EMC Attends 2019 Women Deliver Conference

Earlier this month, a contingent from Every Mother Counts joined 8,000+ global leaders, influencers, advocates, academics, activists, and journalism at Women Deliver — the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights, and wellbeing of women and girls. The goal of the conference? To catalyze advocates to create a more equal world. The agenda? A 4-day program filled with dozens of lectures, panels, and discussion sessions to exchange knowledge and ideas and to promote solutions.

EMC team members Melissa Gradilla and Nan Strauss were accompanied by our grantee partners Jennie Joseph from Commonsense Childbirth and Ndinini Kimesera Sikar from the Maasai Women Development Organization (MWEDO) to Vancouver for four whirlwind days of screenings, meetings, and panels. We spread out to cover as much ground as possible, but still only saw a fraction of the events.

EMC team + grantees at Women Deliver 2019

The conference, which takes place every three years, has not only grown significantly from its early days but also expanded its reach to focus on issues beyond maternal mortality and maternal health. This year’s theme was POWER in all its forms:

  • how power drives or hinders progress
  • how it functions at the individual and structural levels
  • the power of movements
  • and the power that each of us holds to make change.

This thematic focus came about from insights Women Deliver gleaned from a listening tour it embarked on from 2017-2018, and mirrored the global trends, needs, and opportunities facing women and girls today. The conference reflected on and challenged power dynamics in a variety of contexts that influence equality, maternal and reproductive health, education, gender-based violence, and many other issues—after all, we are living in the era of the #MeToo movement and during a time when women’s reproductive rights are being threatened.

With a shared urgency that the time for equality is now, time was indeed of the essence. Fortunately for us, the conference began long before the conference kicked off.

Global Midwifery Symposium

Those arriving early had the opportunity to attend pre-conference events (as early as three days before the opening). Our team was invited to attend the Global Midwifery Symposium—hosted by the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), the United National Population Fund (UNFPA), and the World Health Organization (WHO)—an all-day event focused on creating the enabling environment and supportive professional collaboration needed to build a more effective women-centered, midwife-led model of care. As an organization that strongly supports the midwifery-model of care through our policy and advocacy work, storytelling, and grantee organizations, we were able to contribute to the conversation our perspective on what an enabling environment for midwives could look like and how we can collectively work together with collaborators to create and sustain that environment to enhance woman-centered-care.

The official kickoff to the conference was a highlight for many. We were welcomed by an indigenous ceremony led by three leaders of British Columbia first nations, along with the Prime Minister of Canada, Her Excellency President Sahle Work-Zewde of Ethiopia, and His Excellency Honourable Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, among other leaders. The indigenous communities of Canada gave us a friendly welcome to their land and were followed by energizing speeches from the international leaders about their commitments to the advancements of the rights of women and girls and their hopes for what we both as a conference group and a society can achieve.

“Individuals and interest groups are trying to roll back women’s rights & politicians are giving in to the pressure shamelessly campaigning to undo women’s victories. That’s a daunting reality to face but my friends, we are not powerless. It’s up to us to fight back.” -Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

On the first day of the conference, Every Mother Counts hosted a special screeningof Endomononi (“With Mother”), our newest film, to a packed room of more than 100 guests. Endomononi documents the story of two traditional midwives working to provide maternity care to women and families in a predominately Maasai community in rural Tanzania. The film was introduced by Ndinini Kimisera, co-founder of MWEDO, our grantee partner and the organization featured in the film. Other notable attendees included Edna Adan, midwife and Founder of the Edna Adan Hospital Foundation.

Endomononi Film Screening

In addition to introducing Endomononi, Ndinini participated on a panel titled “Indigenous Women and Children: Safeguarding Our Health Cultural Integrity,” a session organized by Inuit Circumpolar Council, Native Women’s Association of Canada, and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples. During the discussion, Ndinini provided an in-depth perspective on the cultural practices and traditions of the Maasai community, the challenges specific to women and girls, such as early marriage, lack of access to education/health services, and lack of economic opportunities, and the efforts of MWEDO to integrate cultural practices into community health. Jennie Joseph, founder of The Birth Place, another grantee, also participated in a widely anticipated roundtable discussion titled “Power of Community: Health Providers Working on Maternal Health.” Jennie, who was joined by four practicing OB/GYNs and three other midwives, spoke on the many challenges midwives in the U.S. experience as part of their practice.

Ndinini seated on the third seat to the left, joins panel on “Indigenous Women and Children: Safeguarding Our Health Cultural Integrity”

While some of our partners did a lot of teaching, we also did a lot of listening, learning, and connecting. We attended a session titled “Data for Health: Strengthening Systems and Communities” hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation, which included panelists Dr. Naveen Rao, Molly Canty (Dimagi), Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Hon. Ummy Ally Mwalimu (Tanzania MOH), and Dr. Sema Sgaier (Surgo Foundation). Panelists shared examples of how data insights can be used as a tool towards health equity to maximize the impact of community health workers and to contribute to better system-level insights. This session generated ideas about the data EMC grantees collect, how we can better support them, and how they can utilize the data to strengthen their work and impact.

Dr. Naveen Rao from the Rockefeller Foundation moderates the panel on “Data for Health: Strengthening Systems and Communities.”

In all, although the conference’s focus has expanded in recent years, it’s purpose and power remained as strong as ever. As Melinda Gates phrased it, “The first Women Deliver conference was about delivering—delivering babies, but women today deliver so much more. Women are delivering progress and change.” Despite having started specifically as a maternal health conference, Women Deliver has evolved to encompass additional areas that impact women while still maintaining health as a key focus area.

Dr. Mary-ann Etiebet from Merck for Mother discusses how she will use her power at the WD closing ceremony

While Women Deliver may be over, EMC is more energized than ever about the work we  are carrying out to improve the lives of women and girls around the world. There is much progress to be made and we still have a long way to go, but it’s invigorating to know that we are working alongside so many other powerful advocates for change. All of us, as individuals, organizations, and a society, have power. It’s simply a matter of how we use it.

Topics: Human Rights, Maternal Health, Our Work