On the centennial of International Women's Day, proposed at the First International Women's Conference in Copenhagen in 1910, it is fitting to take stock of the progress and challenges in the struggle for gender equity.

Gender-based inequalities continue to keep women from achieving the highest attainable level of health. 

In the Americas, women's progress in education and access to the labor market has not been similarly accompanied by the exercise of their right to health. Gender-based inequalities continue to keep women from achieving the highest attainable level of health. These inequalities are more injurious to the more vulnerable populations, such as the poor, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, adolescents, and rural dwellers.

The book Health of Women and Men in the Americas. Profile 2009, prepared by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in collaboration with sister agencies of the United Nations system, went into circulation this month. Likewise, the recent WHO publication, Women and Health: Today's Evidence, Tomorrow's Agenda, reflects the firm commitment to gender equity expressed by its Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, when she took office.

The two publications offer evidence that shed light on inequalities and permit the necessary corrections to be made, while promoting good practices that incorporate the gender-equality perspective. This year's regional competition in this regard, the third edition, stressed adolescence. A total of 71 projects from 19 countries were submitted.

Maternal mortality remains as an avoidable health problem.

The maternal mortality ratio in the Americas is 63.7 per 100,000 live births, ranging from 8.8 in Canada to 630 in Haiti. This is the leading cause of mortality in women aged 15 to 24 in some countries. Maternal mortality is lower when women have greater access to family planning methods. Hence, the importance of the winner project: ?Empowerment of Women, Individuals, Families, and Communities for the Reduction of Maternal and Neonatal Mortality, with the Participation of Adolescents and Young Adults,? implemented in El Salvador by the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare, in cooperation with Concertación Educativa de El Salvador and Enfants du Monde. The project has ensured that 100% of pregnant women, including adolescents, go for prenatal check-ups; that there have not been cases of maternal mortality; and that infant mortality has been cut in half.

Awards are also being given to a project of the Adolescence Service at the Hospital General de Agudos Cosme Argerich and the Foundation for Adolescent Health 2000 (FUSA 2000) in Argentina, for reducing risks and damages in sexual and reproductive health within the framework of integrated management of adolescent health; and to a project in Brazil that promotes gender equity and health among impoverished youth, using modern information and communication technologies. This program has been adopted by the governments of Brazil, Mexico, and India, and stands out as an effective, innovative, and adaptable intervention for getting boys and young men to make a commitment to gender equity.

After 100 years of fighting for gender equity, there has been undeniable progress, but much is left to be done.

All of us can help complete this unfinished agenda. As Dr Chan pointed out when she presented the WHO report, we have the ?opportunity to make a difference through policy change. And we need the voice and clout of civil society to bring political leaders to account? and step up the pace toward gender equality with social justice.

*Mirta Roses Periago, Director

Pan American Health Organization 

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