That was the theme of this year’s Women Deliver conference which convened from 3 to 6 June 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. Arriving at the venue and seeing the bright, big, bold banners citing the theme made me feel powerful. I joined 8000 other people, all of us coming from all corners of the world, representing different fields of work, viewpoints, backgrounds, experiences and identities. All these people gathered with the drive to accelerate progress for girls and women. It doesn’t get better than that!
Women Deliver 2019 was the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights and wellness of girls and women in the 21st century. The conference felt very intense for me. In my everyday work, I am focused on HIV prevention – a matter of crucial significance for women in Africa. However, the conference brought to the table broader issues affecting girls and women. The three-and-a-half days was not enough to process all the valuable learnings. So much was happening at the same time, and the manner in which the information was delivered was very impressive. Digital platforms were constantly feeding information on what was happening in different sessions, helping me to catch up on matters of interest.
Inside My Purse blog also participated at the conference. It was part of over 100 information booths and received thumbs up from young women and people working with young women in their respective organisations. Booth visitors told me that they were impressed with how Inside My Purse uses suitable and appealing language and creative ways to generate interest and capture young women’s attention. A doctor from India who is also a mother of two adolescent girls said: “The purse analogy is a powerful way to break the ice when engaging young women. I will certainly use this in my clinic.”
The conference had an additional dynamic due to the presence of powerful people, among them state presidents from African and European countries, CEOs of big corporations, United Nations leaders – and most importantly, the 1400 youth, mainly women. I am excited to say that young people were not just tokens and numbers for reporting purposes but contributors and drivers of conversations and change they want to see. Young women such as Ntokozo Zakwe from South Africa, Natasha Wang Mwansa from Zambia and many others I met, own their space. They shared the stage with powerful leaders and their message was very clear that young people are not the future of the world, but the now.
Women Deliver 2019 acknowledged that globally there has been progress in increasing women representation and participation in spaces of power and decision making, but that more needs to be done. Most states have great policies in place for women’s empowerment but fall short on implementation, monitoring and skills development. The message was loud: it is time to deliver and no more lip service. While the policies must exist, women’s empowerment starts in families and communities. That’s where the nurturing of social norms and cultural practices that promote gender equality must happen.
At the end of each conference session, moderators asked speakers the same question: How would you use your power to ensure progressive change for girls and women? So I commit to continue to work with young women, to support them and create spaces where their voices can be heard. I am going to support my daughter, nieces and girls in my community to realise that they are powerful to be whatever they aspire to be in life.
Dear readers, how will you use your power to effect change for girls and women? I hope you too will find time to think through this question and find your way to #powHERup!