Three weeks ago I was up in the air, flying my way to Malaysia for the Women Deliver 3rd Global Conference. I happened to be on the same flight with several other attendees . You’d think I identified them by networking. No. Actually I could tell because everyone was either proof-reading a presentation or glancing through some documents or rehearsing for their panels.
I felt a little weird because I had nothing serious prepared really. Of course I had some bullet points to fling my eye on during my sessions, but nothing compared to all those chunks of fact sheets and reports I saw all those guys glancing through. I thought to myself ‘OMG, better start reading Mallah’, till I noticed this other young woman sitting 3 seats away, doing nothing too. She later on told me she felt the same about all those guys and that she didn’t really need reports to enable her talk about her experience with girls’ health in Botswana.
I felt better after that conversation, and that was a new perspective that guided me through the conference. I met all the right people. From young leaders to policy makers to corporate heads, humanitarians and government representatives, I received a whole new set of perspectives on a wide range of issues.
I was amazed by the young people so knowledgeable and smart. Key messages and statistics sprouted out of their tongues like the alphabet. Then I saw sheer bravery in the words of the President of Catholics For The Right To Decide, Mexico, who leads her team in the face of total opposition, fanaticism and death threats to guarantee women’s rights to decision making about their own bodies.
I was moved to tears and literally sobbing over a video on men who support their spouses in children’s care and household chores. Things you just don’t hear about where I come from.
And even more fulfilling, I was proud at the number of young leaders represented at high level panels throughout the conference. It was rewarding to watch young people like me (including me :)) sit on a table with policy makers and give their perspectives on issues that affect women and the world.
And this takes me back to the initial question. Why all the fuss about women’s health? Are men not the other half of the population whose health matter too? Well I’ll take u back to my initial answer.
Because by virtue of her sex, she is the reproductive light of tomorrow with an entire generation depending largely on her. Because she is a girl, a mother, a first educator of the child, usually the bread winner. Because in a war zone, she’s more likely to get assaulted sexually. She is more vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and rape. Because the health of her children will depend on her health first. Because she is more vulnerable to disease and her access to health services/infrastructure has not been properly addressed.
Because failure to meet her health needs is exposing future generations to other countless risks. Because her future depends on her health.
And it was all about women and girls’ health in KL. It felt so refreshing to see the world finally give the much needed attention to an issue so crucial yet so basic.
And now I’m back home. Back in Cameroon. So what’s next?
Well, there were so many outcomes at WD2013, the most significant being the C-Exchange initiative which aims to inform, engage and support young people in their efforts to improve the health of girls in Africa and Asia. At least 50 young leaders at the conference will be leading on advocacy initiatives in their countries thanks to this programme.
So in addition to my business as usual and a little more local advocacy for disadvantaged women, I’d be getting more and more skin deep into issues of women and girls health. I’ll be supporting a group of young people in Cameroon, Action Foundation, supported by the Staying Alive Foundation to promote safe sex practices amongst young people with a special attention to young girls. And I’ll also be using SAF funding for a project I run, to further impact the lives of young women in rural Cameroon.
The reality on the ground is void of all the fancy of rehearsing powerpoints on the flight to give a wonderful presentation. The realities of women’s health transcends power points and perfectly written reports. It’s going back to basics. 220 million women still don’t have a right to choose when and if to have a child. Maternal mortality is still skyrocketing in sub-Saharan Africa. Up to 70% of women still experience violence throughout their lifetime. Women and girls continue to be the most affected and infected by HIV/AIDS with more than 92% of women living with HIV/AIDS residing in Sub-Saharan Africa. And females still represent over half of the total number of HIV Infections. Child marriage is still commonplace in the global south.
It is more than just pep talk. It is action no matter how small.
But in spite of the challenges and limitations, I’m a more fulfilled young woman knowing that issues affecting us on a daily basis are taken seriously.
Invest in women and girls. It pays!