Co-authored by Tahrim Chaudhury, Deputy Manager Advocacy and Campaign.

Bangladesh has seen steady decline in maternal mortality rates over the last two decades or so. The maternal mortality rate has fallen from 312 in 1990 to 176 in 2014 per 100,000 live births. This is a remarkable achievement. But there is no room for being complacent. Millions of girls and young women continue to remain deprived with little or no access to basic health care and maternal care.

Access and equity are two major concerns when it comes to adequate health care. Though almost every union has a health facility, a significant number of them are dysfunctional. Hence, for a pregnant woman residing in a remote area which does not have a functioning health facility, going to receive healthcare is a huge undertaking. Transportation facilities, expenditure and time all come into play. In many cases distance is a strong enough deterrent.

Inequities in the utilization of maternal health services from health facilities among different population groups and regions are also evident. Nationwide, only 15 percent of the poorest women gave birth in health facilities compared to 70 percent of the richest women in 2016.

The question now is: how can this dual challenge of access and equity be fixed.

Strengthening the union level health facilities could solve the problem. Since these facilities are within 40-50 minutes walking distance from the farthest point of a union facility’s catchment area it is easily accessible. Moreover, the health facilities being accessible 24/7 is an added advantage.

Hence, the International Day of the Girl Child in Bangladesh this year focuses on the key advocacy initiative to promote and facilitate the functionality of the health facilities for the most important but also most deprived service seekers- women and children. The International Day of the Girl Child in Bangladesh flags the importance of promoting the health facilities across board so that every mother, every woman can deliver at a health facility through a skilled birth attendant.

As a part of the International Day of the Girl Child, Save the Children was involved in a multi-partner initiative with Bangladesh Pediatric Association, Dhaka Ahsania Mission and Friends in Village Development in organizing medical camps in the very remote wetlands of Sylhet. The camps provided free of cost health services and medicines to over a 1,000 girls and women who are the most underserved and deprived. Additionally, a Citizen Hearing was organized by the multi-partners to create awareness and discussion regarding the ‘life of a girl child’ in the rural and urban areas. This activity was also in line with Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign which advocates towards bringing the most deprived first. These initiatives have engaged communities at the local, national and international level to advocate for change by integrating the voices of women and children, to effectively increase health service seeking and service provision, and the promotion of health care facilities.

As a part of the International Day of the Girl Child, youth advocate Moni Begum who participated at the United Nations General Assembly last September initiated an Art Competition led by Save the Children in partnership with Dhaka Ahsania Mission. The art competition was held in her village in Kulaura, Maulvibazar. The event involved girl children who were encouraged to draw the ‘life of a girl’ in her community and one that she envisioned for herself. The event was attended by the local government representatives and other civil society organizations. Moni Begum ended the session through an inspiring discussion with the children and youth leaders regarding the huge potential in investing in a girl child, how girls should be inspired to grow and achieve and finally, the importance and right of a mother to be able to deliver at a health facility through a skilled birth attendant.

See full resumé of Child Rights Week in Bangladesh here.