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Why it starts with girls

Lee Rhiannon 16 Dec 2011

Blog post by Senator Lee Rhiannon

Worldwide the number one killer of girls aged 15 to 19 years are pregnancy and child birth related complications.

I came across these startling figures as I have been reading up for a meeting I am attending on women's reproductive health in Bangkok.

Organized by the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development the meeting kicks off today in Bangkok.  This group has done excellent work over the years, with my colleagues former Senator Kerry Nettle and Senator Sarah Hanson-Young participating in the Australian chapter of the Forum.

Today the discussions will mainly be on improving advocacy by expanding policy tracking work. From my preliminary discussions I can see how this can provide valuable tools to assist parliamentarians across the region support initiatives on women's reproductive health and coordinate our work.

I think Australia's foreign aid programs could play a greater role in this area and I'm looking forward to working with other members of the Australian Parliamentary Group on Population and Development.

With the increased emphasis on health by AusAID it is timely that our overseas aid programs provided more assistance for programs geared to the health of adolescent girls.

I'll be urging Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to ensure the health component of the aid budget addresses adolescent health related issues. There has been a trend among some donor countries that as they give greater support to health programs in low income countries they rely on a generalized approach to the health needs of the population rather than addressing reproductive health programs for targeted groups and work on reproductive health programs.

The Centre for Global Development's ‘Start with a Girl’ report  has found that adolescent girls are the most likely group to be "missed" by health systems. The Centre has identified how girls are agents for positive change in their families and wider communities. This is a very direct way to achieve a range of health, social and economic improvements.

Hopefully this message is picked up by donors and governments.

As I have been reading up for today's event my hope is that our policy tracking work across the region starts to pick up more reports that adolescent girl related health programs are receiving support and funding. That's the future we need.

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