As Women Deliver wrapped up its third and final day, a tangible sense of excitement and accomplishment was running through the conference center’s halls. The day began with actress and advocate Ashley Judd moderating a panel of courageous young people who were making a difference in their countries. From the young Afghan woman, Maihan Wali, captain of her country’s national basketball team, to the 20 year-old Ugandan activist Esther Namataka, each panelist shared their journey as change makers during what was arguably one of the most emotion-ridden Women Deliver plenaries. Their commitment and boldness as young activists, working against the odds in challenging contexts, were powerful testaments to our individual ability to make a difference.
This is clearly something that the organizers of Women Deliver were trying to achieve: strengthen the resolve of advocates, researchers, field workers and politicians engaged in the fight to bring maternal health and reproductive rights to the forefront of the global political agenda. During the closing ceremony, Jill Sheffield, president of Women Deliver, said: “We don’t need to talk about political leaders as them. We are the leaders; all we need is to do it. We need to push politicians, because the time to deliver for women is now.” She reiterated what Canadian parliamentarian Dr. Keith Martin said during a press conference earlier thay day: that governments will react if enough pressure is applied. Sheffield noted that significant personal and institutional commitments had already emerged: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledge of $1.5 billion for maternal health programs, the UN Secretary-General’s Joint Action Plan, the pledges of parliamentarians at the conference to renew their actions and their commitment to the cause of maternal health and reproductive rights.
Another core message from Women Deliver is that we have the solutions for realizing MDG5 of reducing maternal mortality by three quarters and achieving universal access to reproductive health care – it is a matter of how, when and to what degree these solutions can be delivered for women and girls. What several speakers during the closing ceremony made clear is that it will take a great amount of political courage and commitment to get there. Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundations, noted in his remarks that “the issue of inequity and opportunity [for women] is constrained for political reasons.” He also urged us “not to take anything for granted”, a call which was echoed by singer and advocate Annie Lennox, who exhorted attendees not to be complacent.
Aside from being the world’s largest-ever forum to discuss progress and the way forward on specific maternal health and reproductive issues, Women Deliver was fundamentally a strong call to action. UN Dispatch spoke with Jill Sheffield, Timothy Wirth and actress Rachael Leigh Cook about the potential political impact of Women Deliver, and the way forward: