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Women Deliver 2016 (Copenhagen, Denmark, May 16-19)

Three months ago, I attended Women Deliver's Fourth Conference, one the most important global conference on women’s rights and health of the decade, with over 6,000 advocates, representatives of non-governmental and international organizations, parliamentarians, and young leaders. All of them eloquently spoke about the need to improve and strengthen women and girls’ rights and health throughout the world. I could go on and on about the impact the conference had on me and how it uplifted me. The presence of so many young advocates and leaders was to me, one of the greatest achievements of this gathering. It clearly bore out the idea that it is one thing to be in the room but you have to be invited at the table to be part of the debate and foster change, especially in light of Agenda 2030.

I attended great panels dealing with topics such as gender norms, women’s participation in health systems, the contraceptive needs of adolescents, water and sanitation, primary health care, newborn and maternal mortality, and safe surgery for women, along with outstanding plenary sessions with high-level speakers. I was fortunate to listen to Dr. Denis Mukwege, world-renowned gynecological surgeon (“the man who repairs women”), during a breakfast session hosted by EngenderHealth and its Fistula Care Plus Project.

On the whole, all the speakers who were enthusiastic and motivated feminists, both women and men, raised the most critical issues women are faced with, following the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and they suggested solutions. Advocates, activists and leaders insisted on the need for data, investments and accountability. Dr. Willie Parker who provides safe abortions in the states of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, stated that men should become traitors to patriarchy… so wise and so true, the struggle for gender equality has to be waged by both men and women.

Without collaborative efforts, inclusiveness, partnership with development agencies, innovative survey tools, and solid data, there will be no improvement and governments have to be held accountable. Those are my takeaways from this conference. Moreover, the dialogues initiated between young leaders, highly experienced professionals and advocates, the North and the South demonstrate that development work has to be democratized so that in the end, those types of gatherings do not have to take place to talk about women dying in labor, and being discriminated against and rejected just because they are women. There is a long way to go and some panelists asked attendees to pledge that each one of us in our countries would take action in some ways. Therefore, it is time to move from words to action.

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