SPECIAL: The Story of Woman Goes Global: Women Deliver, The World’s Largest Convening for Gender Equality

[00:00:00] Kim Lufkin (Women Deliver): There are so many huge pressing challenges, that are facing women and girls and gender and sexual minorities around the world. So it's imperative that we come together, and really focus on what we have in common and our common goals.

[00:00:16] Cora McGuire-Cyrette (ONWA): Coming together as a collective community, and seeing that other women are also facing the same issues and the same barriers, and still continuing to walk that path. Because we're walking the path to make it a little bit easier for the woman and the girls that need to walk behind us.

[00:00:29] Benita Keza (Rwanda Cooperation): We needto be empowered my goal is to be a part of that someday, just help young girls and. have an impact.

[00:00:38] Vinitha Venkatraman (Viva): Hi Anna. My name is Vinitha. I'm from India.

[00:00:41] Brittany Evans (Women Enabled): My name is Brittany Evans. I am from the United States.

[00:00:44] Grace Panda (TFAC): My name is Grace Panda. I am based in Malawi.

[00:00:48] Anna Stoecklein: Welcome to a very special episode of The Story of Woman, where we hear the story of the largest gender equality conference in the world - The [00:01:00] 2023 Women Deliver Conference held in Kigali Rwanda this past July.

[00:01:06] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): My name is Leeza Mangaldas. The spoken word piece I'm about to recite for you is something I wrote, with a similar event in mind. I think that in any sort of forum where we're thinking about what it means to be a woman and women's rights, that was sort of the inspiration behind this piece. And, without further ado, let me just jump into it. It's called, whose body is this?

[00:01:28] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): Whose body is this? I thought it was mine. This face, this chest, this womb, this spine. But is a woman's body ever truly her own... or is that simply a question for her father to postpone till he finds her a husband?

[00:01:45] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): Whose body is this? Whatever we wear. You grope and you stare. You cat call and tease. You poke and you squeeze in buses, on trains, in markets, on planes in public alone, outside and at [00:02:00] home.

[00:02:00] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): Whose body is this?

[00:02:02] Anna Stoecklein: This is the story of an event where over 6,000 people from 170 countries came together to connect, learn, share, change our systems, and change our world so that it becomes one where we all know the answer to the question, whose body is this?

[00:02:23] Anna Stoecklein: This is the 2023 Women Deliver Conference, and that was Leeza Mangaldas, author, founder, and India's foremost pleasure, positive content creator. You'll hear her full poem at the end of the episode. And let me just say it is powerful.

[00:02:42] Anna Stoecklein: Whose body is this? I wanted to start this episode with that question because that's really what this whole movement is about, the freedom for every body to be who they are and do as they wish with their wounds, their [00:03:00] hair, their voice, their life. So I invite you to consider that question as you listen to this episode and really as you go about your life, whether you're a woman or not, but more on that later.

[00:03:14] Anna Stoecklein: So I had the immense, immense fortune of attending the 2023 Women Deliver Conference in Kigali, Rwanda this past July. Kigali is definitely one of my new favorite cities. Uh, Rwandan people are some of the most beautiful people I have ever met, and this Women Deliver Conference was an extraordinary gathering of people from all over the world that are dedicated to improving the lives of women, girls, and all people.

[00:03:47] Anna Stoecklein: And I wanna give a big thanks to the conference organizers who awarded me and the Story of Woman, a scholarship to be able to attend and bring you this story. Without it, I would not have been there. So a big, [00:04:00] big thanks to the conference organizers for making it accessible to creators such as myself.

[00:04:06] Anna Stoecklein: The conference, like the movement itself was absolutely enormous. So this episode by no means covers everything, not even close. But I hope it gives you a little flavor of the conference and all of the incredible work that's being done around the world in this space. You'll also get to hear a bit about Rwanda at the end, uh, why you should visit and what its ranking is in terms of the best places in the world to be a woman Andthrough it all, this episode and this conference really go to show just how important it is for women and all people who want to drive change to be able to gather in this way. Enjoy.

[00:04:50] Kim Lufkin (Women Deliver): Really, at Women Deliver, we believe that coming together and convening is not optional. we have to do it to advance gender equality.

[00:04:58] Anna Stoecklein: This is Kim [00:05:00] Bluff, the director of Communications for Women Deliver.

[00:05:03] Kim Lufkin (Women Deliver): Women Deliver conferences are really safe, open spaces where feminists and gender equality advocates from around the world can come together, have conversations, build trust, connect, have sometimes difficult conversations, but really in this space, make the connections and co-create solutions to drive forward gender equality and identify solutions that they'll take forward once they leave.

[00:05:30] Kathleen Sherwin (Plan International): Women Deliver was started as a maternal health organization.

[00:05:33] Anna Stoecklein: This is Kathleen Sherwin. She was previously the transition CEO at Women Deliver and continues to serve on the Women Deliver Board.

[00:05:41] Kathleen Sherwin (Plan International): And then really it shifted over time to really be focused on how do you put gender equality on the map? This was before gender equality was even thought of or mainstreamed.

[00:05:49] Kim Lufkin (Women Deliver): Women Deliver conferences started in 2007 in London was the first conference. From there was a conference every three years in Washington DC, Kuala [00:06:00] Lumpur, Copenhagen, Vancouver. It's been four years since our conference in Vancouver because of Covid, but we're thrilled to be here in Kigali.

[00:06:08] Anna Stoecklein: And Women Deliver is coming back strong. There were 6,300 people at the conference from 170 countries. Let that sink in. That is almost all of them.

[00:06:21] Anna Stoecklein: It's the biggest representation that we've ever had at a Women Deliver conference. And I think it's a huge credit to our hosts nation Rwanda, that they have such an open and welcoming visa policy that they were happy and willing to give visas to anyone no matter their nationality, no matter if they had refugee status. Out of the six Women Deliver conferences held so far, this was the first one in Africa, and the Rwandan government not only created the space for people from 170 countries to come, but also Paul Kagama, the president himself, was in attendance.

[00:06:58] Paul Kagame: I'm honored to [00:07:00] join you today. To open the Women Deliver Conference. Welcome and I hope that you'll join us today in our country. Please feel at home.

[00:07:20] Anna Stoecklein: And there were a few other pretty important people there...

[00:07:25] Malala Yousafzai: When a girl graduates from school, we want her to make life decisions for herself. Where does she want to go? And the more choices that she has, the better her future will look like.

[00:07:36] Anna Stoecklein: Yes, that was Malala I was in the same room with.

[00:07:40] Anna Stoecklein: And Stacey Abrams, pioneering voting rights activist and hopefully future president was there too.

[00:07:47] Stacey Abrams: What I mean is, and especially in the feminist movement, when we're fighting for the rights of girls and women, our responsibility is our effort. Did we do everything we could? Did we try as hard as we [00:08:00] could? The results may not be what we intended. We don't know what else other people are doing. And if you stand for office, you can put in a lot of effort and still not win the same job twice. It does not diminish the effort. It does not diminish the importance.

[00:08:16] Anna Stoecklein: So was Sahle-Work Zewde, the president of Ethiopia, and the first woman to hold the position. Macky Sall, the president of Senegal, Katalin Novák, the president of Hungary, and the first woman to hold that position, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia who was the first elected female head of state, and several others.

[00:08:38] Anna Stoecklein: But it wasn't just world leaders in attendance. This is Kim from Women Deliver again.

[00:08:43] Kim Lufkin (Women Deliver): We really are so proud and love to see that at Women Deliver conferences, we have gender equality champions from all sectors. Grassroots advocates, civil society organizations, feminist organizations,

[00:08:56] Kim Lufkin (Women Deliver): we also have lgbtqia plus [00:09:00] organizations, governments and governmental representatives, the private sector. So it's really just a huge gathering of so many sectors committed to our issues.

[00:09:09] Anna Stoecklein: Spaces was one of the three themes for the conference this year.

[00:09:13] Kim Lufkin (Women Deliver): Spaces, solidarity and solutions.

[00:09:16] Anna Stoecklein: And as we've just heard, a space to convene is crucial for the gender equality movement, but only if everyone is included.

[00:09:24] Brittany Evans (Women Enabled): My name is Brittany Evans. I am from the United States, currently living in Texas. I work at Women Enabled International, the first and only international organization focused explicitly at the intersection of gender and disability.

[00:09:39] Anna Stoecklein: The only international organization, I was shocked by this. So I asked Brittany what the status of disability rights was within the movement, how far along we are, and how much further we have to go.

[00:09:52] Brittany Evans (Women Enabled): I think that the state of the gender equality movement right now, specifically at the intersection of gender and disability is [00:10:00] really at a precipice. It's at this moment where accessibility is starting to become part of the general conversation, but it still needs a lot of pushing.

[00:10:11] Brittany Evans (Women Enabled): It needs to be recognized as an identity in the same way that race, LGBTQIA queer identity are recognized. It needs to be included in conversations as well. So that means we need to have disaggregated data around gender and disability. We need to be able to look specifically at these issues and the lived experiences that are happening all over the world, across gender spectrums as well as disability spectrums.

[00:10:37] Anna Stoecklein: And I asked about inclusivity of the spaces at the Women Deliver conference.

[00:10:42] Brittany Evans (Women Enabled): Women Deliver, welcomed us with open arms. They have really worked with us to ensure that this conference, this Women Deliver 2023 is the most accessible yet.

[00:10:52] Brittany Evans (Women Enabled): There's sign language that's included in the plenaries. They have in the press pack really detailed instructions [00:11:00] about how to cover disability with respect and dignity. And so for us, yes. Women Deliver is meeting some bare minimums, and they're doing so with a lot of humanity and really trying to push themselves and others to make sure that the space is accessible for all feminists, not just abled ones.

[00:11:19] Anna Stoecklein: And I asked her what she would like to share with you, dear listener.

[00:11:23] Brittany Evans (Women Enabled): We know one fifth of the world's women are women with disabilities. And we do not have comparable data on people who identify outside of the gender spectrum, but we know they're there. Disability is a range. It is such a glorious and diverse range of identities and what I would love your listeners to know is that disability is not scary. Disability is not a dirty word. Disability is something that can be loved and embrace. In fact, July is Disability Pride Month, and so it makes it all the more apt that [00:12:00] Women Deliver is really pushing accessibility and centering inclusion this month of all months.

[00:12:05] Anna Stoecklein: Women Deliver wasn't just creating spaces for bodies of all abilities, but also sexual orientation, race, gender, income, and as we'll soon hear more about the next generation. So who were some of these 6,300 advocates in attendance coming together in solidarity in this increasingly important space?

[00:12:27] Charles Kabiswa (Regenerate Africa): I am Charles Kabiswa. I am based in Uganda I work as the Executive Director for Regenerate Africa. The focus is mainly supporting communities, government businesses, and the livelihoods to transition to the regenerative devolvement for the benefit of nature, climate and the livelihood.

[00:12:48] Vinitha Venkatraman (Viva): Hi Anna. My name is Vinitha I'm from India. And I'm the founder of an organization called Viva. And we specialize in communication strategy.

[00:12:57] Cora McGuire-Cyrette (ONWA): Cora McGuire-Cyrette, the Chief [00:13:00] Executive Officer of the Ontario Native Women's Association. We're located in Ontario, Canada, and we are the oldest and largest indigenous womens organization in Canada.

[00:13:09] Charles Kabiswa (Regenerate Africa): For us the integration of women's health into the climate, into the non-health sectors is very critical. So we are calling upon stakeholders, the governments, not to work in the silo. The silo mindset does not solve the problem. I hope we can join the rest of the women, the rest of the gender equality advocates and the feminist movement to ensure that we have this collective voice.

[00:13:34] Vinitha (Viva): My role as a communication strategist is really to create movements, to use the power of communication to really further any course that we work on. We all know the power communication has. So that's why I'm here as a content creator, in partnership with the Women Deliver Conference so that I can talk about the stories that are available here and take it to my part of the world.

[00:13:56] Cora (ONWA): we're also building relationships, with many women from around the world now. [00:14:00] And there's so much similarities in a lot of the issues we're facing. That's what we're finding. And. Also, what's really interesting is there's also similarities to the solutions that are needed. And what we're hearing is exactly that, that governments and, partners and philanthropists need to invest in women on the ground, in the community, that's where the change's gonna take place.

[00:14:21] Cora (ONWA): 'cause they're the experts on the issues they're facing. And I think that's what people need to recognize.

[00:14:25] Cora (ONWA): Like even within the United Nations space, a lot of times it stays at such a high level policy. They're not including grassroots women on the ground. And that's something that we're hearing feedback from is that, nobody's talking about indigenous women. We're almost kind of invisible within the international space.

[00:14:41] Cora (ONWA): And so that's why we've made the conscious choice to say, okay, we're gonna step into this role. We have capacity. let's look at how we can amp up our advocacy efforts.

[00:14:51] Kabiswa Charles (Regenerate Africa): we are here to share success and exchange with the rest of the world that is gathered here

[00:14:56] Charles Kabiswa (Regenerate Africa): so that we can advance the conversation at. [00:15:00] Subnational, national, regional, and international level.

[00:15:03] Vinitha Venkatraman (Viva): I wanna be able to really tell those stories about breakthrough moments that women, or even men, have had that made them take the decision of wanting to work for girl or women empowerment. I'm here to collaborate, network, meet new people, of course, and to learn, learn as much as I can.

[00:15:20] Cora McGuire-Cyrette (ONWA): Going back home we're actually re-energized in the work that we're doing. Because, I think when you're doing work and you're coming up against so many barriers after, barriers after barriers, and I think coming together as a collective community and seeing that other women are also facing the same issues and the same barriers, and still continuing to walk that path. Because we're walking the path to make it a little bit easier for the woman and the girls that need to walk behind us.

[00:15:42] Anna Stoecklein: And those women and girls that are walking behind us, were a huge part of this Women Deliver conference. Out of the 6,300 delegates at the conference, 700 of them were youth.

[00:15:53] Anna Stoecklein: Kathleen, who you heard from before, who sits on the Board of Women Deliver, is also the Chief Strategy Engagement [00:16:00] Officer at Plan International.

[00:16:02] Kathleen Sherwin (Plan International): Plan International is a child rights organization. We're over 80 years old. We have over 10,000 staff. We operate in over 80 countries. We have programming in over 50 countries at any given time, and we support over 60,000 communities.

[00:16:16] Kathleen Sherwin (Plan International): So our focus is really on girls' rights and girls in crisis. And so we do everything from policy and advocacy to sponsorship, to direct programming, always working in local communities and in partnerships with local governments and local communities.

[00:16:30] Anna Stoecklein: Out of Plan International's, 300 delegates at the conference who came from over 30 country offices, 150 of them were youth.

[00:16:39] Kathleen Sherwin (Plan International): We are moving on our own journey to being a youth led organization. So for us, every major policy window of the year, so CSW, UN General Assembly, COP, and Women Deliver, we ensure that our delegation is actually led by young people.

[00:16:55] Kathleen Sherwin (Plan International): It's really important that their positions are heard and that we're helping to support them. So as an INGO [00:17:00] anchored in the global North, we should be using our platform to be able to open up and transform these spaces and make sure that they are accessible to young people, that they're properly resourced and they have the information that they need.

[00:17:11] Anna Stoecklein: I even had the pleasure of speaking with one of Plan International's, youth delegates.

[00:17:16] Hon. Eunice Oyella (Plan International): I'm Honorable Eunice Oyella. I'm the speaker for Children Young Peoples Parliament, South Sudan.

[00:17:23] Anna Stoecklein: Yes, you heard that right. Right Honorable Eunice Oyella. She's the speaker for the Children and Young People's Parliament in South Sudan, which she helped to start along with support from Plan International.

[00:17:36] Hon. Eunice Oyella (Plan International): Our main objective for the Children and Young People's Parliament was to bring us who are at school and even those who are not at school together, like in a safe space where we can share our ideas, we share the challenges that we are facing and how we can come up with the positive ways forward to get our rights.

[00:17:54] Anna Stoecklein: Plan International not only supported Eunice by providing ongoing training, guidance, and [00:18:00] support to create and lead the Children and Young People's Parliament, they were also the ones that inspired the idea in the first place.

[00:18:07] Francis Oppong (Plan International): My name is Francis Oppong. I'm the Director of Programs for Plan International in South Sudan.

[00:18:12] Anna Stoecklein: Francis is responsible for designing programs that support youth in South Sudan, like the Champions of Change Club, which inspired Eunice's Children and Young People's Parliament.

[00:18:22] Francis Oppong (Plan International): So when we go to the schools and the young people we work with, we have what we call Champions of Change Clubs. Once you catch them young at that level, you get the young people to begin to understand that we cannot continue with this practice. Respect women, respect girls, you have equal rights, and you must equally respect them. Once they catch it at that level, we are going to see a country where this would have significant improvement in there.

[00:18:52] Hon. Eunice Oyella (Plan International): So we also had that idea of forming like Children and Young People's Parliament because the Champions of Change [00:19:00] is only with us at school. Then we thought of, at least we gained some knowledge, we can also educate our fellows who are not at school, but how can we get in touch with them? So we thought of having the Children and Young People's Parliament.

[00:19:15] Francis Oppong (Plan International): They're honorable Eunice Oyella, fantastic, fantastic. She's evidence of what we are doing.

[00:19:22] Anna Stoecklein: But Eunice is just one example of many when it comes to the impact plan International has on the next generation.

[00:19:29] Kathleen Sherwin (Plan International): On average right now we serve 50 million children a year, for which about 80% of those, are girls. So the new things in our strategy that are worth noting is really a gender transformative approach to all of our programming.

[00:19:41] Anna Stoecklein: I like the way Francis explains this new approach.

[00:19:45] Francis (Plan): If you take a community, you can pick a family within the family, children tend to be more vulnerable, so we try to focus on how do we look at children. The girl child is more vulnerable than the boy child.

[00:19:56] Francis (Plan): So what we try to do in terms of our program, our [00:20:00] program should be such that it is able to transform the position and the place of the girl child. By so doing, you transform the position in place of the boy child, you transform the position in place of the mother, transform the position in place of the father, and then you get to the entire community.

[00:20:17] Francis (Plan): So that is what I call the foundation of our foundation, gender transformative programming.

[00:20:22] Anna Stoecklein: But one common theme found throughout my conversations and throughout the conference was hope. Here's the Right Honorable Eunice Oyella again.

[00:20:32] Hon. Eunice Oyella (Plan International): So also there's a lot of challenges. Sometimes I feel like giving up. But when I came here, when I saw the influential women, I got encouraged and the words, the training they're giving me, I got inspired and I told myself, I'll keep on keeping on until I achieve my goal, where girls make decisions for themselves.

[00:20:54] Francis Oppong (Plan International): And I am hoping that we'll take the solutions from here... I just told the colleague, I don't [00:21:00] want this conference to be another conference. We came, we spoke, spoke, spoke, spoke all our English, French, Portuguese, Spanish then we go back to sit. I am expecting that here, the first ever of its kind on an African continent, we will see change, and I want to see more change in Africa. I want to see improvement in terms of sexual productive health and rights, access to period, I was just speaking about period, poverty. I want to see change.

[00:21:28] Kathleen Sherwin (Plan International): Young people are leading now. And it is not something that they're going to do, they're already doing it. They are experts in their own lived experiences, particularly when we're talking about climate, for example. There should be no conversation being had without them. So really excited and motivated to see those types of conversations happening here.

[00:21:46] Anna Stoecklein: As Francis said, it's important to catch them young, and that means ensuring girls and all children have access to quality education.

[00:21:55] Anna Stoecklein: I spoke with Lydia Wilbard the Executive Director of Learning and Engagement at CAMFED, which [00:22:00] stands for Campaign for Female Education.

[00:22:03] Lydia Wilbard (CAMFED): We are 30 years old. We work in five African countries supporting girls education and young women empowerment.

[00:22:11] Anna Stoecklein: CAMFED doesn't just support girls' education by sending them to school, but they've created a network of alumni from their programs that join the CAMFED community, share resources, champion the cause and financially support the education of at least three more girls, all of which creates an incredible multiplier effect.

[00:22:30] Lydia Wilbard (CAMFED): To date, we are quarter a million, and our target in the next five years, 2030, IS 5 million more girls, isn't it, wow, amazing? We are so ambitious and we look forward to seeing them through.

[00:22:46] Anna Stoecklein: This multiplier effect is increased by the fact that these alumni, before the support of CAMFED, faced their own difficulties accessing school.

[00:22:56] Lydia Wilbard (CAMFED): They are so motivated and they now gain the power and connection [00:23:00] they need to be able to do something else for others. So we are committed to bring back that lived experience and energy back to our communities and make sure that no other children go through the same experience that we went through. The struggle to go to school, empty stomach, the lack of mentorship that we didn't have, the social support and the connection, the understanding of what children from the marginalized community go through. So we leverage this experience and bring our voices and live the experience into the decision making table.

[00:23:38] Anna Stoecklein: In fact, one of the very first girls that was supported by CAMFED was a girl in Zimbabwe called Angeline. When she was a young girl, Angeline had to crouch in toilets to avoid the inspectors because she couldn't pay the school fees. Today, Angeline is the CEO of CAMFED.

[00:23:56] Lydia Wilbard (CAMFED): When we started in 1993 in Zimbabwe, [00:24:00] it was Angeline and colleagues. 13 of them that got an opportunity to go to school. And ever since when they finished, they formed an alumni in 1998 and they just blossoms.

[00:24:14] Anna Stoecklein: So there's the multiplier effect of the number of girls they're able to educate, and the multiplier effect of the overall impact that comes from educating girls.

[00:24:23] Lydia Wilbard (CAMFED): When I was doing my master's degree in public health,the motto was, 'Saving lives, millions at the time'. So I was looking for an opportunity where I can save lives millions at the time. Where is the better place than in supporting education for marginalized girls? Because a marginalized girl, she will be able to take care of her own children. She'll be able to support others. And so all those children, all those other people that are attached to her, you save them by just taking her to school.

[00:24:57] Anna Stoecklein: Girls education is on the rise [00:25:00] and so are women entrepreneurs, but just like the fight for equal education opportunities, entrepreneurship for women is not easy.

[00:25:08] Lindsay Camacho (Acumen): Women are underfunded. Women entrepreneurs aren't receiving the lion's share of the capital, especially women entrepreneurs of color.

[00:25:15] Anna Stoecklein: This is Lindsay Camacho who works on the government partnerships team at Acumen.

[00:25:20] Lindsay Camacho (Acumen): Acumen is a non-profit venture capital fund. We invest in early stage for-profit social enterprises that are serving low income communities and emerging markets.

[00:25:31] Anna Stoecklein: Understanding the unique challenges that women entrepreneurs face, especially when creating businesses that prioritize social impact over profit, Acumen recently launched a new program.

[00:25:43] Lindsay Camacho (Acumen): Acumen's first ever gender equity and advancement accelerator, which was essentially a 10 week program where we took a group of very, very early stage entrepreneurs through like the business bootcamp to really support them with refining their business models, but really doing [00:26:00] that in a gender inclusive way.

[00:26:01] Anna Stoecklein: They even brought a few of the entrepreneurs from the program to this conference.

[00:26:06] Nyakuok Juok (South Links Trending): I'm Nuakuok Juok from South Sudan.

[00:26:09] Anna Stoecklein: Nyakuok founded an agricultural business startup called South Links Trending that fosters a fair local value chain by using solar energy to dry process and store fresh fruits and vegetables.

[00:26:21] Nyakuok Juok (South Links Trending): The entire idea came in as a passion that I actually picked from my mom since I was young. I've been doing a lot of cultivation with my mom, but we mostly venture into vegetables, plantation and also sometimes maize. But what we were both so passionate about is planting vegetables. So in that process, I came to learn how to do farming and what impact it can actually create after the post harvest

[00:26:50] Anna Stoecklein: But there's a difference between being a good and passionate farmer and being able to create a successful business out of it. It's the training, resources and capital [00:27:00] that women entrepreneurs so often have difficulty accessing that makes all the difference. That's what Acumen has provided for Nyakuok.

[00:27:07] Nyakuok Juok (South Links Trending): The challenge that my mom had faced before, she has been doing farming since she was young,but then she doesn't know how to commercialize our farm products. So it's something that I wanted to bring to her attention that, you know, in as much as you're doing the farming, you can actually benefit from it. You can make a sell. It's not that you can just feed us with it and then it ends there. So there's just this value, this chain that she's actually leaving out.

[00:27:32] Anna Stoecklein: And that in turn is what Nyakuok is providing for the women in her community.

[00:27:38] Nyakuok Juok (South Links Trending): Women, especially our South Sudanese women, are just so left behind in things to do with intellectual engagement. So what is lacking is basically the skills and also mentorship and some guidance., That's what our women are lacking, right now.

[00:27:55] Nyakuok Juok (South Links Trending): And I've actually been driven by the fact that I just [00:28:00] wish to see women excelling. I just want to see women like having this capacity to support themselves, to be independent, also support their families. I really feel so sad when I'm seeing a woman struggling with her family and she has nothing to do with that. So that's why I founded South Link to just work closely with women in terms of creating employment for them.

[00:28:23] Nyakuok Juok (South Links Trending): That's what I'm trying to build so that they could have this ability of sustaining themselves in whichever way. Even if you've not gone to school, you've gone to school, you have a way to just, you know, make things happen for yourself and your family.

[00:28:37] Anna Stoecklein: So we've heard a lot about the importance of creating inclusive spaces and standing in solidarity with one another, but what about the third theme of the conference solutions?

[00:28:48] Kathleen Sherwin (Plan International): The most important thing is solutions. Well, we're not a commitment conference. It is about new research, new ideas, new approaches, new case studies. So the solutions aspect is really, really a practical part of every [00:29:00] concurrent workshop and plenary.

[00:29:01] Anna Stoecklein: That was Kathleen again who sits on the Board of Women Deliver. And it's not just about coming up with new solutions. Here's Kim again, Women Deliver's Director of Communications.

[00:29:13] Kim Lufkin (Women Deliver): One key way that we see progress coming out of these conferences is commitments that funders or governments or others in power make at these conferences. Because we do think that, you know, by giving them a platform, we often inspire them to make a commitment. So we've seen at past conferences, governments make large financial commitments, donors make large financial commitments. So even now we're not even finished with the conference, but we have already had a several amazing commitments announced here.

[00:29:48] Kim Lufkin (Women Deliver): The government of Canada just committed at the conference more than 200 million to advance neglected areas of sexual and reproductive health, specifically abortion, which [00:30:00] is so critically needed, comprehensive sexuality, education and access to contraception. We also saw that UNICEF launched a new adolescent girl strategy and they're calling for a billion dollars in multi-sectoral investment in girls by 2025,. And Women Deliver, we just announced, in partnership with Open Society Foundation, a new anti rights funding facility. So it's a funding facility to attempt to come together, and try to push back against the anti rights forces that are really rolling back rights around the world.

[00:30:35] Anna Stoecklein: Speaking of rolling back rights around the world, sexual and reproductive rights were a huge part of the conference. This has always been the core of Women Deliver as it originally started as a maternal health organization, but you could feel the urgency in these conversations given the momentum that's been building in the anti rights movement. I spoke with quite a few people from this space.

[00:30:58] Praise Manzi (Saathi): My name is Praise [00:31:00] Manzi. I'm from Rwanda. I'm a volunteer at Saathi, an Indian company that produces biodegradable products which are menstrual products and women's health products. Everything, that we make is from banana and bubble fibers.

[00:31:17] Ryan Borcherding (TFAC): My name is Ryan Borcherding. I am Head of Methodology and Training at Theater for a Change.

[00:31:22] Grace Panda (TFAC): My name is Grace Panda. I am based in Malawi. I lead on a project called Leave No Girl Behind.

[00:31:29] Ryan Borcherding (TFAC): Theater for a Change, is an organization whose mission is the improvement of sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls who are marginalized in different ways.

[00:31:39] Ani Ejay (FP2030): My name is Ani Ejay. I am originally from Nigeria, and I work for an organization called Family Planning 2030. It's a global initiative focused solely on family planning, located in Washington DC.

[00:31:52] Christina Ljungberg (The Case for Her): My name is Christina Ljungberg and I'm the co-founder and investing partner of The Case for Her. I'm based in Stockholm, Sweden.

[00:31:59] Wendy Anderson (The Case for Her): And [00:32:00] I'm Wendy Anderson. I'm also a co-founder and funding partner of The Case for Her. I'm a Canadian, but I'm based in Stockholm, Sweden.

[00:32:07] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): My name is Leeza Mangaldas and I'm from India. I flew in from Mumbai and I'm actually wearing three hats at Women Deliver. I am here representing the Pleasure Project, it links into my work as an educator and, more recently, I've also started a pleasure brand. That's my third hat. So I'm the founder of Leezu's which makes sex toys and lubricant and basically pleasure products with a focus on women and pleasure. But soon it will be all genders.

[00:32:34] Anna Stoecklein: That was the same Leeza whose poem I teased you with at the beginning. When it comes to sexual and reproductive rights, education is once again at the center.

[00:32:45] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): For the bulk of my career I've been creating sex education videos on the internet, using social media, which is where most young people spend a lot of their time and learn about sex. You know, there's no sex ed in schools in India and no one talks about it at home. There's a culture [00:33:00] of shame and silence. So the internet is where people go, where young people really learn about sex. And porn is much easier to find. And it's not always the greatest reference point. I'm not anti porn, but you know, it's like learning to drive by watching The Fast and the Furious. So we've got to replicate those delivery mechanisms and make sex that easy to find on the internet, which is what I do.

[00:33:18] Anna Stoecklein: And one of the best methods to base this education around? Pleasure.

[00:33:24] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): Evidence would indicate that the primary motivation is indeed pleasure, right? Very few people, of all the people having sex at this very minute globally, at setting out with the express intention to have a child or for, you know, some other reason. And we refuse to acknowledge pleasure, unfortunately, in the public health and development world. It's such an overemphasis on disease prevention and violence prevention and pregnancy prevention or assistance or whatever. You know, there's a very reproduction and disease centric attitude to sex, as if pleasure is, you know, shameful.

[00:33:56] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): And it's okay to like sex. I hope that you do like sex if you're having sex. Because [00:34:00] otherwise why should you be having it? Right. And I think that when you just think in a very simple way, if you're looking at getting young people to, for example, be more likely to use condoms, which article are they going to click on? 'Condom usage is correlated with reduction in disease transmission', or 'Three ways to use condoms to have the best sex of your life', right? What are they gonna click on? And it's free to make those changes. To have a pleasure based approach doesn't cost anymore, but it will result in better outcomes. And there's evidence for this, you know, and not just health outcomes, but also things like consent and communication.

[00:34:32] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): And I mean, why not strive for not just the absence of disease or, mitigating negative experiences. Also providing a roadmap for the most ideal, joyful, profound experience, right? Which we don't do enough of. And that's basically what all the organizations I'm here representing, uh, stand for: Pleasure.

[00:34:51] Anna Stoecklein: And Leeza isn't the only person approaching sexual and reproductive health in this way.

[00:34:56] Christina Ljungberg (The Case for Her): So for example, they're starting to really make the [00:35:00] case that if you tell adolescents what they want to know, which is how to have great sex, they'll probably remember what they need to know. And we're going to be able to show a greater uptake of goods and services at local clinics. So think HIV self-test, contraceptives, menstrual products, kind of across the gamut of women's health products.

[00:35:19] Anna Stoecklein: That was Christina. Her and her co-founder Wendy, are doing some incredible work funding and investing in some key women's health issues

[00:35:28] Christina Ljungberg (The Case for Her): The Case for Her is a blended finance investment portfolio that moves capital from grant funding, philanthropy, all the way through angel investing, impact investing to venture capital.

[00:35:43] Christina Ljungberg (The Case for Her): And we do that in three investment portfolios. The first one where we've been investing for over a decade is global menstrual health. The second one, female sexual pleasure or taking a sex positive, pleasure based approach to sexual reproductive health and rights. And the third [00:36:00] portfolio where we've been investing for a number of years is focused on access to medication abortion, and reframing abortion as healthcare.

[00:36:11] Christina Ljungberg (The Case for Her): If you look into those portfolios, you'll find everything from investments in research, human-centered design, product innovation, education, very diverse set of investments, really creating a learning portfolio so that my partner Wendy and I here can be advocates to get these issues on the global agenda.

[00:36:32] Anna Stoecklein: And get these issues on the global agenda they have. Here's Wendy.

[00:36:38] Wendy Anderson (The Case for Her): One of our biggest goals of Women Deliver this year, in 2019, menstruation wasn't on the stage. We really wanted to create this space and galvanize the menstrual community, which is a very large, powerful community to get together behind menstruation.

[00:36:51] Wendy Anderson (The Case for Her): This year we're seeing menstruation take over. Which is exactly where it needs to be. It is an incredible opportunity to reach gender equality, and we really wanted to [00:37:00] get in the minds of the attendees and decision makers and the policy makers, and we believe that we've achieved that together with our partners here. And so we're very happy to see the growth in understanding of menstrual health as an opportunity.

[00:37:11] Anna Stoecklein: And one more note about pleasure from Leeza, because I just thought this was such a great point that really isn't talked about enough.

[00:37:19] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): I think the pleasure is the most profound indicator of gender equality. I am willing to bet that in a society where women are able to say they have as much pleasure as men do, that the orgasm as frequently as men do. I bet that would be a very gender equal society. You know, I think there's a huge correlation between, the agency you have in your life in general and the agency you have in the bedroom.

[00:37:43] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): But I also think pleasure in a non-sexual way. Just pleasure in general is something that has systematically been denied of women, like we are made to feel guilty for eating, for sleeping, for, you know, you're not supposed to talk loudly, laugh loudly, wear what you like. You can't do what you like profession wise.

[00:37:59] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): And [00:38:00] by some parts of the world it's worse than in other parts of the world. But in general, it's like there's, you know, by design, we want to limit women's ability to access experience or even feel entitled to pleasure. And so I really think that there could be no more profound indicator of gender equality, then pleasure. And we need pleasure indicators.

[00:38:17] Anna Stoecklein: Mm-hmm. Whose body is this? There's another way of educating and empowering girls that might not be what you think. I spoke with Ryan and Grace from Theater for a Change who explained how they do it.

[00:38:31] Ryan Borcherding (TFAC): We do that through mainly training partnerships, where we train other organizations how to use approaches like interactive theater or interactive radio drama in their sexual health and reproductive health work for behavior change and advocacy. And the principle is quite simple. Instead of us advocating on behalf of these communities and on behalf of women and girls, we help to equip them with the skills and the approaches to tell their own stories using their own [00:39:00] voices so that we're hearing the stories and the experiences directly from them.

[00:39:04] Ryan Borcherding (TFAC): And that gives the work a uniquely powerful dimension because, you know, we know our stories better than anybody else. We know our lives better than anyone else, and there are voices and experiences that aren't being listened to or aren't being heard at the moment. And so our work is about creating those spaces. For those voices and for those stories to emerge.

[00:39:29] Ryan Borcherding (TFAC): And that affects decision making at local and national levels. And it affects attitudes at a community level as well. But maybe I'll let Grace say a bit more about the work specifically in Malawi and how that looks in that context.

[00:39:42] Grace Panda (TFAC): Thank you Ryan. So for Theater for a Change, we have a couple projects up the stream. We have the Leave Nor Girl Behind Project. We target adolescent girls and boys who dropped out of school. We deliver sexual productive health and rights content, and over the course of two years, [00:40:00] the adolescent are supported in transitioning back either to the mainstream education or entrepreneurship skills or vocational skills.

[00:40:09] Grace Panda (TFAC): And overall, throughout this projects, we as Theater for a Change use drama-based approaches to address the different issues around sexual reproductive health and rights.

[00:40:19] Anna Stoecklein: As Wendy mentioned, menstrual health was a huge part of Women Deliver 2023. I spoke with Praise from Saathi who sells women's health products made out of banana and bamboo fibers.

[00:40:30] Praise Manzi (Saathi): It transforms people economically in the first place because we buy products that would've been trash. So we are turning trashinto treasure, you know? And we get them from the farmers, usually women. Our company's mostly for women. 75% it's made of women. And also as we go around making information stations, we make workshops on [00:41:00] menstrual health. We teach the women how to care for themselves better. And I think that there's economic value, there's health value, and there's a sustainability value that a woman is able to wear something that they're proud of and they're able to likewear it with dignity because they know that when they're done using it, that it's going to be something that is biodegradable.

[00:41:26] Anna Stoecklein: And of course, contraceptives and abortion, the ability to choose what to do with, whose body? Our own bodies. Here's Ani and, very aptly, there was a baby by us during this conversation who you will hear in the background.

[00:41:44] Ani Ejay (FP2030): Family Planning 2030, previously FP 2020, is a global partnership, the only one that is solely focused on family planning. We,partner with governments CSOs all around the world to galvanize the family planning movement, meaning[00:42:00] a bunch of different things.

[00:42:01] Ani Ejay (FP2030): So increasing contraceptive use and access. At the core of it, it's about choice. Ensuring that women and girls have the choice to decide when and whether they wanna have children. A lot of our work is to change people's perception on contraceptive access and use, but also preventing things such as child marriages, teen pregnancy, ensuring that women, if they want to space their births, they can, preventing reproductive coercion.

[00:42:27] Ani Ejay (FP2030): There's a social behavioral aspect to the work that we do as well as obviously the data collection, the advocacy, speaking with governments, making sure that they're prioritizing family planning and the commitments.

[00:42:37] Anna Stoecklein: I asked Ani about the progress they've seen and the kind of impact this work has on women and girls' lives.

[00:42:44] Ani Ejay (FP2030): We found that in the past decade, over a decade, of the farming planning movement that started in 2012, there's definitely been a perspective change on contraceptive use, especially in the sub-Saharan African region. The [00:43:00] beauty and the tricky part of the work that we do is that it takes decades long to see the kind of, the change in hearts and minds of people. And it takes, you know, meeting with presidents, meeting the governors, meeting with heads of states, having these conferences, having these one-on-one networking events, that over time ripple into the effect of a girl in Malawi can go to a clinic and not feel ashamed because she needs an IUD, because she doesn't wanna tell her parents that she's having sex.

[00:43:25] Ani Ejay (FP2030): The idea is that all these little networks come together in the long run and it changes the landscape of the experience of an individual woman going into clinic or wanting to get pregnant, or not wanting to get married so young and wanting to continue education.

[00:43:37] Anna Stoecklein: So once again, reinforcing the importance of having these types of spaces. But as important as they are, this space wasn't all workshops and talks. There was a wellness center, a culture night, and various art projects and films that were being shown throughout the conference. I had the pleasure of speaking with the subject and producer of one of these [00:44:00] films.

[00:44:01] Connie Lim / MILCK: My name is Connie Lim and my artist's name is MILCK, M I L C K. People often ask me what that is, and it's my last name backwards, and my first two initials. It's a symbolic, like taking what my family gave me and making it work for myself in a new environment as my parents are immigrants, from Hong Kong. And, it's also what we give to the next generation to nourish them and help them grow. So I hope my music is like nourishing for people and makes people feel like they can have a better life for themselves.

[00:44:29] Anna Stoecklein: She gives us a little teaser to her documentary, which is called I Can't Keep Quiet,

[00:44:34] MILCK: The documentary documents my journey from being a domestic violence survivor to learning to use music as a healing modality. And then,watching one of my songs that healed me the most become the unofficial anthem for the Women's March as it went viral after January of 2017, someone walked by with their cell phone and filmed performance, and then my life like just had a [00:45:00] full 180 change. And what it's done is it's taught me how to use music as a device to write myself into existence, write the newest forms of me into existence, and also remind myself that I can trust myself.

[00:45:14] MILCK: I think a lot of survivors of abuse tend to lose trust in themselves. How did I get myself here? Like I was the one that made it happen? All that, those types of thoughts can, can haunt us. And so singing in harmony is really powerful. The documentary shows like how my learning to sing my own note while other people harmonize around me has become like a really powerful healing device.

[00:45:35] Anna Stoecklein: And that isn't all she did at Women Deliver.

[00:45:39] Connie Lim / MILCK: I'm also doing the closing performance of, the whole conference. I will be playing Quiet live, also be playing a song I wrote for John Legend called Stardust. And then another song called, If I Ruled the World, which has like a lot of imaginating of what a world could look like if I was creating the world of my dreams, which is like, I think something that I'm really feeling as I'm here [00:46:00] is this like, oh man, I really want to be a part of these positivechanges in a deeper way. And so my antennas are up. I'm so inspired. Like all the female leaders here are just really rocking my world. And all the male leaders that are allies are also like just showing us what's possible in the world. So it's been great.

[00:46:20] Anna Stoecklein: And finally, before I leave you with the poem asking who a woman's body belongs to, let's learn a little more about Rwanda and why you should visit.

[00:46:32] Benita Keza (Rwanda Cooperation): My name is Benita Keza. I work at Rwanda Cooperation. I'm Rwandan. Our role is, we are basically a hub for knowledge exchange. So what we do is we are the gateway to Rwanda's homegrown solutions andinitiatives.

[00:46:51] Anna Stoecklein: Over the past two decades, Rwanda has been on an incredible journey of transformation politically, economically, and socially. I ask [00:47:00] Benita about this journey and the kinds of knowledge Rwanda has to share with the world.

[00:47:04] Benita Keza (Rwanda Cooperation): Rwanda is a very young country. After the 1994 genocide committed against Tutsi, there was really no government left. There was no structure. There was, it was a destroyed country where we had to start from scratch, you know, and not just that, there was a lot of trauma, there was a lot of healing that was needed.

[00:47:25] Benita Keza (Rwanda Cooperation): And then, um, to kind of tap into the Women Deliver and gender equality, we had a lot of women that were widows. Previously women couldn't own land, have businesses or really access to finance and then, how would the country now move forward if half of the people are not empowered? And these women are just as capable, if not even more, um, more capable.

[00:47:55] Benita Keza (Rwanda Cooperation): So it was in our own interest to have women involved [00:48:00] in all these male dominated sectors, but not just have them involved, empower them, educate them, and really give them spaces to be able to work and have an impact on the country. So, Rwanda yes, as mentioned after the genocide, we had to think of ways to move forward. And the option we had was to look within.

[00:48:21] Anna Stoecklein: And today? Rwanda was the third fastest growing economy in the world in 2019 and has 90% universal health coverage and 98% primary school enrollment. Rwanda leads the world in terms of female representation in Parliament with 61% of Parliament being women. And Rwanda was recently ranked the ninth best place in the world to be a woman and the first best in Africa. Let's see what Bonita thinks.

[00:48:49] Benita Keza (Rwanda Cooperation): This is the best time to be a woman in Rwanda. Right now we are empowered as women, we have 61% of women in the Parliament. But just to[00:49:00] even step away from that a little bit, just as a woman myself, I went to school in the US where most of my international student friends didn't really want to go back to their home country.

[00:49:13] Benita Keza (Rwanda Cooperation): But I always wanted to go back and they asked me, why, why would you come here and choose to go back to stay? I said, why would I stay here? My country empowers me. I'm given spaces to think and act and really influence other young girls too. And I invite everyone to come to Rwanda. Women come, come here, let's exchange knowledge, what we've been able to achieve, how we've achieved it, and what's our plan moving forward.

[00:49:45] Benita Keza (Rwanda Cooperation): How can we have women, more women empowered, you know, 'cause we are half of this world, if not, we're more, there's a lot of women around and we need each other. We need to, to be empowered. So [00:50:00] yeah, come to Rwanda. Come visit us. Come see how we work, how we live and yeah, let's deliver. Let's, let's have the women deliver. We got this. We are here for it.

[00:50:12] Anna Stoecklein: You heard her come to Rwanda and I honestly could not second that with any more enthusiasm. I will definitely be back and hopefully very soon.

[00:50:24] Anna Stoecklein: But for now, Leeza Mangaldas', Whose Body Is This?

[00:50:29] Anna Stoecklein: Just as I wanted to ask this question in the beginning, I feel this is the perfect question to leave you with. Women Deliver was a conference of 6,300 people from 170 countries, the largest gender equality conference in the world. And the thing we are all fighting for at the end of the day, is really just for that answer to be, a woman's. In decisions she makes involving healthcare, what she wears and how she uses her voice, it's [00:51:00] hers, and there's no doubt in my mind that we will continue convening, creating spaces, standing in solidarity, and coming up with solutions until every body understands that.

[00:51:14] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): And, without further ado, let me just jump into it. It's called, Whose Body Is This?

[00:51:20] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): Whose body is this? I thought it was mine. This face, this chest, this womb, this spine. But is a woman's body ever truly her own, or is that simply a question for her father to postpone till he finds her a husband?

[00:51:38] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): Whose body is this? Whatever we wear, you grope and you stare. You cat call and tease. You poke and you squeeze in buses, on trains, in markets, on planes in public alone, outside and at home.

[00:51:53] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): Whose body is this? And why must I always wax and pluck and bleach and thread and nip and tuck? [00:52:00] Is it for me or for you? All these things that we do in the name of beauty and femininity. Why am I not allowed to feel worthy of love until I have gone and done all the above to this body?

[00:52:15] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): Whose body is this? Why are female nipples banned on Instagram? Sex ed videos demonetized on YouTube. Propaganda is okay, but you're offended by a boob? Or a simple conversation among women about lube.

[00:52:31] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): Whose body is this? Why can't I have sex without them calling me a slut? Why is my body and my desire always something to be shut? And why is it that men don't even want to use precaution? They want sex without a condom, but they'll shame us for abortion.

[00:52:46] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): So you better wait until you are married and then you better have a son. You can only get respect if you're a mother or a nun whose body is this. Don't my orgasms matter. Why does [00:53:00] sex end when he comes? I want to come too, but my pleasure is a mystery, right? It's just too much to do. We learn about erection, penetration, and ejaculation, but ask where the clitoris is, they won't know its location.

[00:53:16] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): Whose body is this? Every month when I bleed. Whose body is this? Oh, why must I plead? You don't wanna touch me. It's filthy, disgusting. Can't enter the kitchen, the pickles will spoil. Can't enter a temple, even God will recoil. But may I remind you that whether you were born in Jan or December, you came out of a bleeding vagina, remember?

[00:53:42] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): But wait a minute. I am not done yet. Is my wokeness performative? I'm literally at Women Deliver right now, literally performing this. My activism isn't perfect. In fact, it's really quite messy. Is it bad that I wear my hair long and I like [00:54:00] my outfits all dressy? I have the t-shirts and the tote bags that say I'm a feminist. But is that really activism or just capitalism wrapped up in this? The future is female, patriarchy is past, but would I have the opportunities I do if I wasn't cis-het, English speaking, able bodied, and upper cast?

[00:54:22] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): I haven't figured everything out yet, but one thing rings true, equality is meaningless if it's just for me and you. If it's only self-serving, then it's empty, and we're all oppressors too.

[00:54:34] Leeza Mangaldas (Leezu's): So whose body is this? These breasts, these lips, this womb, these hips, so full, so fine, so strong, so sublime, so magical, so divine. I hope we live to see the day that everyone can say my body is mine.

[00:54:55] Christina Ljungberg (The Case for Her): Abortion is healthcare.

[00:54:57] Anna Stoecklein: Oh yeah. [00:55:00] That's a note to end on.

[00:55:01] Christina Ljungberg (The Case for Her): And female sexual pleasure is healthcare.

[00:55:04] Anna Stoecklein: Yes.

[00:55:05] Christina Ljungberg (The Case for Her): Let's close the pleasure gap.

[00:55:07] Anna Stoecklein: Yes.

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