Vancouver hosts huge international conference on women's rights and health – Women Deliver

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Vancouver hosts huge international conference on women’s rights and health

By Susan Lazaruk | Vancouver Sun | 3 June 2019

PM Justin Trudeau to open four-day conference Monday, and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, is also scheduled to speak.

Women Deliver, the world’s largest international conference on women’s health and rights, is coming to Vancouver on June 3, but unless you’ve already got a ticket, you’re out of luck. It’s been sold out for weeks and the waiting list topped off at 2,000.

The fifth such conference, which takes place every three years and was last held in Denmark in 2016, will host an estimated 8,000 delegates from more than 165 countries, who paid up to US$700 each to attend. There are an additional 100,000 virtual and satellite-event participants expected to take part around the world, and local events to mark the gathering.

“We are very excited about having the world come to Vancouver,” said Genesa Greening, CEO of the newly named B.C. Women’s Health Foundation (formerly the B.C. Women’s Hospital and Health Centre Foundation), who is also chairwoman of the conference’s national mobilization committee. “It’s kind of like the Olympics for gender equity.”

Both Downtown Vancouver convention centres are booked for the four-day conference, which kicks off Monday with opening remarks by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and conference CEO Katja Iversen.

“This is the largest gender-equity conference in the 21st century,” said Iversen on Thursday. “It’s a very critical moment” for gender equity.

“There has been a lot of progress and a lot of gains, but there’s also been a lot of pushback,” she said, referring to a number of U.S. state governments reintroducing abortion bans.

She also said there’s still a lot of work to be done to get to gender equity, which she said can be measured by a set of indicators. Those include equal pay, an equal number of women in political organizations and in positions of power in business and society at large, and the numbers of females in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math courses, and jobs, to name a few.

“There’s not a single county that’s achieved it (equity),” said Iversen.

She lauded the Canadian government for gender equity in the Trudeau cabinet, saying, “Canada is definitely in the top third” of all countries, but “it’s still got a lot of work to do” on other issues.

Greening offered two examples of gender imbalance in health care: A survey done in the past year by the foundation showed that two-thirds of respondents said they experienced gender bias from a health-care practitioner. She said studies show “women are being misdiagnosed and their concerns are being dismissed and overlooked” in doctor offices.

And up to 20 years ago clinical trials were exclusively male, which has skewed medical research, said Greening, who said one of the goals of the newly named and positioned foundation she heads is to improve gender equity in research and innovation, education and awareness, and advocacy.

The theme of the WD2019 is power and Iversen said one of the goals of the conference is to put the focus on gender equity, “not as a women’s issue, not as a war between the sexes,” but as an integral part of national agendas. “In the boardrooms, in the governments, in the classrooms and in the C-suites, where power is and where change is made,” she said.

She said WD2019 “is not a pledging conference,” in that it doesn’t set goals for raising money and “it’s not a war on words,” although she said “it (gender equity) is sometimes very political.” It’s a chance for people from the UN, governments, nongovernmental organizations, corporations, the grassroots, education, health and other fields to get together and network.

“There will be hundreds and hundreds of solutions discussed and that’s what people will take home with them,” Iversen said.

For instance, she said as a result of the talks and activism stemming from a previous Women Deliver conference, the issue of maternal health and mortality receives more attention by policy-makers and governments.

On June 4 at the conference, Trudeau will also speak and is scheduled to sit on a panel that is to assess the progress on gender equality in the world so far. His wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, is scheduled to deliver the opening remarks for the closing session on June 6 and take part in a plenary on June 5 on gender equality.

Other notable speakers include Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates and co-chairwoman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Maryam Monsef, Canada’s minister for Women and Gender Equality; Crown Princess Mary of Denmark; Ethiopian first-female President Sahle Work-Zewde; UN officials; and members of non-govermental organizations, corporate sponsors, such as pharmaceutical giant Merck and Co., charities, such as Oxfam International, and youth activists.

The conference will address maternal, sexual and reproductive rights and rights for women to education, environmentalism, political participation and economic empowerment, among others.

Meanwhile, Feminists Deliver, a “grassroots collaboration of B.C.-based self-identified women, girls, non-binary and Two Spirit people, and the organizations that support them,” which formed last year, is holding a parallel four-day conference at 312 Main St. to discuss local issues, such as the role of colonization on missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Culture Night on Wednesday will feature a free concert at the Jack Poole Plaza, headlined by Canadian singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk.

There are also events planned for the downtown branch of the Vancouver Public Library hosted by the City of Vancouver, in the Indigenous longhouses near the convention centres and at Canada House, based in a Gastown pub.