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The F word is in the air #WomenDeliver2023

The F word is in the air #WomenDeliver2023

By Shakira Choonara
on July 21, 2023

There is an elephant in the room, which still makes many of us uncomfortable including myself – has Women Deliver achieved institutional transformation and really rooted out racism? Being from South Africa, racism is something I can never accept or stand for. A few years ago, previous staff brought to light racial allegations against the organization, I admit it took me quite a while to warm up to Women Deliver again. This time, I was also uncomfortable, given that many youth organizations, including youth in Rwanda, found the registration fee  ranging between $300- $500 too expensive. Although that’s the going rate for international conferences (even virtual ones), fact is that even with reduced rates, and Women Deliver already having a massive scholarship programme, young people and youth-led organizations still find this fee together with travel unaffordable. One young person even said to me, “it’s like I have to pay to be a feminist!’  And despite all the controversy including the opening ceremony’s speaker list… cough… (read more via the Women Deliver CEO’s statement ), I can also use this opportunity to call out that there was not a single youth voice, not even Malala.

Despite these shortfalls, I did indeed  get caught up in the feminist euphoria; the strong language throughout the conference, the theme ‘solidarity, spaces, solutions’ and calls to action. Of all of the conferences I am privileged to attend, I must admit, Women Deliver still remains the most woke one for me. The networking is out of this world, in fact it started as early as 01:00 am at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, and throughout the conference and all the hugs, I have come to work and know many feminists over the years and we have now built comraderies, the cool youthzone, OMG, the wellness area overlooking the Hills of Kigali, where in the midst of the hectic schedule I fell into a beanbag to refuel, the Latin American Activists waiving their green bandanas (seeing the green wave “live” gave me goosebumps),  the PMNCH treasure hunt ahead of the Global Forum for Adolescents and ending off with a final moment with fellow EV Arush Lal at Kigali International Airport. Bummer, this time I did not have a chance to visit the film or art festival at Women Deliver, this is also among my top picks for the conference. 

I did feel guilty and uncomfortable at all of the pre-conference events, the schmancy dinners, as I popped over from one five-star hotel to another five star hotel, to another five star hotel and wondered if there were any more cost-effective venues we could use? Perhaps a school grounds, a tent? Final verdict, Women Deliver remains “the” space for us to come together, the tone is right, the mix of people are right, the learning from the ground level is the best (for example I got to hear from Catalina Martínez Coral, Center for Reproductive Rights how Colombia de-crimininalized abortion and is shifting towards bodily autonomy, as well as from Sofía Minieri, Legal Advisor at Women Enabled on how to practically improve access to health services to differently-abled populations).  

Overall, it was a world wind, a total blast, I am super ‘femergized’ and ready for what comes next. Most importantly the F word was so strong, so amazing, so refreshing and much needed in a time of the rise of anti-rights and anti-women’s movements. Hopefully we can avoid all unnecessary controversy and still be able to leverage this strong, growing and unstoppable movement.

*All opinions expressed are solely that of the author, not representative of any organization.

Reconnecting with Dr Shubha Nagesh at Women Deliver 2023

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