Women Deliver Fourth Global Conference

May 2016
Sephy Valuks

In the following blog we present highlights from the Women Deliver Conference, held in Copenhagen, Denmark from 16-19 May 2016.

Opening Ceremony

The opening ceremony, at the largest conference on women and girls in the last decade, ignited energy and enthusiasm to a crowd of more than 5000 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Thousands more tuned in via WDlive as Jill Sheffield took to the stage with a clear message: when we invest in girls and women the society as a whole benefits.

HRH crown princess Mary of Denmark spoke on the significance of the conference for people, planet and prosperity with a clear mission statement to be a game changer for women and girls. She stressed the need for continuous and long term strategies which build on and accelerate the progress that has already been achieved:

“Let’s deliver for girls to have choice not chance, let’s agree that less bad is never good enough.”

Danish Prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen also spoke at the proceedings and shared his belief that equal gender opportunities create a path for growth and prosperity - not the other way around. He argued that Denmark being voted both the safest place to be a woman and the happiest nation is a result of women getting equal rights and made clear his support saying:

"I can assure I am on your side, as a husband, as a father of a daughter, as PM of Denmark."

Barkha Dutt led an impressive panel which pulled out many of the prominent issues which will drive the conference: child marriage, lack of education, poor access to health services, restrictive gender norms, FGM, gender violence, conflict, injustice and discrimination. It also pointed towards some of the solutions: financial reinvestment, sustained political will and long term commitments. 

Katja Iversen clarified the focus of the conference: solutions.

“For me this is about putting girls and women at the centre of development, not as a disease, not as an issue, not as an incident, not vulnerable, but as a driver of development as a powerhouse, as a change maker”  

RESYST currently have three specific projects under the governance theme that focus on gender and leadership in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. We are also part of a cross-RPC initiative called RinGs that aims to galvanise gender and ethics analysis in health systems.

Comprehensive health systems is a strong focus of #WD2016 and we hope to report back on the highlights from discussions going forward over the next 3 days. 

A girls’ and women’s lens on the SDGs

In one of the first plenary talks of #WD2016, Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, led the discussion on the topic of ensuring women are equal partners in setting the sustainability agenda for everyone.

 As part of the discussion, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, previous Minister of Finance (MoF) in Nigeria laid out three important steps for convincing MoFs to include women and girls in the development agenda.

Make the case: Don’t be afraid to repeatedly state that empowering women and girls affects society, community and the world. Show the evidence and make the case for scaling up from the micro-level.

Show them how to do it: Make clear how it can work. She shared an example in Nigeria where a relatively small incentive and clear targets dramatically affected the uptake of women into agricultural roles.

Tracking: Make ministers accountable to others

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ethiopia, spoke on the key health problems in developing countries arguing that, by design, primary health care must have women on the frontline and drew on his previous experience, as Health Minister of Ethiopia, to illustrate his case. As part of the health extension programme in Ethiopia, 38,000 women were trained to join the health workforce which made a dramatic impact on the level of utilisation of services by women and children. As a result Dr. Ghebreyesus strongly advocates for political empowerment of women that starts at the family level.

RESYST research under the Health Workforce theme, aims to identify effective policy interventions to strengthen the health workforce in underserved areas which resonates with this discussion; increasing the number of women in the health workforce also increases the number of women (and therefore children) who have access to those services.

RESYST have recently published two health workforce policy briefs that look at ways in which the type of nurse training institution affect nurses' attitudes and job choices in Thailand and Kenya. The Thailand brief also makes recommendations for increasing the flow of trained nurses into rural areas.

The Elders launch new Universal Health Coverage initiative

The Elders launched a new initiative to promote Universal Health Coverage (UHC) at the Women Deliver conference as part of the organisation’s mission to support equality, social justice and sustainable development.

A panel discussion with Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Hina Gilani and Graça Machel provided an opportunity to set out the four key messages of the Elders UHC initiative:

  1. UHC is the best way to achieve the health Sustainable Development Goals
  2. UHC delivers substantial health, economic and political benefits across populations
  3. Women, children and adolescents must be covered as a priority
  4. Public financing is the key to UHC

“Universal Health Coverage means everyone receives the health care they need without suffering financial hardship. We believe this is a goal all countries can reach.”

Dr Brundtland spoke on the vital importance of health financing reforms: moving away from private financing methods like user-fees and private insurance to a public system based on taxation combined with compulsory social insurance. She stressed that services should be given according to need, and the health system financed according to people’s ability to pay. 

The talk also highlighted the importance of governments ensuring that resources are used efficiently, to scale-up the supply of quality health services for all, which requires strengthening health systems in human resources, improving access to medicines, health infrastructure and information systems.  

Graça Machel made clear that UHC must be prioritised for women, children and adolescents who make up the majority and are the most vulnerable in society. She addressed the fact that UHC reforms are inherently political, and, given the power and gender imbalances in society, there is a tendency for powerful interest groups to seek and secure preferential health benefits for themselves. Governments must resist the political pressure to prioritise powerful stakeholders over more vulnerable groups, they must take into account rural populations, regional diversity and minorities, to make sure that they leave no one behind. 

Hina Gilani drew attention to the ways in which UHC brings with it various human rights dividends, in fact human rights communities across the world see the clear link between the absence of UHC and increased vulnerability to exploitation and oppression. She underlined the ways in which health financing plays a crucial role in creating equitable health systems and echoed the sentiment of Amartya Sen that UHC is “the affordable dream”. The Elders called for governments to shut down inefficient services and push for equitable systems that benefit everyone, through a commitment of at least 5% of the GDP to health care.

RESYST research under the financing theme, is looking into purchasing as the critical link between resources mobilised for UHC and the effective delivery of quality services. Our research critically assesses how selected purchasing mechanisms are performing in a range of low and middle-income countries from the strategic purchasing perspective and identifies factors influencing that performance. The countries included in the study are: Kenya, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand and Vietnam. You can find the briefs and more information about this research here.

We have also conducted research in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria to identify how governments can generate more of their own national resources for health through improved tax collection. Find out more about the research and findings here.

Want to end poverty? Invest in women’s economic empowerment

#WD2016 today hosted a discussion between Jim Yong Kim, HM Queen Maxima of the Netherlands and Kim Bildsøe Lassen on ending poverty and improving women’s financial security.

HM Queen Maxima of the Netherlands urged the global community to look at the future of women. Stating that it is not only an issue for those living in extreme poverty (of which 70% are women and girls) but is also universal, making the case for overcoming unequal pay in her home country, the Netherlands. She spoke on the importance of women reaching economic empowerment: access to savings, insurance and payments - which can only be achieved through a greater focus on financial education and capability. 

HM Queen Maxima also took the opportunity to talk about data, a leading topic of the conference, and praised the donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to pour more resources into addressing gender data gaps. More data will give insights into how to better service women and make evident to leaders how increasing the labour force of women can dramatically increase the GDP. More data will also make evident the ways in which women are structurally unable to reach their potential. 

“In terms of economic empowerment and development do not forget the women are self employed, not by choice, but by necessity…we need to coach them we need to train them…they need to have access to financial products so that they can grow”

Jim Yong Kim spoke frankly on the issue of childhood stunting, urging countries to ask: how can we step into the future when 25% of the world’s children are stunted? Stunted children have worse learning outcomes and earn less. Overcoming this issue starts with healthy women, delaying pregnancy, ensuring mothers have healthy pregnancies and sufficient access to healthcare. It then leads onto providing not only nutrition but support during the stages of early childhood development. 

“It means taking care of children as if they are the most precious infrastructure you could ever buy” 

Partnerships: The expanding community

A focus of the conference at large has been to share practical tools, methods and solutions and this panel served as a platform for talking about how we can group together to achieve common goals.

Kathy Calvin began by reiterating a popular phrase from youth movements: “nothing about us, without us” to urge a move from transactional partnerships towards transformative and intersectional partnerships. In new partnerships, framed by the SDGs she hopes that groups will begin to think across the goals and across sectors to recognise their interrelatedness.

Naveen Rao made it clear that when a mother dies it is a systems failure, by definition it’s a multifactorial problem so needs a multi sectorial approach, so unless we build holistic solutions with women at the centre, we cannot move forward. Through partnerships, he believes, we can better recognise that the goals of better health, education, economic empowerment are interconnected and there are clear channels through which organisations can support one another. Just as previous talks have emphasised the long term economic impact of health interventions such as UHC, he also highlighted the need for the women and girls rights agenda to be presented to governments not only as a moral issue but in the economic terms that they are used to.

Vijayanathan Thusandra spoke on his experience of mobilising government, private sector and civil society to push the agenda of a project on sexual and reproductive health for disabled people in Sri Lanka. He found success through partnering with powerful celebrities in social networks and in the media to spread the message to other communities. He also spoke on the potential of mobilising online partnerships but stressed that these must be activist, not only collectivist and translate into offline action as well. 

The criteria to solid partnerships from the panel can be summarised as:

  • sustainability
  • respect
  • clear communication
  • joint agenda
  • clear direction
  • shared interests/messages 

Look to the future: Transformation, Innovation and Partnership

On the last day of the women deliver conference speakers looked to the future and discussed ways to innovate communication and build new partnerships with sectors and organisations.

Innovative strategies for social transformation through communication

Wadah Khanfar began by describing the inevitable shift towards: “a massively interconnected globalised world in which technology will change us, not just our medium or context”. He argued that as society and modes of communication change there will be new challenges that require new mentalities. He asked: how are we going to rehabilitate our narrative on rights for women and girls to fit this new era? 

Pam Scott, responded by stressing the importance of ‘human centred design’ which puts the people you are trying to influence at the centre of the creative process. She stated that communication, in any discourse, is fundamentally about influence, it is urging someone to think, do, or feel, and you can only effectively do that if you understand and respect who they are. “Often we get a little comfortable speaking on behalf of other people, people with whom we have a rather distant relationship…there is danger in that distance” it is too easy to feel distant from the people that don’t think like us and cast them as bad people. She quoted Brian Stevenson: “I learned a long time ago, they are not bad people, they have just been taught a lie.”

Raj Kumar, built upon this idea, arguing that technology alone cannot deal with those ‘lies’, we need more creative solutions to get at the core issues, including the universal issue regarding the rights of women and girls. We need to ask: what communication efforts actually change the world? Using the example of marriage equality in the US he said that these are often ‘movements’ that are led by the people affected by it. Similarly we need to stop seeing women and girls as beneficiaries, and instead as agents of their own change.

Thembisa Fakude took time to draw attention to those who are deprived access to the dominant (mainly middle-class) modes of communication; particularly the populations in Africa and Asia who still struggle to access the internet, and those are often the voices that we should be hearing. He challenged the tendency to monopolise the language of communication and asked what about the 1.6 billion human beings in China that may not speak English? He stressed that global discussions must be inclusive and we should be better at recognising the social impediments of some women who need to be a part of the discourse. 

Key tips for better communication:

  • Have clear objectives on who you are trying to influence and shape communication to reach those that count
  • Ensure that you are on the same page with the people on the ground - do you share the same priorities?
  • Find local champions and support them to spread organic and authentic messages
  • Be aware of the terminology you use to reduce alienation of vulnerable groups


Health systems Gender