Mabel van Oranje
Photo: Courtesy of PSI
Mabel van Oranje is CEO of the Elders, an independent group of eminent global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela to offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.

Mabel is also a founder and co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations and is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. During the forum in Tanzania in May 2010, Mabel talked with PSI's Kate Roberts—a fellow Young Global Leader—about girls and women and the global agenda.
Kate Roberts: Based on your work with the Elders on issues related to equality for women and girls, is the fight being won or lost?

Mabel van Oranje: I prefer not to talk in terms of a fight. The question of equality for girls and women is an issue that is not only about improving education, health and the overall well-being and rights of girls and women; it is ultimately about all of us making the best use of 50 percent of our society. Therefore, it is not a fight; it is actually an issue that we should all be collaborating on because it is in the best interest of all of us—women and girls, men and boys—to make sure that women can develop and live up to their full potential.

KR: You recently tweeted your admiration of No Woman, No Cry, a documentary about maternal mortality. How does maternal mortality fit into the overall campaign for greater equality?

MBV: Women play such a crucial role within a household, in the education of their children and, in many places, within local economies that I find it actually quite amazing that they're still being treated as if they were second-class citizens when it comes to education and healthcare. It is absolutely—excuse my language here—it is absolutely stupid, in my view, when preference is given to men over women when it comes to access to healthcare. Every minute of the day a woman dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. Also, women are one of the most vulnerable groups in the fight against HIV/AIDS and are often infected not because of their own behavior, but because of the behavior of their husbands. The fact that we don't focus on their health and put them on treatment, instead letting these women die, is a tremendous loss for all of us.

KR: The Elders recently started a new initiative around tradition and religion. How is this contributing to the Girl Effect?

MBV: Religion and tradition play such a decisive role in our world and have been a great force for good. However, unfortunately, there are too many cases where religion and tradition are misused in order to justify the unequal and sometimes even dangerous treatment of girls and women. For example, people say it's because of tradition that we have to circumcise girls, even though we know that it is an enormous health risk. In those cases, tradition can actually be harmful rather than a positive thing. In terms of religion, it is not one particular religion but many religions that treat women unequally. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, for example, pointed out that in his own church in America women cannot hold certain positions. It is very much a taboo issue, and the Elders hope that by speaking out about it, that by calling out to religious and traditional leaders, they can help take this taboo away and create positive change.

I must say the responses have been amazing. Women from all over the world have been writing to us and saying: "Look, what you said is what I am feeling, but I can't say it. But now I can refer to the words that you have said, and we hope the Elders will keep up the good work."

KR: As a Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum, you've been a real champion for the Girl Effect and even visited some of PSI's reproductive health activities in Tanzania. What does the Girl Effect really mean to you?

MBV: For me, the Girl Effect means empowerment and smart development. By giving a girl an education, by giving her a healthy life and making sure that her rights are respected, she could grow up to become an influential doctor, a great community leader, a teacher. She could do so much for society. And that's why I think you are just not empowering the girl, you are also doing smart development. Investing in a girl will ultimately pay off for everybody who lives around that girl. Not just next to her, but in the wide, wide society.

Kate Roberts is the vice president of corporate marketing and communications at PSI. She oversees internal and external communications strategies, corporate partnerships and branding. Kate founded YouthAIDS and Five & Alive, two marketing campaigns that aim to raise funds and awareness about PSI's HIV/AIDS and child survival programs.

PSI is a leading global health organization with programs targeting malaria, child survival, HIV and reproductive health. Working in partnership within the public and private sectors and harnessing the power of the markets, PSI provides lifesaving products, clinical services and behavior-change communications that empower the world's most vulnerable populations to lead healthier lives. Learn more at

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