By Ikhlas Saleem, Summer 2010 WATER Intern
As an intern for the summer with WATER, I had the amazing opportunity to attend two days of the three-day Women Deliver conference commencing on June 7-9th in Washington, DC. The conference featured several speakers, including former CNN chief international correspondent and anchor Christiane Amanpour, actress Ashley Judd, Arianna Huffington, Melinda Gates (who pledged 1.5 billion) and of course we musn’t forget the 3,200 participants, women and yes, a few men, that traveled from around the states and 146 countries to share their experiences and contribute to the MDG5. In addition to the participants, five UN heads participated: UNFPA, UNDP, UNICEF, WHO, and UNAIDS.
There were a multitude of workshops and panels devoted to maternal and newborn health, family planning, HIV and AIDS, development and empowerment, etc., but what was most intriguing is Women Deliver’s awareness that for these concerns to even be realized, it requires addressing the cultural and religious norms that exist for women living in various regions. Our own Mary Hunt presented at a panel on “cultural agents of change delivering for women.” The main purpose of the panel was to bring forth the perspective of different cultural agents of change, taking into account regional and gender balances, and how they deal with maternal mortality. Here, Mary discussed the need for us to begin deconstructing prevalent dominant patriarchal theology and gives shape to a society where women are continuously mistreated and left with few options to assume control of their own health. Other panels explored young women and their environments, delving into issues of their physical environmental conditions as well as economics and family and societal pressures. There was also a discussion on the negative response from the religious right, both in America and abroad, resulting from the post-1994 Cairo conference.
The Women Deliver 2010 Conference reminds us that women have delivered and are continuing to deliver solutions for girls and women around the world. Thus, the focus of the conference was not only developing ways in which to fix problems with women’s healthcare, but rather on sharing the contextual solutions that already exist, making sincere connections, overcoming the barriers and challengers to women’s health and determining sources of funding that can assist in promoting and advancing these solutions. Countless stories have shown us that when women are provided adequate resources and support, women deliver.