Tuesday, 31 May 2016 07:33

Women Deliver 2016: An Agenda for Humanity

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The opening ceremony of Women Deliver 2016 small
Photo courtesy: Petya Yankova 
The opening ceremony of Women Deliver 2016.

It is a disruption as well as a sign of hope to hear babies’ cries during the opening session of the 4th global conference on the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women. It is a reminder that women matter, that their energy and transformative power are changing communities. Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark opened Women Deliver 2016 sharing her vision of “a world where a girl has just as much of a chance to survive, thrive and live her full potential as a boy”. The wish for economic and social equality between men and women was the uniting element which gathered more than 5000 youth leaders and activists, health professionals and human rights advocates in Copenhagen last week.

Reducing maternal and child mortality, ensuring access to information about reproductive rights and to health services, eradicating extreme poverty are all ways to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. How do they translate, however, to meaningful progress in the life of the individual? How do we ensure that a girl coming from a poor family won’t leave school at 12, won’t get married as a child and instead “will have a choice, not a chance” as Crown Princess Mary put it?

Talking with some of the youth leaders from Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria, I found out that their governments are imposing more and more conditions on marriage in the hope of preventing parents marrying off their daughters at a young age. Including the families in the dialogue and striving to have comprehensive sexual education introduced in primary and secondary school were the suggested remedies to the problem. Still, it is difficult to sustain the conversation when family planning is kept away from adolescents in many countries, abortion is illegal or restricted and young people are excluded from the decision-making process.

Taking early marriage for economic reasons off the table and supporting continuing education is one of the avenues to improve girls’ life and there are organisations already making progress (www.girlsnotbrides.org). However, working to improve the health and uphold the rights of young women is a multifaceted problem. From fighting harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) to supporting a healthy relationship between sexuality and disability, from ensuring access to clean water and decent washing facilities to remunerating labour regardless of gender, consistent action from all, men and women alike, is needed to achieve respect and equality in our societies. It is unacceptable that approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every day. It is unacceptable that women’s land rights and inheritance rights are not recognised in some countries, thus making them vulnerable and reliant on their partners. The reality is that “if countries exclude women from the workforce, their economic growth will suffer”,  to quote none other but the World Bank President Jim Kim.

As refreshing as it was to be immersed in an atmosphere of youth-driven progress for girls’ and women’s empowerment, it was also encouraging to see the creativity and perseverance of young leaders in changing their societies. Cecilia Garcia Ruiz has steered the Mexican government into focusing on reproductive health and rights, while Yemurai Nyoni from Zimbabwe has made a wave in making the voice of young people heard and heeded to, from his home country, through the African Youth and Adolescents Network (AfriYAN) to the UN Population Fund. Watching the short film “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace” by the young Spanish director Juan Miguel Peña helped me see the individual situation, in this case, a married woman who gathers all her courage to stand against domestic violence.

A presentation by Nina Dabrosin and Arushma Parvaiz from Sexekspressen. smalljpg
Photo courtesy: Petya Yankova
A presentation by Nina Dabrosin and Arushma Parvaiz from Sexekspressen

Two projects struck me with their usefulness and accessibility to young people: Love Matters and Sexekspressen. The first is a multilingual website aimed at answering all questions about love, sex and relationships blush-free. A principle of pleasure is used as a hook: relying on the curiosity of young adults, the Love Matters team promotes a safer, healthier sex life.
Sexekspressen, on the other hand, is a Danish sex education programme developed by young people for their peers.  The organisation behind Sexekspressen, the International Medical Cooperation Committee, has reached out beyond Denmark to Nepal, Palestine and Rwanda in an effort to link medical students with educators and adolescents. I spoke to Nina Dabrosin, Arushma Parvaiz and Frederikke Madsen who shared the good results of SexInuk, their recent project in Greenland. By working together with clinics and schools, medical students have succeeded in reducing the number of abortions, and as a result the STD cases among young people have decreased drastically. In order to keep the momentum, some of the money raised has gone into developing and introducing a sex education class to be included in the training of the future nurses of Greenland.

A small donation, if used carefully and with a clear target, does go a long way and benefits society at large. “Investing in girls and women powers progress for all” was the slogan of the conference and several prominent thinkers, including Prof. Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Peace, Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Kate Gilmore, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) argued that investing in women’s economic empowerment is a huge step forward to a more equal and just world.
The call did not remain unanswered.  Melinda Gates pledged the Gates foundation will donate $80 Million in the next 3 years to further gender equality, focusing in particular on closing the “data gap”, that is collecting information on gender inequality and how best to address it. The need for reliable data was first identified through the Full Participation project “No Ceilings”which gathers and analyses information about a wide range of issues from paid maternity leave, to access to internet to gender-based violence.  Revealing gross disparities between men and women in the workforce and in private life, the findings of this project served as a starting point to measure and fight inequality worldwide.

Among the many valuable ideas born in Copenhagen last week was the campaign Deliver for Good, a commitment on the part of the organisation team to promote 12 critical investments in girls and women. Applying a gender lens to the Sustainable Development Goals means boosting women’s economic empowerment, ensuring equitable and quality education at all levels, reducing gender-based violence, meeting the demand for modern contraception and reproductive health. It is an urgent priority to recognise the contribution of women, their unpaid work in the household, their dignity and human rights if we want to achieve the SDGs by 2030. As Crown Princess Mary of Denmark put it, “it is not a women’s agenda. It is an agenda for humanity”.

Youth led flashmob arguing for the free access to contraception small
Photo courtesy: Petya Yankova
Youth-led flashmob arguing for the free access to contraception
Last modified on Tuesday, 31 May 2016 09:28
Petya Yankova

Petya Yankova is an English Literature graduate and passionate traveller. Besides being a regular contributor to E&M, books, plane/train tickets and foreign languages are her thing.

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