Videomessage by Koenders to MPs in action for maternal health

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m very glad to be able to welcome you all here to the heart of Dutch democracy. This is a familiar and much-loved environment for me. I worked here for ten years as an MP, and for ten years before that as a parliamentary assistant for the Labour Party.

I’m very sorry that I can’t be there personally to host this meeting. But I know you're in good hands with the Ambassador for MDGs. As you watch this video, I’m in the eastern part of Congo which is one of the parts of the world where we’re furthest away from attaining MDG 5, especially now. I’m glad that I can speak to you by video to underscore the importance of your role in making up for lost time in reaching MDG 5.

I noticed as an MP – I was Chair of the Board of the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank and President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly – how important international parliamentary networks are. Working together internationally, parliamentarians can achieve things that they could never manage at national level. This conference is giving a fresh, focused boost to your efforts to bring about change.

My compliments to the conference organisers: the Dutch House of Representatives, the World Health Organisation and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The highest praise is due to the driving force behind this initiative, Ms Chantal Gill’ard, MP. If everyone works as hard to attain MDG 5 as Chantal does, we will get on track in no time!

MDG 5 is one of my policy priorities. Hardly any progress has been made towards this goal in the past 20 years. How can this be, when great steps forward have been made in other areas, towards attaining other MDGs? And when we know how to prevent most maternal mortality? Even less prosperous countries have managed this. Nations like Honduras, Sri Lanka and Chile have demonstrated that the political will to invest in women and mothers pays human dividends. In these countries maternal mortality has fallen spectacularly in ten to fifteen years – thanks to political will and cooperation. Not only women but also their families, communities and countries have benefited.

MDG 5 concerns sexual and reproductive health and rights, the essential rights of every human being. For many people, including many governments and parliaments, it is a sensitive and thorny issue. It is up to us to break the silence. We cannot allow so many women to die simply because sexual and reproductive health and rights are surrounded by taboos.

I try to bring this issue up in my work, particularly when I travel, most recently in Yemen. During my last visit to Nicaragua, I expressed my concern in my talks with the president and foreign minister about the changes for the worse in Nicaraguan abortion laws.

In these times of financial crisis, it is increasingly important to stress the economic dimension of MDG 5 and safe pregnancies. To put it crudely: maternal mortality is bad for the economy. It costs the world 15 billion dollars in lost productivity each year. Another aspect is that high population growth often wipes out economic growth. A population that grows less quickly puts less of a burden on natural resources, and allows economic growth to be spread less thinly. In Tunisia, for example, where population growth is 1.1%, economic development is progressing more rapidly than in the neighbouring countries.

Studies show that many women in developing countries would gladly opt for family planning if they had the chance. In Ethiopia, for instance, 35% of women say they would. A recent World Bank publication reveals that if all women in the world with an unmet need for contraception, had access to contraception, maternal mortality would fall by between 25 and 35%. So with investments in quality family planning programmes, a reduction of this magnitude would be within our grasp.

The Netherlands is investing in this goal, for example by earmarking five million euros for production and distribution of female condoms. I have also increased our contribution to the UN Global Programme on Reproductive Health Commodity Security from 5 million euros a year to 30 million euros a year.

But of course the Netherlands can’t attain MDG 5 on its own! It’s up to all of us to take the steps that are needed to make this possible.

You MPs make the decisions by which laws are adopted and budgets allocated. And you monitor the implementation of policy. I hope this conference will inspire you to carry on with your crucial work as parliamentarians.

We will be continuing our efforts next year – you at the Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Addis Ababa, while I will be at the IPCI/ICPD meeting in Cairo in October. I will continue to draw the world’s attention to MDG 5, for example by organising a one-day International High Level Meeting on MDG 5 before the Cairo gathering.

I call on you all to endeavour in your own countries to make progress towards MDG 5. Parliamentarians as representatives of the people can make the real difference!

Thank you.