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Vancouver hosts world's biggest women's conference

Woman at microphone for Women Deliver conference. Image: Women Deliver/Facebook​

Women Deliver is a global non-profit organization that was founded in 2007 to help achieve millennium development goal 5 -- reducing maternal mortality and achieving universal access to reproductive health. Vancouver's June 3-6 event, with the theme of "Power. Progress. Change." will be the fifth triennial international conference.

Announced speakers include billionaire Melinda Gates; Julia Gillard, former Australian prime minister, Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde, and Kate Gilmore, UN deputy high commissioner for human rights. At least some attendees will be there to hear grassroots groups like "Girl Be Heard" with programs in NYC and Trinidad, or survivors like Hauwa, who escaped Boko Haram when she was nine months pregnant.

In all, the conference features more than 7,000 speakers from 150 countries. Organizers intend each talk to be a working session rather than just a lecture. The website advises that, "Women Deliver plenaries are not about speeches and presentations -- they're about engaging in dialogue that drives the agenda forward." 

Although the conference sold out weeks ago -- regular registration cost US$700 --  organizers are providing online access through their Facebook page as well as a virtual conference website that will display a variety of speakers, using a program that allows viewers to interact with speakers and discussion groups. 

"The conference provides a platform for countries, companies, organizations, etc., to announce publicly how they will move the dial on gender equality," said Julie Savard-Shaw, director of Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada. The mobilization is a Canadian initiative, a website where 350 Canadian companies, organizations and institutions can brag about what they have done in the target areas.    

Answering the call to boast about progress towards gender equality, Canada's federal government has had federal Liberal MPs announcing major funding for women's groups in their ridings throughout the month of May such as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett's announcement on May 24 of up to $9.05 million in funding for 18 Toronto women's organizations.  Funding of $1.25 million for three PEI women's groups and Indigenous organizations serving women were announced the same day.

And that's just the start. On June 2, Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef announced a new $1 billion equality fund attached to Global Affairs Canada, intended to be a sustainable model to fund women's rights organizations in developing countries and at home. The Globe and Mail reported, "Maryam Monsef said the Equality Fund brings together 11 organizations from the philanthropic, non-profit and financial sectors, including the Canada-based Match International Women"s Fund, the African Women"s Development Fund and Oxfam Canada."

As the host country -- and as a government coming up to a fall election -- the Liberal government has set a high bar for other countries to match. Whatever the government's motives may be, Women Deliver provides a megaphone for the urgent message that gender equality benefits the local community as well as the national economy. "Fully closing gender gaps in workplaces would add up to $28 trillion in annual GDP by 2025," says one of Women Deliver's infographics.

Women Deliver brings ideas and case studies from around the world, and provides resources for women in developed countries as well as in developing countries. Maternal mortality, the organization's impetus, is still rising in some developed countries, such as among African-American women in some Southern U.S. states. However, the main pitch is to make sure that women's specific concerns are included as developing nations strive to expand their economies. Studies prove women are much more likely than men to put their earnings back into the community.

As Women Deliver says in its literature: "Girls and women carry more than babies. Or water. They carry families. They carry businesses. They carry potential. And when we invest in their health, rights, and wellbeing, it creates a positive ripple effect that lifts up entire countries."

Award-winning author and journalist Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local column in Calgary for four years. She was editor of Straightgoods.com from 2004-2013.

Image: Women Deliver/Facebook​

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Trailer for 2019 Women Deliver conference in Vancouver.

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