Earlier this month, more than 50 colleagues from all over Save the Children came together in Vancouver, Canada, to advocate for gender equality and the rights of girls and women at Women Deliver 2019, the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women.
Leading or collaborating with partners, our session topics included ending child marriage, preventing and responding to sexual violence in conflict, adolescent girls' and boys' empowerment, the power of gender equality to prevent deaths from preterm birth, newborn health in humanitarian settings and more. Perhaps most excitingly, we had valuable and meaningful engagement from many young people at the event, with at least one youth on every one of our panel sessions, giving insight to their perspectives and experiences as we work with them to shape their future world.
The theme of the conference was ‘Power’ – of individuals, of structures and of movements. Three young women who attended Women Deliver, who work with Save the Children in different capacities, felt so empowered that they were inspired to write about how they intend to use their own power for good.
Let’s hear from them:
Shalini, 24 years old, is from a small village in Nuapada, in the eastern state of Odisha in India – a region, she says, that is known for its rich tribal culture and some famous temples too. Shalini was invited to attend Women Deliver primarily to speak at the More Than Brides Alliance booth about the issue of child marriage and why we must address it. This excerpt from the daily diary she wrote shows us one of the many moments that made an impact on her at the conference:
“The Conference opened with a reverberating music performance by Canada’s Canada’s Indigenous community. And what followed after, you will know, was a historic moment. The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, arrived to a roaring cheer from the audience. His speech was powerful and moving. I pen down some of things he said that left a deep impact on me. ‘We are not powerless. It’s up to us to fight back. All of us - women, men, gender diverse people, neighbours and allies across communities, all of us together, all of us standing strong on gender justice worldwide have to play a role.’
“He talked about the power of a choice and a voice. Later I heard, the Prime Minister announced a huge amount of funds towards empowering women and girls. When I return [to India], I wish to meet our Prime Minister, to share my experience with him. I want to also tell him that girls and women, when given equal opportunities to learn and grow, can be leaders and agents of change for the whole country.”
Ivonne Arica is Regional Communications Officer for Save the Children in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Since last year, she has been involved in the Women Deliver Young Leaders program, which seeks to connect young advocates with the platforms, the people, and the resources that can amplify their influence on a larger scale. She shared her experience:
“Being a girl in Peru is not easy. Peru is the country with the third highest rates of sexual violence; in 76% of sexual violence cases were girls and 13% of girls are mothers...
“I studied in a Peruvian public school for girls and we never received information about how to avoid pregnancy. My parents always supported me and told me that I had to go to university and study to be someone in the future. My classmates didn’t have the same support. Most of them had very difficult lives. They faced violence... and their parents didn’t talk about sex with them. When we were in secondary school, one of my classmates got pregnant. The next year two of them [became pregnant] and the next year three, and so on. One third of my classmates became mothers before 19 years old and only 6 of us had the opportunity to go to college and graduate.
“[Being part of the Young Leaders program], with an emphasis on sexual and reproductive health and rights, has let me access capacity building on advocacy, amplify my network, get access to opportunities and be present at Women Deliver Conference 2019. For me, the biggest lesson of the conference is that everyone can use their own power to create change and achieve gender equality. We have to use our individual power now. How? Advocate that the media challenge gender norms in their content, mentor and support girls and women who have traditionally been underrepresented in decision making, vote with your ballot and your wallet to support gender equality allies, speak up online, in the street and everywhere in between against injustice, donate time or money to women-focused organizations. So I invite you to think: How will you use your power for change?”
Megan O’Dell is Project Officer for Save the Children’s Health and Nutrition thematic work. She attended Women Deliver to help with overall logistics and to advocate for our main Health and Nutrition objectives at the conference. She confessed that she had both a personal and professional interest in the subjects being discussed:
“Most people do not know that in addition to my Health and Nutrition work at Save the Children, I am also a doula, serving to provide educational, physical, and emotional support to pregnant women and their partners over the course of pregnancy, labor, and immediately after the birth. From the perspective of a doula, I understand the health system, the hospital guidelines, the anatomical transformations during childbirth, and the emotional roller coaster that accompanies bringing life into this world. At Women Deliver, [one of the concurrent sessions] was titled ‘Who Holds the Power in Pregnancy? Overcoming Stigma.’ The room was filled with educators, advocates, midwives, obstetricians, nurses, and numerous others. All of them unanimously agreed that as it stands now in our existing health structure, women do not hold the power during their own pregnancies. I believe that power sits with the care-providers and nurses.
“At Women Deliver, an indigenous midwife in Canada said, “Midwives don’t just catch babies. They are part of the entire health system. And a community that is losing mothers and newborns, is a community that is dying.” To me, this means that investing in women is investing in life.
“All of us at Save the Children have the power to bring about change – as individuals and together as a movement... As a doula, I plan to use my power to help women and their partners receive the quality of care they deserve. I will continue to provide childbirth education instruction, overviews of exercises used prenatally and during birth, and guidance on communicating with care providers. Lastly, I will always advocate for the rights and the voice of the woman and her partner. Birth is the most transformational process a woman could go through; and it is at this very moment that she should feel her most empowered and powerful. It is a true honor to help these women bring life into this world and I couldn’t ask for a greater gift.”