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Women Deliver: Opening Plenary

June 7, 2010

The Women Deliver conference (www.womendeliver.org), is running June 7-9 2010 and the GAB team is present! It is a global meeting on maternal and reproductive health and the advancement of women and girls. Tune in today, tomorrow, and Wednesday for live updates directly from the conference floor.

by Kyle Bachan and Erin Rickard

Photo via Women Deliver

And so it begins. After being ushered into a dimmed auditorium with ministers, leaders and organizations from around the world, Jill Sheffield, president of Women Deliver, took to the stage to officially commence the conference. The original conference, held in London in 2007 had 2000 attendees. This conference has around 3500.

Together we put women’s health on the international agenda.- Jill Sheffield

Sheffield talked about celebrating technologies that improve and protect women’s health but she also stressed that we need a further $12 billion to ensure the future of half of humanity. We were then shown a photographic essay by Lynsey Addario which depicted women around the world and the various struggles they are facing that Women Deliver hopes to bring to the forefront. Read on for a number of notable speakers including a word from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton!

Sheffield then introduced the former President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, who declared that “a health system that can deliver for women is one that can deliver for everyone else.” She discussed how the enemy in the quest for maternal rights is political and that in regards to the great success in the work she did in Chile, “the government invested in women and women delivered in Chile.”

We were then introduced to Dr. Fred Sai who explained that “the problems we face are not unsolvable. Our strategies will work if we can get everyone to fund them and support them.” Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN determined that we are in the “right time and the right setting” and declared that “delivering for women and children is men’s work too.” Ban Ki-moon also touted the Joint Action plan which “demands that all women and children should benefit from the relatively simple, proven health practices and known technologies that save lives.” Almost immediately, this plan received criticism in that it does not tackle the maternal rights issue from a human rights approach (President Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland).

He asks for new commitment from governments and other institutions, pointing out that there are many opportunities for collaboration, especially with the upcoming G8 conference in Canada.

Gender inequality is a danger to women’s health-Ban Ki-moon

We were then introduced, to rapturous applause, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton! Alas, it turned out to be a video message, which was special nonetheless. Her message set the tone for the rest of the conference: “Women deliver for the world, now the world must deliver for women.”

Photo via Women Deliver

During the panel session that followed, the words “we have the answers” reflected the theme of the conversation. The panelists spoke of how development leaders know what services women need, and now it’s a matter of securing the necessary funding and cultural change to allow women access to those services.  Soren Pind, Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation, noted that “One hundred years ago, one in 50 women died in childbirth in Denmark,” and now the country is sharing its experience in reducing maternal mortality with other nations. Gamal Serour, president of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, spoke to the issue of engaging community religious leaders. He said that sometimes religious leaders are wary of development activists, fearing they are trying to “implement Western policies,” but once the leaders are educated about the scientific facts and economic issues surrounding women’s health, they become supportive of efforts to improve the situation for women in their communities. Elaborating on the positive role religious organizations can have in improving the status of women, United Nations Population Fund Executive Director Thoraya Obaid said, “Islam allows for the financial independence for women…religious texts can be interpreted in a way to make life better for people.”

World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala highlighted the need for improvements in the structure of some of the poorest communities, noting that rural infrastructure needs to include roads that would allow women to reach health services quickly, access to clean water, and electricity that would improve sanitation.

The session closed with a song from South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka, who also got the crowd laughing with her assertion that “women are men, they are just well-organized men. That’s why we’re called women.”

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