Remarks by Christy Turlington Burns, U.S. Delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, at the Introduction of the U.S.-Sponsored Maternal Mortality Resolution

Christy Turlington Burns
New York, NY
March 8, 2012


Thank you Madam Chair.

On behalf of Australia, Benin, Guatemala, Israel, Turkey and the United States, we are pleased to introduce this resolution on Eliminating Maternal Mortality and Morbidity through the Empowerment of Women.

With three years to go until 2015 there is still so much to do to reach the MDG targets for reducing maternal mortality and achieving universal access to reproductive health. In my work as a global maternal health advocate I have seen a growing commitment from the political leadership of the United Nations and its Member States, but we need to accelerate participation from all sectors and all governments to achieve our shared goals.

My journey from the fashion industry to the halls of the United Nations began on the day I became a mother eight years ago. Shortly after I delivered my daughter an unexpected complication arose. With the critical assistance of a proficient team of nurses, a midwife and an obstetrician -- I survived. This experience led me to explore the global impact of childbirth on girls and women. I was struck by the statistics. At that time, it was estimated that more than 500,000 women died each year from pregnancy or childbirth related causes. And, for every woman who dies, twenty more women suffer lifelong disabilities that prevent them from leading a productive life. But the most shocking fact I learned at that time, was that almost ALL of these deaths were preventable. This inspired me to set out on the path of advocacy that has led me here today.

Today, the estimated global figure of maternal deaths has dropped to 358,000. While this decline in maternal mortality IS significant, it still means that a woman dies every 90 seconds from pregnancy-related complications AND every preventable death is still one too many. We have the tools and knowledge to prevent these deaths, yet millions of women still lack access to reproductive health services and modern contraception and therefore control over their most basic reproductive rights.

The resolution my delegation introduces today urges governments, development partners, and civil society to summon their collective will and take the crucial actions still needed to overcome preventable maternal mortality and morbidity. The resolution also recognizes that this issue is directly linked to persistent gender inequalities and discrimination against women and girls and calls on Member States to address the underlying economic, cultural, social, and legal barriers that contribute to maternal mortality and morbidity.

The resolution builds on the progress and frameworks we have adopted in Beijing and Cairo. It recognizes the fundamental importance of women’s access to comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health services, family planning, modern methods of contraception, skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetric care, and the management of complications arising from abortion. It stresses proven interventions, especially for women living in poverty and in underserved rural areas, as key to stronger health systems. The resolution underscores the higher risk of maternal morbidity and mortality for adolescent girls and draws attention to the health risks that stem from harmful traditional practices such as early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation or cutting. It also acknowledges the link between school attendance and delaying early marriage and early pregnancy. And finally, the resolution recognizes the importance of promoting and protecting the human rights of women and girls as crucial to achieving real gender equality, empowering women and eliminating preventable maternal mortality and morbidity.

With our partners, Madam Chair, the United States introduces this resolution to energize the international community to advance our shared and urgent goal: saving women's lives.

My delegation wishes to thank those delegations that have contributed to this resolution and welcome all to become co-sponsors. We look forward to the adoption of this resolution by consensus tomorrow.

Thank you, Madam Chair.


PRN: 2012/051