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Why Attending Women Deliver Matters

I spent five days in Copenhagen, Denmark – “the happiest place in the world for women” – with 6,000 other advocates, donors, decision-makers, providers, and youth.  While everyone had a different focus and background, we were all there for the same reason: to keep the drumbeat for women’s and girls’ health and development going.

Worldwide, there has been a lot of progress in reducing poverty, improving the health of women and children, and engaging civil society in the decisions that impact their future in the last fifteen years but we are far from done. Every three years, Women Deliver offers people from around the world the chance to connect and exchange ideas for impact. When you work in global development, you learn very quickly that collaboration is important because there is no silver bullet that cures all. Maternal health can only be improved if you approach it holistically and consider everything; from health workers and access to essential medicines to the cost of services and the location of community health centers. Women have diverse needs and as the primary caregivers of their families, they have a lot to say about the future. The Women Deliver 2016 conference gave these women a platform to speak directly with elected and appointment decisionmakers and tell their stories.

Crystal Lander, second from left, speaks on one of the Women Deliver panels, sharing successful advocacy strategies for women's and girls' health. Photo credit: Michele Alexander/MSH.

Crystal Lander, second from left, speaks on one of the Women Deliver panels, sharing successful advocacy strategies for women’s and girls’ health. Photo credit: Michele Alexander/MSH.

With the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the work of creating a more equitable world that ensures access to safe, accessible and affordable health services is on everyone’s mind.  Successes in individual countries and regions should be celebrated but as one speaker noted, “one woman dying in childbirth is one too many.”

So, why does attending Women Deliver matter?  Changes can only happen when they are being actively discussed.  We cannot let the world forget what they don’t always see.

Crystal Lander is the Senior Director for Policy, Advocacy and Communications at MSH and a long-time advocate for women and girls.

Day 2: Journalists and the Opening Ceremony

The delegates started day two of the study tour meeting with journalists from Argentina, Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa to hear about how these local journalists cover women’s and girls’ issues in their countries. The journalists, who work in print and broadcast media, shared their experiences reporting development stories and the readership they seek to influence while the delegates shared their experiences working with US journalists and how the American media impacts their work.

The delegates and journalists.

The delegates and journalists.

Following the journalist meeting, the delegates attended the Women Deliver Social Good Summit and heard from some dynamic speakers on topics such as girls’ education in Afghanistan.

The delegates then joined the 5,500 other Women Deliver 2016 conference attendees for the opening plenary. With remarks from Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and youth leaders like Zimbabwe’s Yemurai Nyoni, the delegates left the plenary ready for day three with the feeling that the conference is energizing, inspiring, humbling, forward-thinking, and addressing solvable problems.

Day 3: A Youthful Approach to Women’s and Girls’ Issues

Melinda Gates kicked-off the first full day of the conference, highlighting the need for more and better data in women’s and girls’ health and development. After the opening plenary, the delegates split-up to attend sessions on topics relevant to their Congressman’s interests and work. They attended sessions on topics including the education, advocacy, child marriage, and role of the private sector and faith leaders in women’s and girls’ health and development. Before heading to a dinner discussion with youth leaders, the delegates stopped by the MSH booth in the exhibit hall to share what a health system means to them.

The delegates share what a #healthsystem means to them. Photo credit: Matthew Martin/MSH.

The delegates share what a #healthsystem means to them. Photo credit: Matthew Martin/MSH.

After a busy day at the conference, the delegates met with youth leaders from around the world for a dinner discussion on how young people are leading health and development efforts. The young leaders from Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, and India shared their stories and how they see youth playing a role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Their stories, especially Elizabeth’s who shared how her cousin’s HIV diagnosis inspired her to educate young women on sexual health and HIV prevention, were incredibly inspiring. The delegates left the dinner in awe of these youth leaders and the work they are doing in their countries.

Women Deliver Youth Leader Elizabeth Okumu from Kenya talks to the group about her work educating young girls in Kenya. Photo credit: Brigid Boettler/MSH.

Women Deliver Youth Leader Elizabeth Okumu from Kenya talks to the group about her work educating young girls in Kenya. Photo credit: Brigid Boettler/MSH.

A lively discussion between the delegates and youth leaders. Photo credit: Brigid Boettler/MSH.

A lively discussion between the delegates and youth leaders. Photo credit: Brigid Boettler/MSH.

Day 1: Briefings, Briefings, and More Briefings

While other conference attendees ventured off to see Copenhagen’s sites, the delegates went on an adventure of their own as they immersed themselves in conversations around women’s and girls’ health and development.

Women Deliver’s Jill Sheffield set the stage for the day with a briefing on Women Deliver’s history and how the conference brings together key players from all sectors (government, non-profit, private, media, grassroots, health practitioners, and more) and all areas affecting women’s and girls’ health and development (reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health; nutrition; education; gender; human rights; and more).

The delegates with Women Deliver's Jill Sheffield and MSH's Jono Quick.

The delegates with Women Deliver’s Jill Sheffield and MSH’s Jono Quick.

Following Jill, MSH President and CEO Jono Quick led a discussion on the global state of women’s and girls’ health and development with USAID’s Lily Kak, the SIAPS Program’s Maheen Malik, and the Mikolo Project’s John Yanulis. As these speakers highlighted how newborn health, family planning, and maternal health needs are met through successful projects and initiatives like Helping Babies Breathe, Mikolo, and SIAPS Program, the delegates gained insight into the current successes and challenges for providing and supporting health services for women and girls around the world.

The day’s conversations then looked towards financing: with the introduction of the Sustainable Development Goals last September, the delegates wanted to know about the funding sources for women’s and girls’ development. Thankfully, Amy Boldosser-Boesch from the FCI Program of MSH, USAID/Tanzania’s Ráz Stevenson, and Johnson & Johnson’s Jami Taylor were up to the challenge of covering such a complex topic as they briefed the delegates on the Global Financing Facility, domestic financing, and the role of the private sector.

IntraHealth International’s Pape Gaye led the day’s final briefing on the impact of country ownership with Haiti’s Former Minister of Health Dr. Florence Duperval Guillaume, the FCI Program of MSH’s Melissa Wanda Kirowo, and the United Nations Foundation’s Daniela Ligiero. As these speakers stressed the importance of coordination, trust, and a level playing field between all parties – from donors to the local level – the delegates learned that the future and success of international development lies in strong country leadership, common objectives, and good governance and accountability.

After a whirlwind day of briefings, the delegates are now ready for the main event: the 2016 Women Deliver Conference.

 

We have arrived!

After an eight hour flight with 200 of our closest friends, we made it to Copenhagen! The delegates took in a bit of culture to shake off the jet lag and the group is now ready to for a full day of briefings on reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health tomorrow. Stay tuned tomorrow for a recap of what the delegates learn as they prepare for the Women Deliver 2016 Conference!

The group at Nyhavn

The delegates shake off a bit of jet lag at Nyhavn in Copenhagen. Photo credit: Michele Alexander/MSH.

Welcome and About the Tour

Before our study tour kicks off in Copenhagen, Denmark, we wanted to say a few words about why we’re going to Women Deliver, why these tours matter, and our plans for the future.

This study tour is a bit different from our usual ones – we typically bring congressional staffers, or delegates, to the “field” to visit clinics and meet with local government officials. However, this time, we are attending the Women Deliver 2016 conference. Women Deliver is the world’s largest global convening that focuses on the health, rights, and well-being of women and girls. The conference brings together thousands of policymakers, donors, activists, and more, to review progress, discuss challenges, and push for new and ambitious commitments toward improving the lives of girls and women. The conference offers our delegates a unique opportunity to learn the latest happenings in reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health (RMNCAH) and engage with thought leaders from the highest levels to the grassroots.

Our study tour not only aims to provide a comprehensive RMNCAH education but will enhance the delegates’ storytelling skills. They will leave Copenhagen with the ability to tell stories about the impact of reducing maternal mortality on women, families, communities, and local economies. They will return to Washington better equipped to tell the stories of women and girls around the world to target audiences.

The delegates have a packed schedule each day. Their tour starts out with three, in-depth RMNCAH briefings to prep them for the conference discussions, meetings, and dinners they will attend throughout the week. They will meet with government, NGO, and private sector leaders from all over the world; project implementers from the field; and US and international journalists and communications staff. Each day, the staffers will partake in discussions on topics such as the role of faith communities, how youth are leading in RMNCAH, and effective communication strategies.

Learning tours like this one are key for global health advocacy: they educate and engage Congress on global health issues and provide staffers with the opportunity to connect with thought leaders and tell the story of international development successes.