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Women Deliver – Reflections on Power

My Women Deliver experience started on Sunday, June 2, at the Vancouver airport. The airport was flooded with individuals from across the globe, forcing me to stand in line for over two hours, a sheer testament to the number that had arrived to attend the conference. As I made my way to the front of the line, one of the airport staff asked me inquisitively, "What is this conference for women about?" I smiled as I replied, "it is not a women's conference but one where people — men and women– discuss how to advance equity in all aspects of a girl's and woman's life.

Women Deliver is a global movement that advocates and champions gender equality, health, and the rights of girls and women. It has grown in strength from inception in 2007, with their conferences becoming the world's largest convening on gender equality. This year's conference held on June 3-6 brought over 6000 delegates specializing in different professional fields together. The aim was to promote new knowledge and solutions on health, nutrition, education, economic, climate change and political empowerment to human rights, good governance, and girls' and women's agency and equality.

As I made my way into the vast Vancouver Conference Center on Monday, June 3, I was filled with both a sense of excitement and one of purpose. Joining over 6000 delegates, I was ready to learn from them, share my experiences, and engage. Looking back, it was a fruitful experience, and here are a few of my reflections.

Investing in women and girls
In one of the sessions I attended, Sibulele Sibaca, a young woman activist born in one of the Cape townships of South Africa, shared how HIV/AIDS had left her orphaned at a young age. She rose through adversity to start a social enterprise organization that is committed to empowering other youths orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Her story demonstrates the value that girls and women add to society when they contribute and provide solutions to challenges.

Girls and women's voices are often excluded from global and national decision making, yet, they need to be part of the solutions designed for them. Inclusion can only happen if they are part of discussions on leadership, policy development, and implementation at all levels of decision making. All of us need to use our power to make this a reality, which means time's up for the male-only panels and boardrooms.

The role of men in advancing equity among girls and women
I recently read an article by Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala Yousafzai's father, where he talks about championing gender equality in his family. He chose to raise Malala in the same way he did his sons and ensured that she went to school against a culture where girls are forced to stay home and are groomed for marriage instead.

This story and the many others I heard at the Women Deliver conference show the value of men's voices and action in addressing the inequalities girls and women face. We need to involve men as allies in advancing equality. Their voices and actions are essential in preventing the development of ineffective policies and propagating harmful practices such as gender-based violence, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation, among others.

If girls and women get equality, then families, societies, and countries benefit. We could all borrow a leaf from Ziauddin.

Our personal stories can drive change
I met Angelina Spicer, who shared her experience with postpartum depression (PPD) in a session titled 'listen to women: thriving before, during, and after pregnancy.' Angelina brought an honest and relevant perspective on PPD as she spoke of being admitted to a psychiatric hospital at her lowest point. Thankfully, she has since fully recovered.

Her experience made me think that probably the best way to deal with PPD is to look at maternal mental health broadly as opposed to its stages. Angelina is now an advocate who wants mothers and clinicians well equipped to do early screening for maternal mental health as part of antenatal and postnatal care. I believe that through such preemptive measures, women can access support and treatment early enough.

The value of policy and leadership
The conference was attended by global leaders from Kenya, Canada, Ethiopia, and Ghana. I believe that leaders at all levels should advance policies that facilitate equity and the wellbeing of girls and women for a more inclusive and prosperous world. Such policies will inform gender-equal governments, leadership, education, and health systems, among other structures.

Creative ways of audience engagement
Aside from the meaningful discussions and interactions, the conference is progressive in terms of exhibition booths, films aired, and overall engagement with the participants. You could get a fake tattoo with a slogan, watch a short film, engage with poster presenters, and share your thoughts on a blackboard under one roof. My favorite thing was the Women Deliver App that ensured we were up-to-date with our sessions of interest.

With these reflections and in the spirit of this year's Women Deliver theme —Power. Progress. Change.–I commit to using my power to help build a world where girls and women are equally seen, heard, and valued. I invite you to join me.

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