Putting Women and Girls at the Heart of the SDGs: Reflections from Women Deliver 2016

Cori WD 2016I had the pleasure of going to Copenhagen to attend the 2016 Women Deliver Conference – an international rallying cry to put women’s and girls’ needs at the heart of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The event was incredibly powerful, both because of the quality of the presentations, but also the diverse backgrounds of the participants. Even small moments like waiting in line for tea breaks became a chance to share experiences and troubleshoot challenges with like-minded allies from around the world.

The tone of the week was set when Melinda Gates announced that she was committing $80 million dollars to improve the lack of current and comprehensive information about women and girls. “Data holds power,” Gates said, “and we can’t close the gender gap we all aspire to close unless we first close the data gap.”

“Data holds power, and we can’t close the gender gap we all aspire to close unless we first close the data gap.” – Melinda Gates

Gates explained there are many ways that we are miscounting and discounting women and girls – ranging from unissued birth, marriage and death certificates to surveys that do not track women and girls’ contributions to their household and family. Her speech reminded me of the harmful ramifications these data gaps have on women and girls. Without comprehensive data, we are forced to make decisions without the full picture and “only with good data can we do great policy and programming.”

Concerns around the impact of who is being considered/whose voice is being heard continued to echo in my mind throughout the week. While I was inspired by the presentations I heard and appreciated how Women Deliver integrated youth ambassadors into its plenaries, I wondered how we can continue to get more representation of grassroots and field staff in conferences. I was moved by the stories that I heard when sitting by the youth corner, but also felt challenged by how to get more young people involved in decisions about their health and well-being. Conversations with health practitioners from Francophone countries also reminded me of the need for more quality resources in French. Through moments like this, it became clear that we not only need to have the accurate data that Melinda Gates referred to, but we also need to have their experiences and needs represented when key decisions about their health are being made. These feelings were perfectly summed up on Thursday’s plenary, when Raj Kumar of Devex said “effective communications are not called campaigns, they’re called movements,” and movements must, by nature, come from and represent the communities themselves.

“Effective communications are not called campaigns, they’re called movements.” – Raj Kumar

I heard these concerns echoed by many participants, which made me all the happier to share tools we have created on HC3. I love that our Urban Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Social and Behavior Change Implementation Kit (I-Kit) provides concrete guidance (in English and French!) about how to collect and use data and involve adolescents in the development of a program to meet their needs. I am also thrilled that our newest I-Kit – Addressing Advanced Maternal Age and High Parity Pregnancy – is the first of it’s kind to address these high-risk pregnancies (French version soon to come!) Our recently developed materials on Long-Acting Reversible Contraception take into consideration the needs of young people and providers to encourage youth-friendly services. And finally, it was satisfying to see how excited people got when I told them about the variety of SBCC resources available on HealthCOMpass and the discussions that were happening on Springboard.

My time at Women Deliver was energizing and a great reminder of why I do the work I do. I’m excited to what I’ve learned and move forward by ensuring that we are not only counting women and girls, but also including their voices in our programs and policies.

Did you go to Women Deliver? Please share your experiences on Springboard.

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