What to say after spending a few days in the midst of 8008 fellow feminists in Vancouver? The Women Deliver Conference just ended – and our heads are still spinning, in all the right directions! Held every three years, Women Deliver conferences are the largest gathering for women’s rights activists worldwide. These gatherings are described as “fueling stations”, enabling us to learn and share – and leave with new energies, information, connections, and inspiration.
And yet, we aren’t there to examine women’s lives and experiences under a microscope. The reality is that we are also women who are implicated in these issues – struggling for rights to our own bodies and lives, even as we work for equality for others. A Colombian activist put it best: “We are dedicated to this, but we are also part of this, experiencing this”.
Katja Iverson, Women Deliver’s determined leader, called us to action: “We’re here to make things better tomorrow than today for women and girls across the globe… We’ve got three and a half days… revolutions have happened faster than that!”
Three and a half days. And 165 countries. And yet, everywhere I turned, I found old friends, former colleagues, steadfast allies.
This year we were challenged with concretizing our own power – and finding ways to use this power to achieve a more gender-equal world. The conference conversation centered around #ThePowerOf… and placed responsibility on us all as individuals and organizations to take actions, no matter how small, to advance the cause.
I spoke at The Power of Breaking Barriers where we examined individual power, self-esteem, and agency, as well as systems, challenges, and opportunities for progress. To answer the question of breaking down political, legal, economic, and social structures for lasting change, I talked about building a foundation from the ground up – comprehensive sexual education in the Arab region (which, at present, is zero), abolishing personal status codes in order to establish secular law, mobilizing young people in communities for long-term change.
Ultimately, the next generation will lead the charge. I hope they see this injustice – and that it makes them angry! Where we have struggled, they will succeed. That’s how I concluded in the closing plenary, The Power of All.
The Institute also hosted a gathering of Arab activists – calling them to action and building a concerted agenda to support feminist movements in the region. The reality is that Arab issues were under-represented at Women Deliver – and at every international conference I’ve ever been to in the last two decades. There were too few activists – and NO heads of state. We have a lot of work to do!
On top of all the other stuff, I got to unleash some rage on the Power Stage, talking about sexual and reproductive health and rights – and how many of us have a personal experience with being denied rights to our own bodies. Because this cause is personal, collective, political, I can think of nothing more important than to ensure that future generations do not have to fight for what should inherently be theirs. I so often ask myself why it is so difficult to respect each person’s right to their own body. How much longer are we going to struggle with this?!
This cause is the rage of my life – and I know our rage is right. Our rage gives us courage, and I believe our courage is contagious. The bottom line is this: there’s resounding agreement that we do NOT accept how things are, and that we are going to fight until things are as they SHOULD be.
What we’re seeing around the world – in Arab states, in Afghanistan, in Alabama, and everywhere in between – is not acceptable. We cannot allow our rights to remain unfulfilled – and our hard-won rights to be stripped away.
At the same time, we use the language of “fighting back” against the opposition. We can’t remain reactive because that only puts us back where we started, which by all accounts was not good enough. It wasn’t enough then and it certainly is NOT enough now.
It is time to use our power to fight FORWARD. Our job is not done until every last woman has every single right. We all deserve no less. I think it is within our reach. And I think we are the ones to make it happen. After all, there is something powerful and magical about being with your tribe – feminists, activists, agitators, and revolutionaries changing the world.
Trust me, you’ll thank us.