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Ambassador King Remarks on Universal Access to Reproductive Health
Geneva Policy Dialogue: Series on Reproductive Health
May 23, 2012

2012 Resolve Award Celebration: Delivering the Promise of Universal Access to Reproductive Health
Opening Remarks: Ambassador Betty E. King
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva

A woman speaking to a group
Ambassador King speaking at the 2012 Resolve Award Celebration

Good evening, it is a pleasure to welcome you, colleagues and delegates, to the United States Mission for the second annual event in the Geneva Policy Dialogue: Series on Reproductive Health during the World Health Assembly.  It is also a joy to welcome colleagues from the Aspen Institute’s Global Health and Development program, and the Honorable Joy Phumaphi, former Minister of Health for Botswana as well as colleagues from the World Health Organization’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research.  Tonight we will recognize and celebrate country-led innovations in accelerating progress toward universal access to reproductive health – innovations that save lives and build the foundation for healthier societies and more vibrant economic development.

For the United States, tonight’s event on “reproductive health and country innovations” is a critical opportunity to highlight our belief that women’s health and women’s empowerment is essential to the global dialogue on sustainable development.  As we look toward the Rio+20 Earth Summit, we know that the voices of women and youth are vital to the success of climate mitigation policies.

At the most fundamental level, I believe that universal access to family planning is an essential precursor to achieving gender equality.  Frankly put, until women have access to family planning information, supplies and services there can be no discussion of gender equality. It is simply not possible.

The U.S. has long recognized the role of women in development and traditionally we were at the forefront of funding for family planning.  Despite the current political challenges of talking about family planning, the U.S. has continued to provide support to family planning through our PEPFAR program and our Global Health Initiative.             The Global Health Initiative is based on a fundamental commitment to country led development and country-owned development plans.  We have a strong belief that the issues of women, girls, and gender equality are intimately linked to other development areas, including water and sanitation, food security, education, microenterprise, and governance/civil society programs.

Under President Obama, the United States has prioritized women in development – because we are clear that women’s education and empowerment is essential to creating a more just world. The United States is working to remove barriers to girls education and to support countries as they build more open and robust economies. Girls who lack access to water, sanitation, basic health care and family planning struggle to complete both primary and secondary school — and that is not acceptable.

Funding for family planning makes good sense – from an economic point and from a social justice point of view as well.  The data is clear – family planning is cost effective. We know that it is impossible for women to participate fully in the new global economy if they cannot space their children, prevent unwanted pregnancies and give birth to healthy children.  That is why the United States has made global health and the empowerment of women an integral part of its development agenda.

The facts speak for themselves.

  • Some 215 million women in the developing world want to prevent or delay pregnancy but lack access to modern contraceptives. This lack in access to contraception leads to 82 percent of the 75 million unintended pregnancies in the developing world each year.
  • Family planning saves lives. Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among reproductive-aged women in developing countries, resulting in more than 350,000 maternal deaths each year.
  • Family planning and reproductive health services are cost effective.

So tonight with the help of the Aspen Institute’s Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health – we will honor countries who are leading the way in making universal access to family planning a reality.  Thank you very much for joining us here – and welcome to the United States Mission.

So with that I will turn the program over to Peggy Clark – the Executive Director of Aspen Global Health and Development from The Aspen Institute.