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Author: Jasmine Burton, Communications and Design Associate at Women in Global health

Women in Dev is a women-led, women-focused international development conference which had its inaugural convening at the County Hall in London, UK on March 5th, 2020. Leading up to  2020 International Women’s Day, the founder of Women in Dev, Rachel Firth, and her team brought together women from across the development sector and from around the world to provide them with “a platform for women-led conversations around some of the most significant challenges of our time, fostering an inclusive atmosphere in which to learn, grow, inspire and be inspired.”

Not only did this convening seek to connect and inspire in light of 2020 kicking off this “decade of action”, but it also was unknowingly scheduled to occur just days before global shut downs, conference cancellations (including the UN Women’s 64th Commission on the Status of Women), and a worldwide sense of deep uncertainty with the ramp up and exponential spread of the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19).

In an effort to harness some of the power of collective knowledge, passion and action around gender inequalities in the development sector, Women in Global Health (WGH) was represented at the 2020 Women in Dev convening by Dr. Roopa Dhatt (Co-Founder and Executive Director), Dr. Mwenya Kasonde (Co-Chair of the Gender Equity Hub) and Jasmine Burton, MPH (Communications and Design Associate), each of whom were involved in amplifying conversations about women in the global health sector in particular.

In a plenary session entitled “Delivered by women and led by men- no universal health coverage without equality”, Dr. Roopa Dhatt highlighted the fact that half of women’s contributions to the health sector are In the form of unpaid work – and that as a result, individual women, their families, and the larger global economy suffers. Dr. Dhatt also highlighted the high rates of harassment, bullying and violence that women health workers face, as well as the myriad structural barriers women face that prohibit them from contributing equally to better global health. “Are we creating systems that address these structural barriers and what does that look like?” she asked, summarizing the question at the core of WGH’s work. Later in the program, Dr. Dhatt was a speaker in the session entitled “How can we deliver greater equity, transparency and accountability within our sector?” In this session, she pointed out that only 1% of gender-focused aid went to women-led organizations from 2016 to 2017. Within that 1%, resources mostly went to organizations based in high-income countries instead of women-led organizations working at the grassroots level, particularly those organizations in low- and middle-income countries that are led by women of color. Ultimately, Dr. Dhatt’s call to action was “Let’s be deliberate and shift the gender equity funding so that at least 20% goes to support feminist movements and women-led organizations. Let’s reshape the money in the development space and how it flows!” Read more about this call to action in Dr. Dhatt’s opinion piece, co-authored with Women in Dev founder Rachel Firth.

For her part, Dr. Mwenya Kasonde acted as the moderator for the session entitled “How can we strengthen our dialogue with donors to ensure impactful investments in women?” The session focused on the need for capacity development, long term funding and better data to spur investment in women’s health and gender equality programs.

Photo Credit: Women in Global Health

Lastly, Jasmine Burton spoke on the HubDot stage as a social entrepreneur and global health storyteller. Jasmine shared information about her true passion: using design thinking and social inclusion in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector – along with highly visible advocacy – to build the startup Wish for WASH.

Photo Credit: Women in Global Health

Overall, Women in Dev sought to create space to ignite solutions-based conversations about pressing concerns including time poverty, institutional and systemic inequality, humanitarian settings, and engaging unlikely allies. Check out the post-conference calls to action here.

In an era of social distancing and other efforts to mitigate this new global pandemic, these calls to action are even more important. UN Women has issued a set of recommendations placing the needs of women – especially the need to engage the female talent pool as leaders – at the heard of effective responses to COVID-19. Now more than ever, it’s the time shift the international development paradigm in the name of inclusion and progress.