Women Deliver 2023: Inspired by Youth to Push for Ambitious Action

Background media: A group of young men and women smiling and holding signs with messages on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Photo: IGIHE

Gain insights into this year's Women Deliver conference in Kigali, Rwanda, through the eyes of Erin Kiley, Oxfam Canada's director of international programs. Discover her reflections and takeaways from this inspiring event.

An exciting feeling comes with the chance to mingle with present and former heads of state, influential figures from women's rights groups from around the world, Nobel laureates, journalists, artists, and scholars.

For many, that's the draw of Women Deliver, one of the world's largest conferences focused on women's health rights and gender equality. Last week, more than 6,300 attendees, predominantly women, met in Kigali, Rwanda, marking the conference's first occurrence in Africa.

Women Deliver is the ultimate destination for feminists to be inspired, network, and gain knowledge.

Powerful Reflections from Formidable Women

During the conference's opening day, I had the privilege of listening to Malala Yousafzai's thoughts on how her perspectives have evolved since her first speech to the United Nations ten years ago when she was only 16.

"No one can change the world on their own," she explained. "To ensure a bright future for girls, we must work collectively. We have to make sure we are funding movements like we actually want them to win!" 

I was also moved by Emi Mahmoud, a poet and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. Her recitation centred on her family's experiences with conflict in their home country of Sudan.

Learning from Young Activists from Around the World

I had the opportunity to attend an event hosted by Oxfam affiliates from Canada, Quebec, and Netherlands. The event showcased three enthusiastic youth activists from each affiliate working with Oxfam partners to discuss their work promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and fighting gender-based violence. It was the day's final event, following a busy schedule of speakers, panel discussions, fireside chats, and important government announcements.

It was a refreshing change of pace to hear from some of our youngest delegates about their efforts to fight for women's rights in communities across the globe following a day of being called to action by women's rights leaders.

The event participants came from various countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Mozambique, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Philippines, Tunisia, and Zambia. With so many youth activists, attendees had to choose who they wanted to hear from.

Background media: A young woman wearing glasses wearing a black t-shirt that reads the word "activist" sits down and seems to be talking to someone sitting across from her while she holds on her lap a colourful sign that reads SRHR4all.
SRHR peer educator, Danica Shahana G. Magtubo. Photo: Alex Wilson/Oxfam

I started with Danica Shahana G. Magtubo, a youth SRHR officer from the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights. It's a partner of Oxfam's Sexual Health Empowerment (SHE) project. 

Danica shared that she began her journey as a peer educator at the young age of 14.

She discussed the unique challenges faced by the Philippines, where there are no abortion rights allowed, even in extreme circumstances. Despite the country's Reproductive Health Law, comprehensive sexuality education remains inaccessible. To address this issue, Danica explained how the SHE project works with organizations lacking SRHR experience and provides them with the necessary knowledge to integrate SRHR into their regular programs, such as those focused on climate or peace.

Background media: A Black woman with braided hair wearing a colourful pin that reads SRHR for all, is speaking with a microphone.
SRHR peer facilitator, Deborah Nyirenda. Photo: IGIHE

I then heard from Deborah Nyirenda, 25, an SRHR peer-to-peer facilitator from Zambia, participating in Oxfam's Her Future Her Choice project.

She shared that engaging parents during door-to-door campaigns can be difficult because some believe educating youth about safe practices encourages them to engage in sexual activity. 

However, Zambia's high youth pregnancy rates indicate that young people are already sexually active. Peer support is crucial in helping them understand their rights, access freely available services, and stand up to judgmental health workers. Dispelling myths about youth sexuality and health services is a key aspect of Deborah's role.

Background media: A Black woman wearing a bright orange blazer waves her hand with her arm raised.
Project coordinator, Carla Macamo. Photo: IGIHE

Finally, I spoke with Carla Macamo, a young project coordinator working for Oxfam in Mozambique, on the Her Future, Her Choice project. She explained how Mozambique has one of the highest early and forced child marriage rates. Almost half of young women between 15 and 19 are already mothers or pregnant.

She talked about Mozambique's abortion law, which allows for abortion up to three months gestation and in certain circumstances beyond that point. Despite the law being in place since 2014, many people are unaware of its existence and implications.

"Change doesn't only come from the community," Carla said. "We also need to talk to health service providers because of the demand created by our work. We want to make sure youth clients are treated well according to their needs."

Licypriya Kangujam, an 11-year-old eco-activist and founder of The Child Movement in India, touched my heart. She began her movement inspired by Greta Thunberg. 

"Women and children are the first line of victims of the effects of climate change," she highlighted. "If there's no nature, then there will be no future for us. Our future lies in your hands now. If you don't know how to fix it, then please don't break it". 

My Takeaway from Women Deliver

Women Deliver strives to connect women and create spaces for feminist action and mobilization. I hope many, like myself, found the encouragement and inspiration in this space to keep up the fight, dig deeper, take down the walls of bureaucracy, and push forward initiatives and advocacy to make these changes happen.

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