In the Category Of “They Must Be Kidding,” the United Nations Puts Stephen Harper in Charge of Accountability of Women’s Health

Jodi Jacobson

The United Nations makes anti-choice Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in charge of accountability for women's health in meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is anti-choice, tried to eliminate family planning from Canada’s international funding for maternal health programs, and generally speaking has adopted global health policies that will further marginalize women and girls.

For some reason, the United Nations took this to mean he would be a great candidate to co-chair a high-level commission to hold countries accountable for spending $40 billion pledged in September to improve women’s health.

According to a statement released yesterday:

The United Nations is establishing a high-level commission charged with developing an accountability framework that will link resources committed to women’s and children’s health with the results they are intended to achieve. “Strengthening accountability is critical if we are to save the lives of more women and children,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “We must ensure that partners deliver on their promises but, in turn, it is crucial that they know whether investments are leading to sustainable progress.”

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A Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health–itself lacking in several areas–was released and adopted by the UN in member countries attending the Millennium Development Summit in New York in September.  Countries “committed” (which is not to say they’ve actually written checks for) $40 billion in “a global effort to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015.”

The Strategy also called for the World Health Organization (WHO) “to establish a process to determine the most effective international institutional arrangements for global reporting, oversight and accountability for women’s and children’s health.”

The Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health will develop an accountability framework that will help countries monitor where resources go and how they are spent, and will provide the evidence needed to show which programmes are the most effective to save the lives of women and children.

The commission is charged with tracking results and resource flows at global and country levels; identifying a core set of indicators and measurement needs for women’s and children’s health; proposing steps to improve health information and registration of vital events — births and deaths — in low-income countries; and exploring opportunities for innovation in information technology to improve access to reliable information on resources and outcomes. Given that complications of unsafe abortion are a leading cause of maternal illness and death, these resources and technologies that might reasonably be expected to include, for example, increased access to both safe abortion technologies, emergency contraception, and post-abortion care, among other things.

Except, with Harper at the helm they most likely will not.

Harper is at best a questionable choice to be in charge of where resources should go and how they are spent.  His policies, which come right out of the playbook of the ultra right in the United States, were criticized by The Lancet earlier this year for the purposeful exclusion of abortion from the country’s international strategy to address maternal mortality and morbidity worldwide, and for hypocrisy, a la the U.S. global gag rule, of creating a different standard of health for poor women abroad than women in Canada enjoy.

Nonetheless, Harper will be co-chair of the commission with Jakaya Kikwete, President of the United Republic of Tanzania.  (Two men.  Imagine that!)  The Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Hamadoun I. Touré, and the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, will act as vice chairs.

Putting the fox in charge of the hen house seems to me to turn the notion of “accountability” on its head.

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