Women Deliver president: Let's keep the gender agenda momentum going – Women Deliver

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Women Deliver president: Let’s keep the gender agenda momentum going

By Moraa Obiria | Nation | 27 July 2023

What you need to know:

  • Women Deliver conference took place in Kigali, Rwanda, from July 16 to July 20.
  • Participants aired their frustrations over commitments.

Last week, Women Deliver president Maliha Khan was snowed under with conference events in Kigali, Rwanda. The WD2023 started on July 16, 2023, with pre-conferences and ended on July. But Dr Maliha was gracious enough to grant me an interview that lasted 14:59 minutes.

We talked about post-Women Deliver 2023, restructuring the donor sector, frustrations aired by delegates over commitments and if the conference delivered. Below is the interview.


What next after WD2023?

One of the things we really tried to plan for and made sure it happened in this Women Deliver is to connect with other moments coming up. That each person coming here makes those connections so that this convening is not just a moment in time. And that's very important because it helps to elevate us.

We think about the peak; the emotional energy that comes from it gives us the sustenance; the energy to go forward. We need to

connect to the next moment. So, I know, for many people, the next convening and moment will be the UN General Assembly, which is important because it's the mid-point of Generation Equality; I hope there has been a big galvanisation for that here.

Regionally, in Africa, it's what comes after the 20th anniversary of the Maputo Protocol. Then there will be the Commission on Status of Women, which is a big moment for civil society to gather and hold governments accountable. Also, we want to get the gender agenda onto the G20. So you try to make all those connections and see how we can keep the momentum going so that it doesn't become just a moment in time.

The 6,000 people who have come here, each one of them has come with their own objective. We hope that each of them is able to say: “Okay we wanted to get this consultation done; it's done. We wanted to launch this publication; it's launched. We wanted to raise awareness of whatever issue; we have done so.” With that, we hope there is a huge momentum going forward.


The pre-conferences and side events have been characterised by frustrations, with delegates accusing governments of failing to follow through on their gender equality commitments. What next?

I know we are impatient and rightly so, but at the same time I want to remind everybody that progress has been made. We may feel frustrated when we look at two or three years on what the governments have done and the progress made and our blood boils like these girls, these women; their lives cannot wait.

But when we look at 10 years, 20 years, huge change has been made. You must have seen this in Kenya, looking at 20 years ago what women and girls were able to do compared to now. So we need to keep our impatience but put down our frustrations a little bit by thinking about the 10, 20, 30 years’ mark. I think that's what is going to give us momentum to move forward.


One of the things that has come out of the ongoing conversations is a shift from short-term to long-term funding. Is this possible?

It's going to take a little longer. We get more and more people to talk about it and then it becomes a mainstream narrative. But

there is a lag between the mainstream narrative and people starting to figure out how to put this into practice, and that takes five, six, 10 years. So, we, as a movement, have to continue to be impatient, hopeful but not frustrated. And I think we will get there. The donors are already talking about it.


During the opening press conference, you emphasised that gender equality cannot be achieved in the absence of open democracy. What role have women played in promoting open democracy?

The last decade has been very disappointing in terms of open democratic spaces. What's particularly disappointing about that is that two decades before, we were particularly optimistic about open democracy. We have to start engaging in big politics.

International humanitarian development always said with a great

deal of pride that we are apolitical; that's a luxury we don't have anymore.

We have to join hands with those in politics wanting to have open democracies, open spaces... But there are two problems with that.

First, the way a lot of donor funding and organisations are structured is that we can't be political. So, we have to get rid of that. Second, politics requires compromise. You have to talk to all sorts of people and negotiate. And we intend to be ideologically pure and we tend to condemn people who do these kinds of compromises or negotiations. We have to move away from that. If we do that, I think there is hope.


Will WD2023 deliver?

It's not for me to answer. It's for the 6,300 participants here. If each individual feels that the reason they travelled so far, the reason they took so many days out of their lives, the reason they are getting up at 7am and going to bed at midnight after the sessions, if they have gotten what they wanted to get out of it, then it delivered; if they did not, then it didn't.