Five takeaways from Women Deliver 2023 | Orbis

Five takeaways from Women Deliver 2023

An international conference that champions gender equity and the health rights of women and girls, Women Deliver 2023 brought together over 6,000 global citizens, including several team members from the Orbis community. Orbis Canada's own Clare Szalay Timbo shares her experience and her five key takeaways from the global event.

Held once every three years, this year’s conference took place in Kigali, Rwanda from July 17- 20, 2023. It was the first time the event had been held on the African continent.

As part of the larger Orbis International delegation, I was honored to attend on behalf of Orbis Canada in my role as Technical Advisor, Gender and Special Projects. I was also very fortunate that my young son, Zion, only 11 months old, was able to join me—his first-ever international travel experience, and one that certainly set the bar high for future trips!

Clare with her son, Zion, at the Orbis booth at Women Deliver 2023 in Kigali, Rwanda.

Planning for this trip had taken more than a year, as we met with other eye health organizations to plan activities and nurture relationships that could support Orbis’s gender-based work moving forward, including coordinating in-person meetings with potential gender partners.

Given Orbis’s commitment to gender, our main goal at the conference was to inform others that women and girls bear the burden of visual impairment and blindness worldwide, which has wider impacts for the way they can care for themselves and their communities. We also highlighted that women represent just 25-30% of ophthalmologists globally, but they account for the overwhelming majority of community health care providers. Women remain underrepresented in key leadership roles in eye health, but they shoulder the greatest burden when it comes to delivering eye care services at the community level.

Now back home, I am excited about having been part of this momentous event and am pleased with the progress being made. This includes significant commitments to global gender initiatives from major funders, like the Government of Canada. Throughout the conference, representatives from the Canadian government spoke of investments in gender programs totalling more than $275 million.

In reflecting about the conference, here are five key takeaways that stand out for me.

1. Feminism is not a monolith

Attending WD23 was a reminder that feminists are as diverse and multifaceted as the people on our planet. While there are a range of views, perspectives, opinions, and practices around gender, attendees at the conference were serious in their commitment to working towards gender equality.

2. Collaboration is key

I was able to hear Malala Yousafzais’s opening address during a panel discussion on co-designing gender equality. In this talk, she highlighted the importance of accountability and made a powerful call to “work together to create movements and not in silos”. I deeply believe that the most impactful efforts are when collaboration is centred. We can all do so much more together to create the world we want to see.

3. Model creating integrative solutions

Something I saw modeled at the conference was meaningful collaborations between organizations, demonstrating the power in integrating resources, efforts, and initiatives so more voices are at the table—literally more people are in the booths sharing their knowledge and perspectives. It is critical that organizations continue to demonstrate how to bring others into decision-making spaces in an inclusive and meaningful way to design integrative solutions. This is also important in the way we talk about what we do and think through opportunities for partnership in the eye health space. Many visitors to our Orbis booth asked about the connections between sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and eye health. There are many answers to this question, and it behooves eye health organizations to bring in partners and diverse stakeholders to discuss such connections and find worthwhile opportunities to partner. An integrated approach will allow us to find the most impactful ways to support women and girls who disproportionally experience visual impairment and/or avoidable blindness to get all their needs met.

4. Community is how we care for one another

Brining a baby to an international conference is not easy. And yet as soon as I met up with colleagues at Women Deliver, there were suddenly more hands and offers of support than I could ever take advantage of. During an important meeting with a potential gender partner for Orbis globally, Zion wandered off. Before I even had to leave my seat, I saw a group of people gather him up and ensure he was okay while I continued to speak. The feeling of community, of holding one another, of calling each other in, of checking to see if everyone was okay, of making sure there was space for all was profound and on display throughout the whole conference.

5. Learning from one another is how we solve the root issues

While the issues, challenges, barriers, and harm take many forms against women, girls, and non-binary people worldwide, often the root causes are similar. Thus, it requires learning from one another, and spaces that nurture connection and relationship building, to help address the root issues. If we centre those most impacted and all their various identities, we all learn how to create sustainable solutions to even the most complex challenges and problems. We need more forums, meetings, and innovative spaces to share, listen, learn, and amplify the lessons across all the levels of effort involved in working towards gender equality.

These takeaways are tangible ways for Orbis and others to think about how we move forward next after such a big event and as we continue the important work to which we all contribute in the gender space and beyond. I look forward to the future opportunities to put these lessons into action and find ways to foster the spirit of collaboration in meaningful ways. One specific way Orbis can leverage these learnings is in deepening our connections with local gender partners as part of our country teams’ efforts to integrate gender into all new programs, ensuring women and girls worldwide are meaningfully targeted and supported with through our work.

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