Citizens Hearings connect citizens and leaders as never before

Blog by Betsy McCallon, Executive Director of WRA
& Chair of the NGO Constituency of PMNCH

The packed out Citizens Hearings in recent weeks across Africa and Asia have connected people to their leaders as never before in improving the health of women and children and putting adolescent’s priorities on the agenda.

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In district hearings, citizens have gathered in large numbers to make their voices heard in front of elected politicians, health service providers and the media. In capital cities, those same voices have been heard on the radio, in the print media as well as on national TV debates. 

White Ribbon Alliance, World Vision, Save the Children and IPPF are working with many partners to hold these Citizens Hearings in almost 30 countries in the first half of this year.

Hearings that have taken place so far:

In Uganda, District hearings in Kabale and Lira brought together over 800 citizens, and the resulting recommendations were received by the Prime Minister on International Women’s Day and then by the Minister of Health on Friday March 27th

In Tanzania,  Citizens Hearings took place in five districts and brought together 860 citizens. The recommendations made jointly by district leaders and citizens were broadcast in a national ITV Tanzania debate.

In Indonesia, over 42 focal group discussions on priorities for RMNCH were held across the country to inform the National Citizens Hearing on the 12th March. The outcomes were shared with the Minister of Health.  

In Nigeria, the Citizens Hearing took place right before the election; recommendations will be shared with the newly elected government.

Last year at the UN General Assembly, Richard Horton as Co-Chair of the Independent Expert Review Group  (iERG) set out their key recommendations for progress and accountability in women’s, children’s and adolescent health. One such recommendation was for the global health community to further include civil society in intergovernmental processes, especially at the World Health Assembly.

Global Citizens Dialogue 

In response, the PMNCH NGO Constituency Board has been working with many partners to hold a Global Citizens Dialogue at the 68th World Health Assembly, as part of our call for more robust accountability for the updated Global Strategy, and for citizen engagement to be at the core of the SDGs.

We are strongly encouraged by the priority that WHO has given to civil society participation and engagement in the accountability processes, and we believe that the Global Citizens Dialogue will be the first step towards meeting the recommendations of the iERG. We are confident that the contribution of the Global Citizens’ Dialogue will foster the much-needed collaboration between citizens, civil society and the World Health Organization.

This event will build on the results of district and National Citizens’ Hearings outlined above. It’s clear that the movement to hold leaders accountable – and work with citizens to make sure commitments to improve health services are met – continues to gather steam, and strong recommendations are already emerging. These are being collected and will be handed over to Secretary General Ban Ki Moon as he guides decisions on the next Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, and then to government Ministers from around the world in the lead up to the World Health Assembly in May.