Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
From July 17-20, Girl Up attended the Women Deliver 2023 Conference (WD2023) that took place in Kigali, Rwanda. The Conference is one of the largest international and multi-sectoral convenings on gender equality, bringing together some powerful names such as Malala Yousafzai, UN Women’s Executive Director Sima Bahous, UN Women’s Former Executive Director H.E. Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark, political and nonprofit leader Stacey Abrams, Women Deliver’s President and CEO Dr. Maliha Khan, Global Fund for Women’s President and CEO Latanya Mapp Frett, indigenous activist Tarcila Rivera Zea, and youth activist for climate justice Vanessa Nakate.
This year’s conference edition hit important milestones by being held for the first time in Africa, and welcoming almost a third of the audience from 29 years old or younger. Rwanda was the chosen location due to its known commitment to gender equality – Did you know that Rwanda is ranked the top African country in the Global Gender Gap Index, and that women occupy over 60% of the parliamentary seats and 46% of cabinet positions? – and to place its large young population at the forefront of reconciliation and unity efforts for progressive development since the 1994 genocide, among other reasons.
With the theme Spaces, Solidarity, Solutions, the WD2023 conference was a space of dialogue and collective creation to foster solidarity for sustainable solutions toward gender equity worldwide. It was also a moment to connect with friends, partners, and Girl Up youth who were attending the event.
Our Girl Up delegation formed by representatives of Girl Up staff from Brazil, India, Mexico, the United States, and Zambia, and Girl Up Leaders from Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, organized the concurrent session “It’s Time for Action: Trust, Power, and Resources to Girls and Movements”, and the side event “Understanding Your Advocacy Journey: Youth Advocating for Change”. We also spoke at the panel hosted by P&G “Together We All Lead: A Generation of Action of Impact”, a panel launching UNFPA ESARO’s “Hear Her” podcast, and co-facilitated the roundtable hosted by UN Foundation, “Liberation Through Healing Justice: Feminist Activism and Mental Health”, in partnership with Girl Up, Peace on Purpose, Prospira Global and Urgent Action Fund-Africa.
We invited a few of the youth attendees to answer some questions and share their experiences at WD2023, Check it out:
Q: Tell us your (first) name, country, and which Club are you from!
Noëlla: Noëlla, from Rwanda, and a Club Leader of Girl Up Rwandaful!
Lubelihle: My name is Lubelihle M, I come from Zimbabwe and I am the Club Leader of GirlUp Bulawayo.
Sarah: Sarah. I was born in DR Congo and currently living in Canada. I will be joining my university’s Girl Up Club soon!
Catherine: My name is Catherine D., I am the club leader of Girl Up Umoja in Kenya.
Q: What were your impressions and key takeaways from WD2023, knowing it was one of the largest multi-sectoral convenings to advance gender equality in the world?
Noëlla: As a Rwandese, this was a great chance for our country to host one of the largest conferences in the world. I was overjoyed to see how well it went, and that the attendees had a great experience in Africa and Rwanda as well. As a sexual and reproductive rights activist, I learned from various organizations about the solutions to eliminate issues that are associated with girls and women and didn’t get tired of attending discussions about advancing gender equality by promoting the health and rights of all women globally.
Lubelihle: WD2023 effortlessly provided an all-inclusive platform that encouraged meaningful discussions on the advancement of gender equality in the world. Inclusivity was a crucial element for this convening because regardless of our diverse backgrounds, discussions on period poverty, gender-based violence, the nexus between gender and climate justice, and more all require the same level of sensitivity as the impacts differ according to contexts. This approach was an eye-opener for me because it broadened my knowledge of how the impacts of the aforementioned global issues affect women across the world. What also stood out for me as a mental health advocate was the emphasis placed on adhering to the safety guidelines throughout WD2023 because this highlighted the importance of creating a safe space for delegates to engage without fear of discrimination.
Sarah: As a young African woman who holds high hopes for the development of gender equity within Africa, I felt rejuvenated, especially once I saw the countless other youths who were dedicated to de-stigmatizing and taking tangible action against gender injustice. I became more aware of the daily challenges people face based on key factors of their identity such as race, gender, and sexuality. Through the amazing people I met during WD2023, I felt reassured witnessing the recognition of gender inequity as well as the recognition of intersectionality within issues.
Catherine: One of my key takeaways was the importance of placing young people at the forefront of breaking barriers, and ensuring their voices were heard and valued. It was really inspiring to witness the commitments to gender equality throughout the conference. Some of the best commitments that left a lasting impression on me included promoting equal access to education and the immense support and recognition that was given to the issue of menstrual equity. The Women Deliver conference was truly inspiring, especially on the collaboration and synergy among professionals. The most valuable insight was the collective action.
Q: What were the highlights of the Conference in your experience?
Noëlla: Participating in pre-conference events, such as the UNFPA session on scaling up actions to end preventable maternal deaths, and other events and plenaries about fostering girls’ health. Going to the opening & closing ceremonies was also amazing! Being part of Girl Up, attending its side event, and sharing its mission with girls all over the world was awesome. Making a “Get Ready With Me” video on Girl Up Africa Instagram was a fun way to share with others a conference day. Making connections with people and getting to know many organizations, that focus on promoting gender equality. Finally, going to the exhibition center and visiting the stands of companies that attended the conference gave me the opportunity to learn about ways of collaborating with them. It was an incredible conference–many thanks to Girl Up!
Lubelihle: Participating in the panel discussion at the Girl Up event “Understanding Your Advocacy Journey: Youth Advocating for Change” was my biggest highlight of the conference. This was an exciting opportunity for me as a Girl Up leader of a newly established club because I learned valuable lessons from others who have been part of the initiative longer than I have, such as discussing challenges that come with advocacy in our diverse communities, the importance of being well-equipped for these inevitable challenges, and methods to alleviate them. I also had an opportunity to attend a plenary session on the nexus of climate justice and gender. After learning that girls and young women contribute the least to climate change but are heavily disadvantaged by its effects in comparison to their male counterparts, I realized the importance of these discussions so that girls can also lead in climate justice.
Sarah: One of the best experiences was meeting like-minded and driven youth. Since I am only “starting” my life journey, it’s reassuring to see others with similar passions as myself succeed academically and professionally whilst maintaining their passion for advocacy. I still keep in contact with many of the individuals who I met during WD2023 and it checks off a personal goal of being more interconnected with not only my local community but also my global community as well.
Catherine: My highlight was speaking on a panel with other amazing youth leaders at the Girl Up side event “Understanding Your Advocacy Journey: Youth Advocating for Change”. I had the opportunity to share my passion and knowledge on an important issue that is so close to my heart: Menstrual equity. As a youth advocate, it was incredible to see how a once-taboo topic was brought to the forefront with discussions on breaking down stigmas, promoting access to menstrual products, and advocating for policy changes. It reaffirmed my belief in the importance of raising awareness and fighting for menstrual equity and inspired me to continue my advocacy work even more passionately.
How did your participation at WD2023 impact your commitment to achieving gender equity?
Noëlla: Among the objectives of WD2023 was catalyzing collective action to advance gender equity through breaking barriers, addressing challenges, and identifying opportunities for everyone. Various discussions emphasized the advancement of opportunities for all and the creation of inclusive spaces. I am now thoroughly committed to supporting my fellow youth advocates in accessing opportunities, helping young girls in my community understand more about feminism, and sharing tactics to end poverty and break the silence around gender-based violence.
Lubelihle: Given that the main objective of advancing gender equity is to make up for the historical exclusion of women in the decision-making process, I believe women should continue being included in said discussions going forward. Having observed this, I would consider pushing for inclusivity in my community and beyond so that everyone’s voices are equally heard and acknowledged. I am forever indebted to the United Nations Foundation and the entire Girl Up community for this opportunity! Very excited to be sharing my experience with other Girl Up members too!
Sarah: WD2023 opened my eyes to the importance of accountability, community connection, and resourcefulness. During the conference, I was exposed to countless stories. While each shared their own story, all contained a running theme of being aware of our actions and their impacts and being able to be a resource for members of our communities who experience gender inequality in their everyday lives. I hope to carry this knowledge into my future endeavors as I know that accountability and strong community connections are key in not only opening up such discussions but also creating spaces that allow them to be tackled as well!
Catherine: Attending the Women Deliver conference had a profound impact on my commitment to gender equality. The conference provided a platform to learn from inspiring leaders, share experiences, and gain new perspectives. It ignited a fire within me to continue advocating for gender equality with even more passion and determination. The connections I made and the knowledge I gained have strengthened my resolve to create a more equitable world for all.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Interviews conducted & compiled by Girl Up Senior Manager of Global Operations, Patrícia Imada.
Girl Up Brasil leader Maria Antônia also shared her remarks here and here (in Portuguese).