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Women Deliver 2016 – a roller coaster ride on health and wellbeing in the era of the SDGs!

Going through information on the previous editions of Women Deliver, I recall being awestruck by the list of speakers, number of female participants and the types of issues discussed; I must say the #WD2016 conference has lived up to my expectations. Women Deliver, began in 2007 as a global conference to address maternal mortality. This fourth edition of the Women Deliver global conference is one of the largest yet, with over 5000 participants from over a 150 countries.

It’s always exciting to attend large global gatherings such as #WD2016, particularly so this time, with the focus on the Sustainable Development #SDG5 (Gender Equality), though we perhaps we should instead change it to Sustainable Development Girls which was of course, the focal point of the conference, but the intersectional nature of the SDGs allowed for the conference to touch upon the others.

Such gatherings also always provide an invaluable space for meeting a range of very diverse individuals. You get to learn about different countries, work and projects at first hand – – invaluable for global health, and much more effective than reading about these online! What I definitely enjoyed was having the opportunity for quick effective learning – learning about new and creative innovations which I could take back home for immediate use or find ways of using such innovations in the future

Youth Rocking #WD2016!

Innovative Conference Formats

Multimedia was granted it’s at #WD2016 boasted an Arts and Cinema corner, where films were throughout the day. There were snippets of films from across the world, particularly the global South were riveting, in fact I would go as far as saying is that I absorbed much information through watching these films. In a short space of just two hours I witnessed the unacceptable mass sterilization of migrants in the United States, an unfair judicial system in Mexcico especially around women abuse and the heartbreaking needs of many children in Uganda affected by nodding syndrome. I must say if it were up to me, I would have the films screened in an IMAX theatre with pop-corn during the conference! Who knows we might see a rise of health-systems directors, actors who might finally bridge the researcher-policy gap.

A giant turd sure is a good way to draw attention to the critical role of water in our lives! I first spotted WaterAid International by their #Pooselfies with a walking blob of poo in the exhibition hall. Their session provocatively posed questions around imagining giving birth without #hygiene #sanitation – and let’s face it, water is the most basic component of human life and our health system. It is now given substantial attention under #SDG 6 (Water & Sanitation). They also screened a list of great films with powerful messages

#PooPicture – (Shakira’s First World Problems- I need to find out if it’s real poo, I didn’t get a chance to ask that – sure didn’t smell like poo!)

If the poo wasn’t exciting enough, the Menstruation Tent in the exhibition hall provided training around a tent, illustrating how a few pillows could provide a safe environment to discuss menstruation challenges! It felt different, it was different and facilitated an excellent flow of communication around menstruation issues, e.g. the sort of sanitary pads women in rural Malawi wear (with even blankets shaped as nappies), how in India, and indeed many poor parts of the world, women make use of anything absorbent e.g. hair, leaves or sand and of course the never talked about issue #menopause. We were taken through the menstruation wheel tool & pledged our support to the cause! I quite like the tent idea for youth engagement and possibly just about anything else! I also think the menstrual cup chandelier or #shechandelier would be an apt addition to the tent!

Critical Discussions at #WD2016

Sessions and plenaries were held throughout the day on sexual and reproductive issues ranging from abortion, UHC, the SDGs and even financing particularly meant for Women and Girls (enter the Global Financing Facility- GFF). For me the world out there doesn’t seem to be on the same page around #SDG5; the data revolution cognisant of ‘gender’ made waves during the conference when Melinda Gates announced that there would be $80 million committed to improving data collection!

While I agree with the need for data, particularly from a demographer’s point of view. One thing I would like to see is perhaps not a complete overhaul but address significant gaps especially around vulnerable populations e.g. women with disabilities whose reproductive health rights are severely overlooked.

Although, I must say, that the world seems to be suffering from a Millennium Development Goal (MDG) amnesia. Our discussions seem to have started anew. A clean slate with little discussion around what was achieved under the MDGs, our mistakes; lessons learnt and build from there. Acknowledging and addressing the gap between the MDGs and SDGs is already set in motion, but I think we need to possibly take a step back to take a step forward. In fact, I felt the youth may be more conscious of this – #WD2016 youth scholars Anshul Kastor and Shanza Ali were discussing failures of the MDGs and how achieving of quantitative statistics in Bangadesh hasn’t translated to reality! Catch Youth For Change Video interview on #SDGS. This amnesia extended to the Zika virus, which could also be tackled drawing in some of the lessons of malaria, but it seems that even high-level panelists wanted to start on a clean slate and forget the not-so distant past!

Again, while commitments were made, there was a sense of trying to find solutions, but how concrete they are is yet to be seen! The GFF, promises of improved accountability and financing of the under-resourced global South. It’s – thought of as a magic-bullet to address financing issues especially around women and girls, but its promises are a far cry from the reality I’ve seen during my doctoral research around financial management. We’ve learnt, at least in the South African context, bureaucracy, lack of necessary equipment, and skills or even decision-making power are some of the important considerations, which I’m not sure the GFF alone will resolve. Again moral leadership is probably needed more in our countries; perhaps if I may suggest, ‘Dear GFF’ please help us tackle corruption before sending any more funds our way!

But we have to start somewhere and I think with the mix of attendees to #WD2016 we might actually achieve our goals! Perhaps you could all start by committing to the Deliver for Good Initiative ! Other highlights of the week included the launch of the UHC Initiative by the Elders and the Cultural Evening at the beautiful Tivoli Gardens on Wednesday 18th May, one of the best social events I’d ever seen – from watching a beautiful Danish show, strolling through the gardens and letting our hair down! In addition to having compulsory cinema corners at every conference, from now on all social events should be held at amusement parks (#Young Dictator)!

Lastly and the most important update of all, I posed that I be offered the job of the Director General of the World Health Organization on social media, no response has been received as yet, but let’s not be pessimistic! No news is good news! And someone will notice. It’s time for a ‘Sustainable Development Girl’, such as myself at the very top of the Global Health Architecture!


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