Women Deliver believes that when the world invests in girls and women, everybody wins. As a leading global advocate for the health, rights and wellbeing of girls and women, Women Deliver catalyzes action by bringing together diverse voices and interests to drive progress, with a particular focus on maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and rights.
A photo of Ala’a Salah standing on the roof of a car, leading Sudanese pro-democracy protesters, captured the raw street power of a people’s movement determined to end the 30-year-old regime of President Omar al-Bashir – and it went viral.
Ala’a, like many women before and alongside her, was front and centre of the country’s revolution.
As a Syrian activist, seeing that photo of Ala’a reminded me of the brave girls and women who also called for change – in streets, in parks, and on top of cars, too – at the beginning of the Syrian revolution (and war) in 2011. Despite the miles and years that separate our movements, I felt more connected than ever to my sisters in Sudan.
Then in the weeks after the photo went viral, protests in Sudan continued but were largely out of the news. I was disappointed but unsurprised: after all, it wasn’t long ago that the world was reading about Syrian women advocates before we too disappeared from international headlines.
Today, Sudan’s powerful women revolutionaries are back in the news. The country’s Transitional Military Council has buckled to the pressure of a mass movement and agreed to a power-sharing government.
But we can’t forget that girls and women were also systematically attacked, raped, and tortured in the military’s crackdown on protesters on 3 June before the TMC finally agreed to a political deal. These horrific atrocities are unacceptable realities for women human rights defenders around the world and must urgently be addressed.
As a women’s rights activist and native of Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, I have an especially deep insight into its five-year siege by government forces, and how the peaceful protests were met with awful violence. Civilian activists, many of us women, were trying to push for a positive change in our community and our country.
To truly stand in solidarity with our sisters in Sudan, Syria, and beyond, we need the international community to do much more than share a photo or join a trending social media campaign. We need global leaders to really walk the talk when it comes to supporting girls and women in humanitarian settings.
And that includes those structural inequalities that force women in Sudan to be on the front line of the country’s expanding food crisis, or in Syria condemns women-headed households to vulnerability and the threat of exploitation.
We are more than photographs
Real change begins by hearing the voices of women human rights defenders in the ever-changing news cycles. We are more than photographs frozen in time – we fight every day for the space to raise our voices.
In the besieged areas of Eastern Ghouta, before they were re-captured by the Syrian government last year, women lived underground enduring huge personal risk to share information about their safety and health needs to trusted organisations. And on the streets of Khartoum, Sudan, women yell it out loud in microphones that can be snatched away by intimidating soldiers.
It shouldn’t be the case that we also face roadblocks to advocating at global meetings held in places like New York and Geneva – but it is. Between 1990 and 2017, women made up only 2 percent of mediators, 8 percent of negotiators and 5 percent of witnesses and signatories to global peace processes, according to UN Women. Meanwhile, in Syria, women still aren’t sufficiently included in post-conflict constitutional deliberations.
This needs to change – after all, when women are included, peace negotiations are 35 percent more likely to succeed.
There must be a more intentional effort to ensure women have seats at these important decision-making tables, especially considering the instrumental roles we play in revolutionary movements. When nationality and refugee status impedes our participation, international organisations can use their power and leverage to get us there.
All of this requires a longer-term support for local women-focused civil society organisations (CSOs) in humanitarian settings, which help keep advocates safe and gives them a platform to be heard, even when our work fades from international view.
That the work of women human rights defenders persists despite the great challenges we face every day is revolutionary in itself.
As the country director for Women Now for Development – a women-led CSO that works to empower girls and women in Syria and Lebanon – I’ve seen how grassroots organisations can provide safe spaces, build advocacy skills, and deliver humanitarian assistance where it’s most needed. I know this is also the case in Sudan, because our team stays in touch with Sudanese women activists to share experiences and encourage each other to continue.
Yet continuing with our work is difficult in a situation where our organisations rely on scarce resources to meet the tremendous needs of the communities we serve. For example, while Syrian-led CSOs deliver an estimated 75 percent of humanitarian aid in my country, they receive less than 1 percent of direct funding – with even less to those focused on women.
And globally, less than 3 percent of international humanitarian aid goes to local and national first responders. To power progress, we need the international community to use their pocketbooks more than their Facebooks to support women change-makers in these contexts.
That the work of women human rights defenders persists despite the great challenges we face every day is revolutionary in itself. What it will take to help advocates continue this vital work, however, is not revolutionary at all: more money, influence, and decision-making power. We’ve said it all before – on top of cars, in streets, and on global stages. Now it’s time to be heard.
The Women Deliver 2019 Conference was one step on the march towards a more gender equal world. With more than 8,000 people – including heads of states, ministers, parliamentarians, academics, advocates, activists and journalists - from over 165 countries on site and more than 100,000 people joining around the world through satellite events and the virtual conference, WD2019 connected advocates and decision makers, fueled global and country-level action, and shined a global spotlight on the importance of gender equality. The new ideas, inspiration, and solutions shared at the conference will continue to inspire the world to harness power for good, demonstrate the power of gender equality, and catalyze investment in women-focused organizations and in sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Here are just 37 of the ways that the Women Deliver 2019 Conference delivered for girls and women:
WD2019 catalyzedinvestment - financial, political, and programmatic - in gender equality, including women-focused organizations and SRHR.
1) Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the Government of Canada will raise its funding to CAD$1.4 billion annually to support women and girls’ health around the world. That includes an additional CAD$300 million a year dedicated to sexual and reproductive health rights, including access to safe abortion.
2) The Government of Canada announced that it will work with the Equality Fund -- a consortium of Canadian and international organizations with expertise in international development, investment, and philanthropy that are also deeply rooted in, and connected to, women’s organizations and movements. By committing up to CAD$300 million, Canada helped to establish this innovative, 'first of its kind' partnership that will contribute to bridging the funding gap faced by women's organizations and movements working to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in developing countries. The Equality Fund consortium has already raised $100 million from Canadian and international philanthropic foundations and has the ambition to leverage more than $1 billion in assets working for gender equality.
3) President Uhuru Kenyatta committed to ending female genital mutilation by 2022, pushing for more women in parliament and power in general, ending child marriage, acting on climate change, and making primary and secondary education compulsory for all children, regardless of gender.
4) The Humanitarian Pre-Conference provided a unique forum for women-focused CSOs to directly advocate with donors and international organizations about the concrete actions needed to drive a more feminist and localized approach to humanitarian aid.
5) For the first time ever, FGM/C NGOs, grassroots and survivor-led organizations from across the globe came together around a common goal of ending FGM/C by 2030 and supporting survivors of the practice, and released a unified Call to Action.
6) The Deliver for Good Business Ally Network launched to promote private sector engagement toward gender equality across the Sustainable Development Goals. Through this announcement, and the work of the new network, Merck and P&G are working alongside more than 400 leading civil society organizations and governments to drive solutions toward a more gender equal world.
7) The UN Foundation announced new and expansive commitments from ten global companies to improving the health and empowerment of a combined more than 250,000 women workers and community members around the globe.
8) At the Gender-Smart Investing Summit on the sidelines of WD2019, almost 200 top innovators representing trillions in assets under management, all gathered to address bottlenecks that inhibit the deployment of more capital in support of gender equality.
9) Pro Mujer announced a new joint venture with Deetken Impact to manage the Ilu Women’s Empowerment Fund. This fund invests in a diversified portfolio of high-impact businesses in Latin America and the Caribbean that promote women in leadership and governance, products, and services that meet the needs of women and girls, gender-sensitive value chains, and workplace equity.
10) The Global Parliamentary Alliance on Health, Rights, and Development was created – the first ever global platform for parliamentarians to advocate for better health care, expand human rights, and meet the Sustainable Development Goals both in their home countries and abroad.
11) The second Generation Now: Our Health, Our Rights pre-conference co-hosted by the International AIDS Society and Women Deliver welcomed hundreds of youth and adult change-makers from around the world, and inspired multiple commitments to advocate for linked SRHR and HIV services, systems and policies.
At WD2019, partners unveiled new research and data that demonstrates the power of gender equality.
12) McKinsey Global Institute released a report, The Future of Women at Work, which explores the impact of automation on the global workforce through a gender lens. The research found that navigating transitions will put women on a path to more productive, better-paid work and greater gender equality, but failing to do so could worsen existing challenges and widen gender disparities. The report also found that women’s progress toward equality in the workplace continues to lag behind social indicators of equality, even though narrowing gender gaps could add $12 trillion to the global economy in 2025. Gender equality champions can use this new information to push for investments in girls and women so the future of women at work drives progress for all.
13)A new study was announced, conducted by the Population Council and with Women Deliver, found a strong and consistent lifelong negative association between giving birth before age 18 and a woman’s economic empowerment. This important research adds to the vital evidence base that investing in SRHR could have a positive economic impact.
14) Equal Measures 2030 launched The SDG Gender Index, the most comprehensive tool available to measure the state of gender equality aligned to the SDGs. Results from 129 countries measured by the Index show that the world is far from achieving gender equality, with 1.4 billion girls and women living in countries that get a “very poor” failing grade on gender equality.
Overall, countries performed best on issues where coordinated and concerted policy focus and funding has been directed over the past 10-20 years, including on hunger and nutrition (SDG 2), water and sanitation (SDG 6), health (SDG 3), and education (SDG 4). This new tool will help advocates show how investing in gender equality is necessary for sustainable development.
15) Women Deliver, Girl Effect, and the Government of Canada (Global Affairs Canada), announced a new research initiative focused on engaging youth as researchers and advocates around youth sexual and reproductive health and rights. The multi-country project will take place in India, Malawi, and Rwanda and will engage youth as advisors, researchers, and advocates. The new initiative will demonstrate the power of meaningful youth engagement in research.
16) Plan International released a new report that revealed that a vast majority of girls worldwide want to take leadership positions in the workplace, politics and wider society, yet more than 9 out of 10 believe as women leaders they will suffer widespread discrimination and sexual harassment. Understanding these types of attitudes will help the world address obstacles to more women in leadership.
17) The State of the World’s Fathers Report launched, alongside a new Paternity Leave Corporate Task Force and MenCare Commitment, finding that while 85 percent of fathers say they would do anything to be very involved in caring for their new child, they are still taking on far less than mothers. If men committed an additional 50 minutes a day towards caring for children and households, the world would make a leap toward achieving gender equality in unpaid care, according to the report by Promundo and Unilever Dove Men+Care. Stronger male engagement is essential to achieving a more gender equal world.
18) A new report released by the International Women’s Health Coalition revealed that the Global Gag Rule is reducing the quality and availability of care, particularly for marginalized communities, in four countries studied. The launch brought renewed attention to this harmful policy that is killing women.
19) In advance of WD2019, The Lancet published “Gender Equality, Norms, and Health” - a series of papers that explore the impact of gender inequalities and norms on health, using new analysis and insights. The series also examines opportunities to transform gender inequalities and harmful norms within policies, systems, programs, and research.
WD2019 participants gained new connections, ideas, inspiration, and solutions, fueling global and country-level action.
20) More than 90% of conference survey respondents said they were inspired to take action because of the conference, and would go home and do so.
21) In collaboration with Women Deliver, the Overseas Development Institute launched an entire issue of its Humanitarian Exchange Magazine focused on best practices for addressing the needs of girls and women in emergencies, with nearly every article co-authored by a women-focused civil society organization from these contexts.
22) The conference ignited a global dialogue – organizations and individuals hosted more than 200 Satellite Events on six continents, reaching more than 83,000 participants. And WDLive, Women Deliver’s virtual conference, reached over 125,000 views to date.
23) From coast-to-coast-to-coast Canada used the conference as an opportunity to discuss gender equality. With events in every region and most provinces and territories, thousands of Canadians have joined the Women Deliver Mobilization Canada campaign over the past year to advance the conversation on gender equality.
24) Among other local activations in Vancouver, a grassroots collaboration of British Columbia-based organizations came together to host Feminists Deliver, a four day conference and trade show that shed a light on urgent issues facing the people of BC especially those who self-identify as girls and women, non-binary, and Two Spirit people, and built connections with advocates and other grassroots intersectional feminist organizations represented at WD2019. Additionally, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart and The Honourable Joyce Murray, Canada’s Minister of Digital Government and Treasury Board President, announced a funding and land contribution to kick start planning for an innovative Vancouver housing project that will be led by women, from initial planning to construction and operation. Inspired by the values of WD2019, the legacy project will be co-created with indigenous communities and local women-serving organizations to ensure that it meets the needs of women, and prioritize Indigenous women-led families.
25) At the inaugural Women Deliver Advocacy Academy training, advocates from 49 countries strengthened their skills and connections, including with parliamentarians. One advocate said, "I wouldn't say you empowered me...you showed me how I am already powerful.”
26) More than 280 reporters, bloggers, and photographers from 63 countries attended the conference – resulting in more than a thousand stories published around the world about the conference and the issues tackled. By shining such a huge spotlight on problems and solutions, WD2019 focused the world’s attention on the value of gender equality.
27) The conference reached over 6.8 million people on social media, including via the #WD2019 hashtag which was used almost 150,000 times.
28) 95% of respondents state that their knowledge of effective advocacy, tools, and processes for gender equality and girls’ and women’s health, rights, and wellbeing increased as a result of the conference.
29) Delegates from over 350 private sector organizations representing a diverse set of industries including finance, health, technology, and many others attended the conference, creating a space for true collaboration and partnerships across sectors.
Women Deliver and BSR hosted the 2019 Private Sector Pre-conference How Business Can Build a ‘Future of Work’ That Works for Women which gathered high-level corporate leaders to explore the impact of several forces that are changing the nature of work such as automation, artificial intelligence, and the emergence of the gig economy. Participants delved into the specific actions businesses can take to minimize the risks to women’s employment and maximize the opportunities for women to succeed, and created a working paper that will be incorporated into a Framework for Action.
WD2019 focused on POWER, and addressed individual power, structural power, and the power of movements, and how power can drive – or hinder – progress and change. The conference challenged the power dynamics behind gender inequality, and demonstrated how we can all harness power for good.
30) The Women Deliver 2019 Conference acknowledged the barriers that are more entrenched for some girls and women than others – including indigenous populations, people with disabilities, the LGBTQIA+ community, refugees, and women of color – and addressed those unique challenges.
31) Women Deliver laid out a vision for the powerful future of meaningful youth engagement in a new and groundbreaking policy paper.
32) More than 1,400 young people registered for the conference, and about 20% of plenary speakers were under 30. WD2019 demonstrated how meaningful youth engagement can enrich discussions and strengthen outcomes: More than 90% of respondents learned something new from a young person, networked, collaborated, or appreciated an interaction they had with a young person.
33) Founders and leaders of some of the most influential movements of our time - Me Too, Times Up, Ni Una Menos, climate, labor unions, citizen journalism and others – shared a..
The Women Deliver 2019 Conference was one moment on the march towards gender equality, but there are thousands of other steps – big and small – that we need to take.
It’s time to REDEFINE “POWER” – and recognize our ability to use power for good at every level.
It’s time to EMBRACE THE FACTS – that in a gender equal world, everybody wins.
& It’s time to STRENGTHEN INVESTMENTS – political, programmatic, and financial – in gender equality.
These are some of the many ideas for how you can use your power to achieve a gender equal world…
Everybody has power, big and small, soft and hard, private or public. We can all use our power to help achieve gender equality. WITH MY POWER AS AN INDIVIDUAL, I WILL…
We need to break down the barriers that have historically kept many girls and women from enjoying the same rights and opportunities as boys and men. WITH THE POWER MY ORGANIZATION, GOVERNMENT, OR BUSINESS HAS TO CHANGE STRUCTURES, I WILL WORK TO…
The Power of Movements
When people come together – including those who have long been excluded – we can make powerful change happen fast. TO STRENGTHEN THE MOVEMENT FOR A GENDER EQUAL WORLD, WE WILL…
So we leave you with this question... how will YOU use your power for change?
It is a long-known fact that multiple sectors and stakeholders must come together if we are serious about fighting all forms of malnutrition. This also rings true (perhaps even more so) for the fight against all forms of gender-based discrimination.
Since the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement was founded almost nine years ago, much effort has gone into making sure that more people, the right people, are sitting around the same table where decisions on nutrition are made – an approach that also is encapsulated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. And by the right people at the same table, we mean the country level and sub-national level, but also in our global governance structures and Networks. In the words of Helen Keller, "alone we can do so little, together we can do so much".
It has been said, that when a girl or boy reaches nine, they are poised for a transition as they are at the cusp of adolescence.
This can also be said for the SUN Movement, as we now know that without turning the needle on gender equality, chances are that we won’t be able to turn the needle on malnutrition, as they are intrinsically linked, and one often causes the other. But, just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire ecosystem to make sure a woman is empowered.
Since 2012, we have had a high-level Lead Group – comprising current or former Heads of State and other leaders from the array of partners engaged in the SUN Movement: civil society, international and UN organisations, donor agencies, businesses and foundations. What brings these changemakers together are their spheres of influence and commitment, both personal and professional, to spearhead the fight against malnutrition at the country level. Since 2012, although members have come and gone and 2019 will see a renewed composition, members of this group have been invited as they are the best fit to make sure the direction of the Movement is the right one for lasting human impact and development.
Each year, this group comes together on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss progress and bottlenecks. Ever since I assumed my role as Coordinator in 2016, I have enjoyed these meetings as core discussions on areas of concern for all countries and stakeholders. With Lead Group Chair, Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, who has encouraged all members to lead from where we stand, this approach is strongly emphasised. This time, the Lead Group committed to two areas essential to improve nutrition and all women, men and their families: putting in place sustainable food systems and ensuring gender equality and the socio-economic empowerment of girls and women.
It is encouraging to see the level of commitment from the Lead Group, as individuals, but also as leaders in their fields. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International and the Honourable Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau of Canada, have rung the alarm for a call to action to be issued to all levels of the SUN Movement to scale up work to ensure that women and adolescent girls, everywhere, have the nutrients they need. This while also being considered and treated as equals in every area of life. Furthermore, adolescence represents a second critical window of opportunity (the first being a child’s first 1,000 days, from conception until they are about 2 years old) to ensure a well-nourished and happy future – the future we all want. This approach is also at the heart of UNICEF’s strategy, Canada’s approach to international development and Save the Children’s mandate – to leave no one behind.
Sometimes the ‘naming and shaming’ tool is used to garner traction. I am more in favour of ‘naming and faming’.
Save the Children plays an essential role, alongside other civil society actors, to advocate for empowerment and equality and ensure strengthened capacities, also at the grassroots level – where it counts the most – or during elections, to make gender equality a lasting priority. Canada has put in place, and acts on, the second-ever feminist International Assistance Policy. Other Lead Group members and their organisations have essential roles to play and are assuming well. Let me name a few. Martin Chungong, the Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, for instance, is an International Gender Champion, who has, successfully, fought for gender-sensitive parliaments and more female parliamentarians. Feike Sijbesma, the CEO and President of Royal DSM and Co-Chair of the SUN Business Network Advisory Group has pushed for more private sector actors scaling up maternity protection. His Excellency Jakaya Kikwete, the former President of Tanzania, has been an outspoken champion for girls’ education and linking well-educated girls and women with good nutrition, bringing in his own personal experience. The list goes on.
It is becoming clearer that it is no longer about what you can do to ensure gender equality, empowerment and good nutrition, but what you have to do. Let us not look to others, but let us be the change, and let us live this change. In the upcoming months, alongside Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Minister Bibeau and Nutrition International, our call to action is becoming stronger, as we move towards the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver in June.
But I can already give you the key ‘takeaway’. You have a role to play, no matter who you are – in your own community, as a cultural or religious leader, as a politician, as a teacher, as a parent, brother, sister and as a friend. It is not enough to just believe in equality, it is time to act on equality. Be a role model – at home, at work, and everywhere in between!
This fight for what is right cannot and will not be won without you.
It is internationally recognized that women’s empowerment is an essential precursor to economic growth, environmental protection, and peace. The landmark book Drawdown, which describes the 100 most substantive solutions for reversing the buildup of atmospheric carbon within 30 years, found that empowering women is among “the most impactful tool for achieving drawdown.” The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) describe gender equality and women’s empowerment as “integral to each of the 17 goals. Only by ensuring the rights of women and girls across all the goals will we get to justice and inclusion, economies that work for all, and sustaining our shared environment now and for future generations.”
Yet this still has not translated into an investment of resources— financial, human, information, or physical. Women are still hit the hardest by environmental and climate crises, and many risk their lives every day just to access basic needs - like water, food, and fuel - for their families and their communities. Deep structural inequities rob half of the global population of our full potential to profoundly shape our communities, our values, and the future on this planet.
How would this, and the world, change if women had a seat at the decision-making table? If women’s leadership were centered, not only at the grassroots level, but on the political level as well?
Research reveals that women’s participation and leadership in politics results in:
At (WEA) Women’s Earth Alliance, we see these shifts firsthand through our work supporting women leaders around the world to accelerate their environmental solutions and movements -- most recently in Indonesia and Nigeria.
In Indonesia, Tiza Mafira -- a lawyer and director of Gerakan Diet Kantong Plastik Indonesia, a grassroots community-based organization focused on advocating for the abolition of single use plastics -- understands the impact her advocacy can have on millions of Indonesians, as well as the environment. “Often, we think it is the people versus the government, some entity you need to criticize, I don’t think that is necessarily true,” Tiza explains. “I think if you want to create massive change you have to do it through policy – if we are talking about nationwide change, something that includes up to 240 million people then we’re talking about a policy – and that is what I am trying to do.”
Indonesia is the second-biggest contributor to the plastic trash crisis in the oceans, behind only China. It produces 3.22 million tons of mismanaged plastic waste every year, of which 1.29 million tons ends up in the sea. Since she first began campaigning against single-use plastic bags in 2013, Tiza’s leadership in policymaking and coalition-building has helped four cities to enact plastic bag bans, with hope for a nationwide ban in the near future.
In Nigeria, Binta Yahaya uses her training as a clean cookstoves entrepreneur and leader to educate and influence the highest levels of local government in her work to safeguard women’s health and promote affordable, sustainable energy. In Nigeria, firewood smoke is the 3rd largest killer of women and children, most of whom cook over open fires or traditional cookstoves, suffering chronic respiratory infections and other health problems from the toxic smoke. Studies have shown that cooking with an open fire is like burning 400 cigarettes an hour in your kitchen. In the last year, not only has Binta sold over 230 clean cookstoves to women in her community -- providing them with a simple solution to reduce sickness, medical bills, and daily fuel costs for families -- and designed her own clean cookstove model, she has also used her leadership and position to advocate for her community’s Traditional Ruler and Council to designate land for the UN Development Program Global Environment Facility - Sustainable Fuelwood Management Project’s Clean Cookstove Demonstration Center.
And right now in the United States, women leaders with the Sunrise Movement have laid out the Green New Deal (GND), an ambitious national program of investments in communities, clean energy jobs, public infrastructure and industry to transform our future. Among its goals are: achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions; securing clean air and water, climate and community resilience, healthy food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment for us all; promoting justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing the historic oppression of frontline and vulnerable communities.
Tiza, Binta and the leaders of the Green New Deal show us just how much progress is possible for the environment and our communities when women’s leadership -- in politics, in grassroots movements, in coalition-building -- is considered not just as a benefit to the conversation, but as essential. As community and family caretakers, leaders, and advocates, women are key change agents engaged in protecting vital resources, and are already at the forefront of developing appropriate, local climate and environmental solutions. They provide a critical and necessary perspective for shaping broader environmental policies and our future for generations to come.
In 2018, when a group of Indian women recognized that government officals were not doing enough to locate victims of the Kerala floods, they mobilized. The women scoured social media looking for messages from stranded people, verified their locations and coordinated with rescue operations. More than 6,000 people were saved.
Namita, who was a part of these efforts says: “When our campaign was over, we sat back, opened a spreadsheet and tallied the number of people we had reached out to… it was amazing to be a part of this setup, where we all feed off each other’s energy, inspire each other, motivate and help each other in succeeding.”
This group of inspiring women didn’t come together by chance. Over the last two years, the Change.org Foundation’s She Creates Change programme has brought together more than 120 Indian women to build their advocacy skills, amplify their campaigns and connect as a community of leaders for social change. Women in this community have led over 80 campaigns that have had national or state impact across India.
Early on, we realized that a community of women that encourages diverse types of leadership was much more likely to grow, self-sustain and generate more impact across the country.
As the She Creates Change community grew, different leadership roles emerged:
Champions – Women who run strong national campaigns that mobilize thousands of people. They act as spokespeople to the media and government, amplifying issues that affect women’s lives. Champions like Srilekha, who is running a nationally recognized campaign to secure menstrual hygiene services for young girls in the Jharkhand region, offer the groups inspiration and motivation.
Connectors – These women don’t lead a single specific campaign, but rather organize to build structures and systems that support the growth of the entire community. For example, Namita encourages women to start their own campaigns and, connects them to others who might be able to help. She has an eye to all of the campaigns in action and can thererfore make strategic links.
Experts – They provide expert guidance on key strategic skills or issues that help push a campaign forward. From developing compelling social media campaigns sto engaging with supportive financial institutions, Experts have the diverse skills it takes to win a campaign. For example, lawyer Sagina provides legal advice to campaigns looking to change government policy.
Buddies – Campaigning for social change is difficult, emotional and takes a long time. Women who are Buddies provide the logistical and emotional support to others who are the public or strategic face of a campaign. Like Pranaadhika who shared her police contacts and experience to help women who needed police support on cyber abuse. Buddies celebrate women’s successes and stand by them during setbacks, rallying support and encouragement.
It’s tempting to think that every women should be a social change ‘Champion’. But that ignores the wider community of leaders it takes to create sustained impact. Through She Creates Change, we train and support all women to start campaigning and be leaders on the issues they care about. But by recognizing different types of leadership roles, we build a stronger, more diverse and vibrant community whose members are influencing policy changes, speaking to government leaders and engaging with the media across India.
For an NGO looking to build women’s leadership and political participation, we have found community support to be an integral component. But that community will only sustain itself and grow if members take on different leadership roles. Developing these different roles is key to creating a sustainable group that exists and takes action independently of an NGO's continuous intervention.
At the start of 2017, only 23% of Change.org India’s monthly users were women. Our research showed that lack of support, isolation and fear of backlash were some of the biggest barriers preventing women from leading their own campaigns for social change. Based on that, we developed She Creates Change, a comprehensive community-building program that supports women to become leaders, spokespeople and advocates for change.
Today, instead of focusing on creating only champions, the She Creates Change community is a space where champions, experts, buddies, and connectors all contribute to learning, campaigns, support and the long-term sustainability of their growing movement for change.
Water is an ‘elixir of life’ -- much more than a commodity. This vital resource is intricately linked to culture, economy and politics. However, it is also threatened: often in short supply or polluted, and can be a cause of conflict, in communities, within and between countries, and between women and men. Water can also bring people together.
This July, members of the United Nations will review progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with special attention paid to Goal 10, which aims to reduce inequalities within and between countries. Equal access to clean water and sanitation is critical to reducing overall inequalities. The lack of it undermines the very foundations of development, including health, the ability of children – especially girls – to stay in school and be productive. As countries work to achieve SDG 10, access to clean water and sanitation can be a game-changer for prosperity and transformation.
That is not to say that improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene will benefit everyone in the same way. Water and sanitation have strong gender dimensions which must be considered in management and use: the day-to-day experiences of men and women with water and sanitation can be very different, and these inequalities must be consciously considered from the beginning of any intervention.
In my experience, these inequalities can only be revealed with the help of diverse leadership.
For example, often women are assumed to be interested in, and responsible for, domestic water supply and household needs, while men are often consulted and involved in the ‘work’ of water: in financing or managing water resources. This means that any water intervention needs to take into account the impact not only on practical, everyday needs, but also on strategic interests. Access to water and sanitation, if delivered well, empowers women economically and socially. Done poorly, it may undermine women’s position at home and in the community.
Therefore, women’s leadership and decision making power in water and sanitation is critical. This is recognised, and is improving. The gender gap often found in planning, design and construction is slowly starting to narrow as women assume more prominent roles: from managing water users’ committees, to making financial decisions, to overseeing business administration, technical operations and maintenance.
This progress does not make up for the fact that women already spend 2.6 times more hours than men on unpaid activities, including caregiving and domestic work. We also need to work as a society to ensure their involvement in water and sanitation services does not further contribute to the burden of unpaid work, or decrease the ability to earn an income.
We need the political imperative to recognise that the involvement of both women and men is integral to sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene management. Enabling policy frameworks, which are backed by resources, training and political will, are vital to developing and sustaining women’s leadership in the water sector at local, national and global level.
Our own experience at WaterAid, across many countries, shows that women’s leadership in water management is essential to challenging unconscious male bias, and changing how decisions are made. Gender perspective influences how issues are prioritised, how budgets are allocated, and even the determination of what constitutes a solution. Diversity from leadership to the participatory level is essential if water, sanitation and hygiene services are to be responsive to a wide range of needs.
In Cambodia, WaterAid is investing in developing the next generation of water, sanitation and hygiene leaders, by collaborating with colleges, water utilities and districts, using experiential learning, internships and interacting with experts. WaterAid works with a range of partners who encourage professionals to study water, sanitation and hygiene and water resource management, and move into technical and leadership roles. The objective is to build a strong, inspired and diverse workforce of qualified and motivated leaders and technical personnel to deliver universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene.
The SDGs give us the opportunity to work in an integrated way for people, planet and prosperity. Water is essential to all three, including reducing inequalities and discrimination. As the UN reviews progress on SDG 10, this is the time for governments, businesses, NGOs and academic institutions to look at how they are investing in women’s leadership in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, from local committees to the international stage.
Savio Carvalho is global campaigns director for WaterAid and previously worked for Amnesty International and Oxfam across different continents.
Let’s do an exercise. Imagine a world in which women no longer earn less than men, hold powerful leadership positions, and all girls can exercise their rights to education. (Dare you to close your eyes for one minute and truly picture it.) Sounds pretty ideal, right?
At She’s the First, we’re working to unleash that same imagination in girls. Better yet, we want to inspire them to see themselves as the leaders moving toward that vision. Through our work with local partners, we support girls who are the first in their families to graduate high school across 11 low-income countries. In turn, educated girls are better equipped to make decisions, bolster the economy, and bring us one step closer to gender equality.
As part of our global partnerships, all students participate in a knowledge exchange, discussing issues affecting girls and women worldwide, ranging from forced early marriage to illiteracy. Recently, students from Nepal, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda reflected on leadership and why it’s essential that those who hold leadership positions represent the people they serve. Rather than summarize their findings, we’ll let them share their thoughts in their own words:
STF Scholar Dorcas in Kenya
STF Scholar Nabuloka Esther in Uganda
STF Scholar Salma in Tanzania
STF Scholar Sirjana in Nepal
Working for and with girls, we can envision a world where gender equality has been achieved, and all girls have access to quality education, leadership positions, and the futures they deserve. Now, let’s open our eyes—and do this work together. Learn more about our impact and programs at shesthefirst.org—we hope you’ll join the movement.
For the first time in human history, more than 50% of the world’s population lives under democratic governance. At the same time, more than 50% of the world’s population now lives in urban centers. By 2050, the number of city dwellers globally is set to rise to 66%. This is a seismic demographic shift, which presents both opportunities and challenges to urban and municipal governance.
But there is a common hidden dimension to this urbanization: by some estimates, women - especially young women - comprise the majority of those migrating to urban centers. There is evidence that urbanization can provide opportunities for women to make progress on gender equality -- in terms of access to increased legal protections, greater enrollment in tertiary education, more opportunities for formal employment, and a relaxation of gendered social norms. Despite this, women remain excluded from critical conversations and decisions on how cities are run.
Since women remain under-represented in local-governance institutions, their perspectives are often neglected in urban or municipal policy design, implementation and accountability mechanisms. Worldwide, women make up less than 5% of mayors and 20% of city councilors. Against the odds, this percentage almost doubles when it comes to women as leaders of capital cities in places as disparate as Tunis, Freetown, Baghdad, Paris, Bucharest and Washington DC.
Generally, though, the needs of women are often ignored by urban policy-makers and planners, making cities more difficult, and often dangerous, places for women to thrive. This must change and the SDGs provide relevant targets to guide us.
SDG11 focuses on making cities inclusive and safe, therefore requiring us to pay more attention to inclusive urban governance, informed by gender-aware urban planning and design to help make cities better environments for everyone. Let’s apply this to life. If you were mayor of a city receiving substantial snow, , which roads would you clear first? In most places, I would guess the main roads are priority with neighborhood roads after. What does this mean? In the most challenging snowfalls, commuters, mostly men, go to work and leave women, children, the elderly, and people with mobility or health issues, snow-bound at home. Gender-informed snow clearance (thank you, Sweden!) would prioritize neighborhoods to enable the majority or people to get on with their lives: teachers (mainly women) can get to schools, kids can go to school, services can reach the elderly and those with mobility or health issues, women who work outside the home can go to work - and so can men.
Or if you were a mayor of a city in Latin America with a declining municipal transport system, how would you reform that system to address the fact that across the region an estimated 60% of women are physically assaulted on public transport? Ask the former Vice-Mayor of Quito, Ecuador – Daniela Chacon – who led the development of the CUÉNTAME (‘Tell Me’) program which provided women who wanted to report an assault direct access to trained personnel able to provide psychological and legal support, in well-signposted booths at five of the main transfer stations in the city. Importantly, several cases were prosecuted and defendants received jail terms, breaking women’s perceptions of helplessness and the perpetrators’ sense of impunity.
In the context of migration to urban centers, another important target is embedded in SDG16: namely to “provide legal identity for all”, by 2030. The vulnerability of the undocumented person is acute. For undocumented women, it is tantamount to invisibility before the state and/or the law, and pushes them to the edges of our societies and economies - depriving them of access to a range of civil and political rights and essential services, the ability to conduct financial transactions, and making them easy targets for crime.
These examples demonstrate the need for producing more inclusive, adaptive and effective governance in cities. Today, there is great human energy in cities around the world dedicated to reshaping their governance structures and processes to become more nimble, collaborative and data-driven. We need to better understand which innovations appear to produce sustainable, transformative improvements in the quality of urban democracy that improves the lives and opportunities of all citizens. Both the innovations and energy should be harnessed to ensure that cities don’t fail their biggest ever test: making urban democracy work for women too. At NDI we intend our Women Mayors’ Network, supporting women who dare to #LeadDifferently, to be part of the answer.
In 2000 the UN passed Security Council Resolution 1325, calling for the increased participation of women in peace processes. Despite this, women made up “only 2 percent of mediators, 8 percent of negotiators, and 5 percent of witnesses and signatories” worldwide between 1990 and 2017. Evidence suggests that “when women and civil society groups are invited and meaningfully participate in peace negotiations, the resulting agreement is 64% less likely to fail and 35% more likely to last at least fifteen years.” However, we need female leaders at all levels of the peace process, especially as negotiators, peacekeepers, and signatories, not just as part of civil society organizations. When women are present in peace negotiations, they challenge norms and bring forth ideas and policy suggestions that would otherwise be ignored or forgotten. In examining the case studies of Colombia and Yemen, we see not only the historical importance of including women in peace and security negotiations, but also the potential pathways forward.
COLOMBIA CASE STUDY
In 1998, women were formally brought into peace negations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Three women assisted in the peace process as negotiators and coordinators. Though a marker of progress, three women is not enough to call the process inclusive. When an agreement was reached in 2002, women civil society organizations knew that peace would not last and continued to lobby the government and insist plans be made for future conflict and negotiations. When peace talks reopened in 2012, only one of the twenty negotiators was female. In response, civil society leaders organized the National Summit of Women and Peace, calling for women’s involvement in the peace process. And by 2015 “women comprised 20 percent of the government negotiating team and 43 percent of FARC delegates.” Women were included on all levels of the peace process and started the first Gender Subcommission. They also demanded that the FARC introduce “confidence building measures” and an apology process to promote peace. Bringing in female peacekeepers was similarly essential. Alexandra Tenny, the chief of the Eradication, Narcotics Affairs Section of the U.S Embassy in Bogota described how no man in the Ministry of the Interior thought to engage the local population (specifically mothers) to find out where IEDs might be (Hudson and Liedl 2015, 290). Without her suggestion, the Ministry would have continued to struggle to locate IEDs. While it is too early to classify this peace as “lasting”, without the actions of women, critical issues would not have been addressed. Therefore, it is vital to include women at the table, taking action and implementing policy.
YEMEN CASE STUDY
In Yemen, the peace process is just beginning. Following peace talks in Geneva, where only one woman was present, the two factions met on a UN chartered boat moored off of Hodeidah. At present, no women are at the table on the UN side, the Houthis, or the Hadi government. This is an issue for multiple reasons, but the most important is that women are at the heart of and the most affected by this conflict. Since the war began, women and children have been disproportionately impacted by the conflict, “including the number of casualties, increased malnutrition, higher displacement, and increased likelihood of gender and sexual based violence.” As the war continues, women are doing all of the agricultural work, childcare, and household labor, and yet only 7 percent of these women earn a wage (Hudson and Liedl 2015, 290). As in Colombia, Yemeni women civil society groups are laying the groundwork for peace and created the Yemini Women Pact for Peace and Security in October of 2015, which drafted and submitted policy recommendations to end the war and start a peacebuilding process.
Despite their efforts, women have not been given an active role in the Yemeni peace making process through official channels. If Yemeni women are not allowed to participate in the peace process, it will be difficult to establish lasting peace. And if all actors do not understand the critical roles women are playing, and have played in Yemen, the negotiations will miss half of the issues involved in securing lasting peace.
When looking at the process of peace and security, women need to take formal leadership roles. Practice shows that women improve the prospects and longevity of peace processes. Women often comprise at least half of the population and are often the ones that run communities and household and community decision-making processes during conflict. It is therefore time to make sure those women have a chance to lead negotiations and policy implementation as negotiators, ministers, ambassadors, and peacekeepers. Women’s voices are critical to the process of ending war and building lasting peace.
Hudson, Valerie M., and Patricia Leidl. The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.
Photo 1 Credit: US State Department
Photo 2 Credit: Al Jazeera