About the Author: Lauren Seyfried serves with the Population Team in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
Here I am three weeks into a summer internship, and I already attended a global conference with speakers and panelists of the international caliber and celebrity of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Melinda Gates, Ashley Judd and Yvonne Chaka Chaka. You are probably wondering -- how did I get here? That's the question I constantly asked myself over the course of the three-day Women Deliver Conference in Washington, DC. Basically, I lucked out with a great summer opportunity through my internship at the State Department.
The conference, officially titled "Delivering Solutions for Girls and Women," focused on international reproductive health and family planning issues. The sessions were jam-packed with international powerhouses of the women's reproductive health and development world -- ranging from international NGOs, such as CARE, to global leaders like Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). All of these organizations and individuals came together in Washington to debate, discuss, critique, and celebrate the progress and pitfalls of global efforts to improve maternal and child health and increase access to family planning and reproductive health services for women everywhere.
Special note should be given to the male attendees of the event who have brought useful and enlightening perspectives on critical issues pertaining to men's roles in successful family planning and the future of gender equality. These men have also remained good sports -- Yvonne Chaka Chaka, South Africa's famous pop singer and gender advocate, began the first day by claiming: "All of us in this room are men, but some of us are well organized men. We are women." She then ended the opening panel with an inspiring song about the strength of the world's women, providing an upbeat energy to the conference.
Participants of the conference were well aware of the sobering magnitude of the work yet to be done in this field, and one of the main themes that resonated throughout the conference is the need for committed political leadership on these critical issues. The message cannot be ignored; political will is essential to accessing the resources necessary to meet the Millennium Development Goals -- particularly MDG #5, which is focused on the improvement of maternal health.
The conference also reminded participants of the U.S. commitment to making women's health a priority. Through the Obama Administration's Global Health Initiative (GHI) the United States will invest $63 billion over six years to help partner countries improve health outcomes through strengthened health systems -- with a particular focus on improving the health of women, newborns and children through programs including infectious disease, nutrition, maternal and child health, and safe water.
In spite of the obstacles, a positive, concurrent theme also has emerged from the conference: the acknowledgement of successes, whether these be small, like helping a mother of six gain access to family planning services, or large, such as the Gates Foundation's commitment of $1.5 billion to maternal and child health. These victories must be told here and continue to be told to the international community in order to exemplify and celebrate the improvements being made for the lives of the world's women by the international actors, advocates and leaders present at this conference.