Power, Progress, Change Women Deliver 2019, Miss. Ashley Foster-Estwick Women Deliver Young Leader and HCC Youth Advocate describes her experiences.
Vancouver, Canada set the stage for the largest conference on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights for the 5th time in a row; thanks to a leading advocacy group Women Deliver. Women Deliver describes itself as a global advocacy organisation working towards gender equality through reducing maternal mortality and achieving universal access to reproductive health. Women alone do not make up the composite of workers, volunteers and advocates who strive to promote what the group calls its unwavering commitment to girls and women. The denotation of Women Deliver simply strives to place a unique, critical and focused lens on women’s health and rights.
Women, men and youth from every corner of the world descended on the cosmopolitan city of Vancouver from June 3rd to June 6th for a four- day dialogue, many of the youth represented were Ambassadors from the Caribbean Community some travel scholarship recipients, speakers and bona fide Women Deliver Young Leaders. These movers and shakers commit their daily lives to serving humanity with an emphatic understanding that the female identity and prowess must be protected. It was an awe-inspiring privilege to have access to this space as a Young Leader with the conservative winds of right-wing agendas demanding a back slide in women’s rights, communities like Women Deliver offer affirmation that power, progress and change are reachable.
Power. Progress. Change. Three words that marked the theme of this year’s conference and there was no denying that as Young Leaders we were tasked with critically analysing our individual power at the first Youth Pre-Conference entitled Speaking Truth to Power. Mouthed from the words of presenters and appearing on every marketed memorabilia was the question “How will you use your power for change?” A common thread throughout the youth pre-conference was power for change can look differently for different people. Reinventing call to actions with the help of social media was examined closely, “artism” the merge between arts and activism took centre stage with spoken poetry from Trinidadian Deneka Thomas and other performances. But there was also critical insight that for youth participation to work movements must be diverse, vibrant and aim to involve each individually equally.
Katja Iversen, of Women Deliver, during the opening plenary drove this point home emphasising a real need for youth engagement to address today’s issues, referring to young people as “custodians of messages”. The tone of her address was solemn when discussing the current political landscape, she acknowledged that power dynamics have shifted, and we need look no farther than to the United States of America to see this with the Trump administration currently in office. Justin Trudeau Prime Minister of Canada and self-proclaimed feminist echoed a similar tune stating that “power can backslide” and Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde remarked that “there is no template on how to deliver power”. These points let us know what we already know that the work to securing healthy lives for women, girls, their partners, families and friends is far from over.
Gender is a key determining factor for access to health, health literacy and health system navigation. Strengthening youth to become and stay motivated to be agents of change is one way to claim power. Women Deliver featured a dedicated Youth Zone where speeches were held, one of which was by First Lady of Canada Sophie Grégoire Trudeau. The Youth Zone also showcased solutions workshops, a meditation and self-care retreat; hosted a speed networking session and silent disco. The Power Stage adjacent to the Youth Zone featured social enterprise pitches where social entrepreneurs competed in a Shark Tank inspired competition. Each competitor had a total of ten minutes to convince a panel of experts about the potential of their good or service to improve the lives of girls and women. Women Deliver’s print material including magazines also featured the ideas and work of youth predominately. However, the speaking opportunities offered to youth were perhaps the pinnacle of investment.
I am proud to feature 19 year- old Janece Daniel of I Am A Girl Barbados, who spoke on three panels hosted by Women Deliver. We met in Vancouver and I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions after her speaking engagements.
As a Youth Advocate and member of the Healthy Caribbean Coalition it was a pleasure to be in the company of fellow activists such as Janece, but it would be a huge injustice not to highlight that the spotlight on non-communicable diseases was minute and overshadowed by the overwhelming SRHR push.
At Women Deliver 2019 I had the privilege of attending two sessions that addressed NCDs. The first Out of the Shadows: Addressing and Treating Maternal Mental Health was organised by the Maternal Childhood Survival Program with UNICEF and the World Health Organization.
The key takeaways:
- Women who have experienced postpartum depression felt a sense abandonment after final 6 week check up with their doctors.
- Screening mothers for postpartum depression needs to be integrated into general health services.
- There is evidence that there are effective interventions for antenatal care. These interventions can be provided by well-trained non specialists using a group care model. The group care model is most effective with a mixture of young and old mothers.
- The group care model can be applied to conflict settings like Afghanistan.
Cultural outlook (what should be included in these takeaways):
- Train non-specialists in mental health first aid as an objective of disaster management.
- Include male partners and family members into the conversation of postpartum depression. Partners should be invited to medical screenings for post-partum depression.
The second session which included round table discussions and a panel by expert speakers including Her Royal Highness Princess Dina Mired of the Union for International Cancer Control was hosted in collaboration with Help Age International, NCD Alliance and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics. The session entitled A Global Health Tsunami: Non-Communicable Diseases was informative and provided fact- based knowledge on the current NCD landscape.
The key takeaways:
- Cancer has the greatest negative impact on life expectancy. It is an egalitarian disease and does not discriminate.
- The availability of cancer treatment does not always guarantee access to treatment due to several factors most notably affordability of treatment.
- The NCD agenda has expanded from the 4 x 4 model into a 5 x 5 agenda that includes mental and neurological conditions and air pollution as a risk factor.
- Amy Little of Global Alzheimer’s and Dementia Action Alliance remarked that globally we are “sleepwalking into a crisis with dementia that no country is ready for.”
- Dementia is the leading cause of death in the United Kingdom with ¾ of persons suffering with dementia never having received a diagnosis.
- Dementia affects women more than men and it affects them differently.
- In countries where persons are uneducated about the disease women are ostracised from communities and referred to as witches.
- Tobacco and alcohol marketing are now heavily targeted at women. Dr. Veronica Magar, of the World Health Organization and panellist, referred to this as moving gender equality in a worse direction.
- Dr. Hema Divakar, Co- Chair FIGO’s Pregnancy and NCD Committee, stated that “pre-pregnancy care is the first key to unlock the case of NCDs.”
Cultural outlook (what should be included in these takeaways):
- Increase education on mental health and climate change awareness across the CARICOM region.
- We must continue to put pressure on the tobacco and alcohol industries to halt aggressive marketing.
Women Deliver is an institution that uses its power to progress meaningful change in the world by giving voice to issues in one singular space. Despite this the NCD agenda deserves more focus at its upcoming conference in 2022 and I hope this representation can be done by CARICOM youth leaders and experts.