More than 8,000 women’s rights advocates descended on Vancouver to attend Women Deliver, the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights and well-being of women and girls. The conference took place at a time of unprecedented activism to challenge sexism and inequality, but also against a backdrop of backlash that aims to limit women’s opportunities, control their bodies and claw back hard-won gains.
Oxfam was well represented at Women Deliver with staff and partners from around the world coming to meet fellow activists, share stories of success and strategies of resistance, and think up ways to shake up the social norms and deep-rooted inequalities that hold women back. Oxfam International’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima brought down the house with her remarks during the opening plenary, reminding attendees that the fight for gender equality requires challenging the powers that be, no matter how uncomfortable that can make us feel.
During the conference, Oxfam ran a number of sessions on the care economy, exploring perspectives on how to better redistribute the burden of unpaid care that weighs women down and improve the working conditions for domestic workers whose contributions to our collective well-being are grossly undervalued. We were joined by inspirational partners from Bangladesh and Rwanda, as well as partners closer to home, such as the Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights.
The conference was an opportunity to discuss our What She Knows Matters campaign with allies from the humanitarian sector and to refine our strategies for putting power and decision-making in the hands of women affected by conflict. It was an honor to learn from the experience of women’s rights activists on the front lines in Yemen, the Philippines, Colombia, South Sudan and Jordan, as well as from prominent champions for the cause such as Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand. We came away with a renewed commitment to addressing women’s unique needs in Oxfam’s humanitarian programs, but also ramping up our efforts to challenge taboos around gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health in an emergency setting.
The conference was also an opportunity for celebration. At Women Deliver, Minister Monsef announced that the Government of Canada would provide $300 million to the Equality Fund, a unique partnership to catalyze new investments in support of gender equality and women’s rights. This was the largest announcement of funding for women’s organizations in history. Oxfam Canada is proud to be part of this groundbreaking initiative, which brings together partners to increase the impact and sustainability of women’s movements in Canada and around the world. Evidence shows that the most consistent factor diving change on gender equality is feminist activism and the strength of local women’s organizations. The Equality Fund will leverage unprecedented resources to support the life-saving and groundbreaking work of these organizations.
As the saying goes, good things come in pairs. Years of unrelenting advocacy by Oxfam Canada and our allies finally paid off when Prime Minister Trudeau announced, on stage at Women Deliver, major new funding by the Government of Canada for sexual and reproductive health and rights in developing countries. Seven hundred million dollars a year, over 10 years, to be precise. This announcement was particularly noteworthy because of its commitment to fund programs in some of the most neglected areas worldwide, including comprehensive sexuality education, safe abortion, advocacy and sexual and reproductive health programs in emergency settings. In the words of Julie Delahanty, Executive Director of Oxfam Canada, this announcement could not have come at a better time. Stigma, the rise of regressive and populist movements and major funding cuts to development assistance are all fueling a looming crisis for sexual health and reproductive rights. Canada’s leadership is needed more than ever to ensure hard-won gains do not get rolled back. The government’s announcement is also a testament to the power of organizations working collaboratively and the importance of advocacy to achieve real progress for women’s rights and gender equality. Oxfam Canada is proud to have been part of this collaborative initiative from the very start.
Women Deliver was far more than a conference. It was an opportunity to learn from partners around the world and celebrate hard-won victories. We left re-energized and with renewed conviction that ending poverty begins with women’s rights.