This summer, Elizabeth and I were honored to attend Women Deliver, one of the world’s largest convenings to advance gender equality, in Kigali, Rwanda. I’d been to the Women Deliver conference in my home country of Canada in 2019, so my expectations were high, and this year’s more than exceeded them.
The air was electric as 6,000 of us from around the globe gathered for the official opening to work across nations, cultures, languages, and governments to advance women, girls, and gender-diverse people. From that very first moment, I felt such a warm welcome by the country of Rwanda, including by the First Lady, as well as Sima Sami Bahous, the Executive Director of U.N. Women, and its former ED, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. It felt like all the bold ideas were being heard by some of the most powerful global leaders, so the ideas could become real policies.
To be honest, many conferences can feel…vanilla. Hunky-dory in a way the real world rarely ever is. What made this feel different were moments of disagreement and challenges. For example, on one intergenerational, international panel about Advancing Climate/Gender Justice, a panelist asked a leader of a G8 nation something along the lines of, “Can you really say your focus is on peace, security, and justice if you’re also providing arms to a country that’s killing their people and causing more violence?” Whoa. That honest, fearless question and palpable passion silenced the room. Same for other questions about the long roots–and ongoing impacts–of colonialism on poverty and injustice around the world. Speakers who weren’t afraid to challenge each other made for much more interesting, real, and productive conversations.
My other favorite moments during the conference were micro-connections with people you meet in passing that leave a lasting impact. Chatting with the coffee vendor who represented women farmers in Rwanda. The taxi drivers and hotel clerks who told me about how Rwanda has rebuilt and grown since the years of genocide, how the next generation is dedicated to justice, inclusiveness, and prosperity for all. The young folks teaching the latest dance moves. The Kente cloth merchant and fashion designer displaying her latest wares. A young woman who impressed the hell out of us and turned out to attend school right near Elizabeth’s town, both of them nearly 7,000 miles away from home and yet randomly sitting at the same table.
I left Rwanda’s clear skies and perfect temperatures to head home full of connection and inspiration.
In thinking ahead to September’s Feminist Funded ‘23 conference, I’m hoping to bring that same no-vanilla-here energy as a panelist. I hope you’ll join me for nuanced conversations and the electricity of a room full of people excited about gender justice. And when you see me, please feel free to say hi so we can keep those little meaningful moments of connection coming.
President and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation & WFN Board Member