Washington, D.C., March 10, 2008 (PAHO)—More than a third of women in Latin America and the Caribbean have suffered violence at the hands of their domestic partners, more than 22,000 die each year in childbirth from preventable causes, and women and girls account for a growing proportion of all new cases of HIV.
These and similar examples of gender inequality are "completely unacceptable," said Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr. Mirta Roses today at an event celebrating International Women's Day, held at PAHO headquarters in Washington, D.C.
"We are convinced that gender discrimination is behind maternal mortality," said Dr. Roses. This is one of many reasons why it is imperative to make gender equality a reality and not just rhetoric, she said in a message webcast to PAHO country offices and technical centers throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
"At PAHO we are committed to real advances in gender equality," said Dr. Roses. "It is women's struggle that has brought us to where we are, but also with the support of men." She called on women and men throughout the Region to join in celebration of the progress that has been made toward women's full enjoyment of equal rights.
"PAHO's highest priority is to bridge the unjust gaps between women and men," said Dr. Roses. "Today is a day to celebrate the courage and achievements of women as movers and shakers for change, whether as presidents, ministers, lawmakers, or as community and family leaders. These women, joined by many men, are reversing hundreds of years of gender discrimination and inequality and moving us toward a fairer, healthier and better world."
Best practices contest
A highlight of today's event was the presentation of two winners, from Bolivia and Mexico, of PAHO's first "Best Practices Incorporating a Gender Equality Perspective in Health" contest.
The winning project from Bolivia, "Constructing Bridges between the Community and Health Services with a Gender and Intercultural Approach," was honored for its successful efforts to reduce maternal and infant mortality in a heavily indigenous area in the department of La Paz.
The project worked through existing women's groups with efforts focused on educating and empowering women to take charge of their health and reproductive behaviors, educating men about the importance of gender equality, and training community health workers. The project succeeded in reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent and infant mortality by 50 percent in the target population.
"When we share knowledge, we all gain," said Dr. Silva de la Vega, project coordinator for PROCOSI, the Bolivian nongovernmental organization that carried out the project.
The second contest winner was a program carried out by Mexico's Ministry of Health titled "Incorporation of a Gender Perspective in Priority Health Programs: Program for Prevention and Control of Diabetes Mellitus." The program used a gender perspective to determine differences in diabetes rates and risk factors among women and men in Mexico and to develop separate interventions taking those differences into account.
"As always, we encountered resistance," said Dr. Aurora del Río Zolezzi, Assistant Director General for Gender Equity in Mexico's Ministry of Health. "The most important thing was to demonstrate how to incorporate a gender perspective into a health program in a practical and concrete way," said Dr. del Río Zolezzi.
Also participating in today's event was World Bank gender expert Dr. Rekha Mehra, author of a recent study on gender mainstreaming in economic development agencies and projects. She noted that women's life expectancy has increased 15-20 percent in developing countries since 1970, but women's employment rates have declined from 53 percent in 1980 to 49 percent in 2005, compared with 86 percent employment among men. "In developing countries, women still earn on average 22 percent less than men," she added.
Dr. Marijke Velzeboer-Salcedo, head of PAHO's Gender, Ethnicity and Health team, called for a joint commitment to advance gender equality among all international agencies working in development.
"We cannot achieve the Millennium Development Goals without taking gender equality into account," she said.
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PAHO, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.
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