My Experience at Women Deliver

Women Deliver is 8000 people from over 175 countries. Leaders, activists, community change agents and professionals … all gathered to discuss, exchange, and work together for the rights of women all over the world. This year, the conference took place in Vancouver, during 4 full days.

My privilege 

As a woman and mother living in Canada, I know the privilege of being able to access the health services that I need. However, I grew up in Burkina Faso. Sadly, not all women and girls from my beloved country have the same chances and rights.

As a teenager, I lived in Burkina. I am thankful to have grown up in a family of financial means. Above all, my family prioritized our education, our health and our well-being. Regardless of our gender, we (my big sister, me and my little brother), had similar opportunities.

Furthermore, I was fortunate to have grown up with a midwife as a mother. My mother guided my older sister and I as our bodies started to change. In other words, our family had discussions about menstruation and sexual and reproductive health and rights. We had access to sanitary pads every month. Ultimately, periods never prevented my sister and I from getting an education. We went to elementary school, to college and then continued our studies abroad. I repeat, we were fortunate.

The reality

Unfortunately, there is an alarming number of women, adolescents and girls who can not exercise their basic rights. These women do not have autonomy over their own bodies. These women see their dignity torn away, and some of them pay the price with their lives. At it’s core, sexual and reproductive health and rights is a matter of life and death. In fact, educating women and adolescents about family planning can prevent as many as 73% of maternal deaths. 

Attending this international conference with World Vision as part of their ENRICH 1000 Day Journey initiative was an incredible experience. I heard troubling stories told by women of incredible strength and resilience; I learned a lot, understood a lot, and confirmed the ideas I had.

Five Essential Takeaways from Women Deliver

  1. Educated, healthy women and girls with decision-making power are powerful agents of change

Undoubtedly, this was a key takeaway from the conference. We talked about how gaps in gender equality transcend education, nutrition, decision-making power in homes etc. When a woman doesn’t, for example, have a say in whether she can use contraceptives, when parents decide to invest in the education of the boy and not the girl; there is a big problem.

Nutrition (we talk about quality here and not quantity) also has an incredible impact on the physical but also cognitive development of children. When a child is missing important nutrients from their diet, they risk not being able to follow along in class. Through the ENRICH 1000 Day Journey initiative, World Vision Canada supports the health of women and children in vulnerable communities, including Tanzania, Kenya, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

  1. Communities must drive their own change

Women must be at the centre of the programs that serve them. In other words, people who are most impacted by an issue are the most qualified to offer solutions. We need development agendas that ensure that affected communities are included and afforded decision-making power.

With the proper education on things like rights, family planning and autonomy, communities can drive the bus of their own change.

As the young and vibrant Zambian activist Natasha Mwansa said, “Anything for us, without us, is AGAINST us”.

  1. Men are allies

Josiane and her son Lukas

I am really happy to see that male allies are meaningfully part of the conversation. Across the sector, programs and initiatives are actively engaging and educating men and boys. Women can not get pregnant through natural circumstances alone. Men are an undeniable component of maternal health. As such, they must be a part of sexual and reproductive health and rights solutions.

Models like Men Care aim to challenge gender norms by, for example, involving men in daily chores at home. The initiative forms groups of men in the community wanting to see change. It educates men about the importance of women and girls rights and challenges harmful traditional practices. These men become allies and lead other men of the community along with them.

As the young male activist from the conference said, gender equality can’t only focus on women, we also need to include men, especially young men.

  1. Young people today are creating the reality of tomorrow  

It is the young people of today who will drive change in the coming years. Thankfully, we are seeing more and more fervent young activists who are innovating solutions with incredible impact. These youth demand to be heard. They are taking the floor.

Josiane Konaté, Dr. Joannie Bewa and Megan Radford at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference

Across the conference, I connected with a key message. Youth need to be involved in informed conversation. In Bangladesh, for example, Sumi Kaiser, a nineteen-year-old leader in her community, is part of an adolescent group. These teens have taken issues affecting their community into their own hands – coming together regularly to discuss how they can prevent child marriage and improve sexual and reproductive health. Youth are the driving force behind the movement, the engine of change.

  1. We are all change agents

On the last day of Women Deliver, I attended a landmark session in which women at the head of important movements took the floor. Among them were Zoleka Mandela (Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter) and Tarana Burke, creator of the #MeToo movement. In essence, these women discussed what motivated them to start advocating and what happens when voices come together to demand change.

We raised our voices and our voices were heard. On the second day of the conference, the Government of Canada announced a $1.4 billion dollar annual commitment towards women and girls health for ten years starting in 2023. Thanks to this incredible commitment, more women, adolescents and girls will have what they need to become powerful change agents. A true moment to celebrate!

Ultimately, if there is one thing to takeaway, it is that each of us has the ability to be a change agent. Our voice, no matter how small it may seem to us, can echo.

Let’s raise our voices

One story that really stood out to me was the story of  Meryem. Forced to marry in Ethiopia at age 12, Meryem is now part of the Born on Time program and is a leader in her community. She educates her peers on gender equality and not being married early.   “We thought it would never end, but now we have hope”, said women in her community who, like Meryem, were married at a young age, denied of their fundamental rights to education and the decisions about when and how many children to have.

Meryem is a voice of change. As I write this article to talk about my experience and my learning, I am a voice of change.

Everybody who, in your own lives, strives towards a more gender equal world, you are a voice. If the Government of Canada’s announcement tells us anything, it is that our little voices can resonate. We need persistence, determination and consistency.

Celebrate and show your support for the Government of Canada’s incredible commitment to the health and rights of women and children around the world. Take a second to sign the petition below.

Thank you, World Vision Canada, for four unforgettable days.