Women Deliver Conference Opens Amid Global Push against Abortion and Gender Equity
The Rwandan national ballet performs at the opening of Women Deliver 2023

Women Deliver, one of the world’s largest gatherings on gender equity and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), opened in Kigali in Rwanda on Monday amid a global backlash against abortion.

“We’re facing enormous headwinds against gender equality, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and a growing anti-rights movement worldwide,” said Maliha Khan, President and CEO of Women Deliver, at the opening press conference.

“The only way we can push past them is if we double down on our efforts and work together. The time has come for us to unite against the global rollback of rights – change is inevitable, progress is not. We have to work at it.”

An estimated 6000 delegates are attending the week-long conference, which has attracted global politicians, activists and philanthropists.

“Each delegate and speaker has converged here with a collective purpose: to identify and act upon evidence-based solutions,” said Maliha. “This week centers on creating empowering spaces for the feminist movement, holding leaders accountable, and creating a groundswell of voices for gender equality. This groundswell of collective action is critical to urge political leaders to act.” 

Anti-rights president addresses opening

However, surprisingly Hungary’s rightwing president, Katalina Novak, was invited to address the opening along with Rwandan President Paul Kagame. As Family Minister in the populist government of Viktor Orban, Novak has been party to anti-LGBTQ laws and the tightening of abortion regulations in her country.

Novak has also told women not to expect the same pay as men, while her government has outlawed adoption by unmarried couples, thus excluding LGBTQ couples from adopting children, and refused to ratify the Istanbul Convention, designed to protect women from violence.

Other speakers include Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, US politician Stacey Abrahams, Mozambican former first lady Dr Graça Machel, and former Irish President Mary Robinson.

“Women Deliver underscores the vital role of democratic systems in advancing gender equality,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Chair of the Women Deliver Board and former UN Under-Secretary-General, told the media briefing.

“Open democracies foster an enabling environment for women’s political participation, policy and law shaping, as well as the protection of women’s rights and the creation of equal opportunities. They facilitate improved access to education and healthcare for girls and women while establishing effective mechanisms to combat gender-based violence.”

Women Deliver developed out of the Safe Motherhood Initiative, with an exclusive focus on reproductive, maternal, and newborn health, and has evolved into an independent organization focusing on gender equality.

Women Deliver itself has undergone an internal transformation after facing allegations of racism from staff members three years ago.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the World Health Organization launched a new digital resource at the conference, RESPECT, to help end violence against women and girls  

RESPECT outlines a set of action-oriented steps to support policy makers and programme implementers to design, plan, implement, monitor and evaluate programmes using seven strategies to prevent violence against women. Each letter of R-E-S-P-E-C-T represents one of these strategies. The framework, grounded in a gender equality and human rights approach, builds on an increasing body of evidence on what works to prevent violence against women.

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