Youth leaders took centre stage, and celebrations ran late into the evening. Echoing the conference theme of Power, Progress, Change, each participant was challenged to reflect on how they will use their power to create a more gender equal world.
Here are our team’s top takeaways:
Commitments to end FGM were prominent and substantial. The First Lady of Sierra Leone and the President of Kenya both made bold public commitments to do more to end FGM in their countries, among others. Leaders demonstrated a willingness to learn more, to understand the human impact of FGM, and how change can be realised. Options co-hosted a dynamic pre-conference that built partnerships and renewed commitments to end FGM in one generation, culminating in a call to action. Our Team Leader of The Girl Generation, Faith Mwangi-Powell, said: "I will use my power to celebrate and champion vulnerable women and girls so that together we can end gender based violence and have a more gender equal world where everyone wins!"
Accountability and sustainable financing emerged as essential drivers for a more gender equal future, where sexual and reproductive health and rights must be firmly anchored in universal health coverage. Large, gender specific financing commitments were made, particularly by Canada as the conference hosts, and participants discussed innovative ways to increase civil society’s seat at the table to hold government accountable to its commitments. Options’ Regional Health Financing Advisor from Kenya, Joyce Kyalo, said: "I will use my power to advance gender equality in health planning, budgeting and accountability among vulnerable and marginalised populations in low and middle income countries."
Self-managed care is both the past and the future. While people have been managing their own health care for centuries, viable options to put health care tools directly in the hands of women and girls are becoming increasingly mainstreamed. The WHO announced its imminent launch of guidelines for self-managed care, and medical abortion – which can be administered at home – was discussed through a variety of angles. Options’ Director of Strategy, Priti Dave, said: "I will use my power by working with Options’ colleagues to ensure we apply a gender lens to all our programmes, maximizing opportunities to put technologies directly in the hands of women and girls."
Intersectionality was one of the most frequently used buzzwords all week. But what does it mean? Intersectionality helps us understand how a person or group is affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages – the combined effect of multiple prejudices, like gender, race, and poverty. While we need to work across sectors and groups, participants were also called on to do more – to take an intersectional approach in equity work and leadership. Options’ Country Representative for Kenya, Nicole Sijenyi Fulton, said: "I will use my power to continue building Options as a workplace that celebrates and shows respect for all forms of diversity and difference."
The conference themes resonate with Option’s new five-year strategy. Each of our five strategic work streams – Systems, Resilience, Inclusion, Technology, and Influence – will help drive the needed change for better health and wellbeing for women and girls. “A more equal and gender just world is at the heart of our work,” says Options’ Managing Director, Jo Elms. “We will use our collective power to change policies, institutions, and social norms in the countries we work in to deliver this new world.”