By Madison Birtchnell, 2018 Women Deliver Young Leader for Australia
This year’s Women Deliver Conference was hosted in the beautiful city of Vancouver, Canada.
As one of the 300 young leaders to be selected from around the globe for the 2018-19 Class of Women Deliver Young Leaders Program, I was able to attend this incredible conference from the 1st to 6th of June and represent Australia. This opportunity can only be described as once in a lifetime, with the diversity of thought and calibre of presenters and attendees being unparalleled by any other conference or initiative that I have attended in support of the pursuit for women’s leadership, empowerment and equality.
The focus for this year’s conference was highlighting the need to act around women’s sexual health and reproductive rights, their wellbeing and economic autonomy. This conference acted as a ‘refuelling station’ to further inspire, motivate and engage the women and men involved in this movement towards a more equal, peaceful, inclusive and economically empowered world.
I would like to take this opportunity to share some of my own reflections and the poignant learnings that were shared from the incredible myriad of changemakers, leaders, innovators and world leaders across the conference.
The Director of UN Women reports that no country is on track to meet gender equality targets by 2030. Progress is slow and limited in scale, we need to accelerate our efforts and scale up. There are 104 million women and girls who live in countries who will not have achieved their gender goals by 2030 and they are waiting for change to happen.
One of the areas that was most commonly discussed was the issue of women’s leadership and participation. That is not unsolvable. Ending violence against women is not unsolvable. Economic performance and benefits for women and ultimately equal pay is not unsolvable. Through collective power we can ultimately achieve our individual power.
I think I speak for many of the attendees when I say one of the greatest commitments to women’s development and equality was from the Prime Minister of Canada, the Honourable Justin Trudeau, who shared his vision for Canada and announced that his government would not only be speaking up but stepping up, with the promise of a $1.4 billion dollar investment to support women and girls around the world. He hopes that this commitment can empower 18 million women and girls in developing countries by 2030, explaining that this should not be a political issue but a goal that is shared by all.
As was frequently expressed across the conference, when we prioritise women everyone benefits, when women are healthy, they improve their communities, and when young girls are empowered and informed, they lift their communities up.
Three personal highlights for me included meeting the first female Prime Minister of Australia, the Honorable Julia Gillard, listening to Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and speaking with Jayathma Wickramanayake, United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.
The Honourable Julia Gillard explained during her panel on ‘keeping girls in school and longer’ that we cannot place blame or expectation on just one country or government to achieve equality and quality education, rather it is the responsibility of those internationally to contribute to this shared vision where we can all benefit.
Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark shared that through advocacy we can amplify our passions and the power of understanding and advocacy can ultimately help us to increase our individual awareness. She also highlighted that strong leadership is more important now than ever to make a better world for young girls and women and ultimately for us all. We have to ensure that the course of every person’s lives are by choice, not chance, and we must continue to be active for the causes we are passionate about at all times.
I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the Government of Canada for their investment in women, for hosting us all at this incredible conference and for the opportunity to bring together young leaders and delegates from all around the world in a moment that allowed us to share ideas, our experiences, passions and hopes whilst gaining courage to continue to speak up and speak out.
Finally, I would like to recognise the initiative and the effort of Women Deliver CEO & President Katja Iversen, for her vision, her enthusiasm and dedication to making this opportunity a reality and ingraining the voice of youth – who are leaders of today and tomorrow – into the programming of this incredible conference.
Our movement is not a fight between the genders, it is a fight together for harmony, unity and a better tomorrow for all.
Ultimately, everyone wins when women are empowered. We are all powerful drivers of change so what will you do today to use your power?