaviour have improved. In the campaign, young women were sent SMS reminders of the importance of contraception on Friday nights, because it is known to be a popular dating night. Menstrual cups, developed by a Finnish company Luna Group, gave rise to a positive discussion about how innovations can markedly facilitate girls’ and women’s everyday lives and make it possible for them to go to school and work.
It was noted that the principal barriers to people's health and economic development are lack of political will and funding as well as cultural taboos and problems related to women's and girls’ sexuality and reproductive health.
A growing number of UN Member States have adopted the theme on their agendas. It is still important to encourage a new kind of brave discussion, partnerships and practical actions more than before. The private sector could be a partner and possible financier in bringing about change. Highlighting economic incentives in the context of this matter is currently one potential means that can lead to new partnerships.
However, the most important partner in advancing the rights of women and girls is the other half of the world population. In his concluding remarks, Minister Kai Mykkänen noted that it is extremely important that men take part in equality and SRHR work. In the future, SMS campaigns should be directed to young men, too. Or, like the World Bank’s Caren Grown summarised the matter: In the end, we need to help all people, women, girls, boys and men.
Nita Syväoja and Henri Salonen The authors are Trainees at the Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN