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Women Deliver Update

I just returned from Women Deliver, where 8,000 passionate change-makers from 165 nations gathered in Vancouver Canada over 4 inspiring days. The theme of the conference was “POWER” and I must say, witnessing the energy and passion from participants committed to lifting women and communities was nothing short of powerful.

The power of menstrual management was a theme that came up all day, every day. From the President of Kenya, to a 19-year-old dynamo, and presenters from around the globe speaking about WASH, equity, health, you name it; the issue of addressing menstrual health came up again and again. The cross-cutting impact of what we do was acknowledged by all sectors. What a difference from a few short years ago when few acknowledged this need. The day that we have been working toward is here.

The consensus of the event was the vital need for “Menstrual Equity:” a world where every woman is able to meet her menstrual needs and a world where everyone is able to perform at the same level, every day. Another term discussed was “Menstrual Well Being,” which describes an increase in the overall quality of life. Again and again, from all corners of the event, there was agreement that comprehensive menstrual and health equity is important to all of us.

The conference stressed the power of conversation. In a session on FGC (Female Genital Cutting) five women from various parts of the world shared their experiences. A woman named Mariya Taher told us that she was born and raised in the USA, but at age 7 she was taken to India and cut. She then assumed that this happened to all girls. We all agreed that shame increases hiding, and hiding supports harmful social norms. Today Mariya is a strong advocate for the power of conversations to shift harmful social norms. It takes a strong woman to choose to tell her painful story, reminding me of many conversations from our AWH trainings. We’ve witnessed strong women stand up over and over again, all over the world.

Present at the conference was the first woman President of Ethiopia, Her Excellency Sahle-Work Zewde. President Zewde said, “Power is what you make of it. Young people need to know that they can take charge and lead the future of their lives.” Directly following President Zewde’s remarks, we experienced one of the most powerful moments of the conference, when 19-year-old Natasha Chibesa Wang Mwansa stood up and said with confidence, “We must simply have women as equal partners!” The crowd of several thousand cheered, not just for what she said, but for the confidence we witnessed. Imagine a world where every young woman has confidence.

At the end of the conference, I took with me the inspiration that all voices have power and that all of us matter. And as I leave in a few days for Kenya and Uganda to visit with our local, and powerful leaders, I am filled with a sense of awe in the power of what we have accomplished together.

Thank you for being part of this incredible journey to advance dignity, opportunity, and the power of what is possible when we all join together.

Celeste Mergens