“I obviously knew that education was important, but being here and listening to the sessions, I now realise how essential it is and I’m blown away”
Midwife from South Africa.
The fifth triennial Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen, Denmark (16-19 May) marked a shift from a women’s health dominated agenda, to a focus on how gender equality can be achieved, and the Sustainable Development Goals delivered. Throwing a spotlight on the synergies between health and education, especially for girls and young women was our objective for the conference. An educated girl is less vulnerable to early marriage, and early pregnancies, more likely to have fewer, healthier children, and more able to contribute economically to her family and community. Education holds the key to unlocking better health outcomes for women and girls. This was the message we wanted to share. And achieving this required great creativity alongside effective communication.
Women Deliver has been one of the leading forces in reframing the maternal health debates from being solely a health issue to a broader societal and development issue, which in turn has enabled the health sector to gain broader attention and support. In many societies, girls literally do not count – they are not included in birth registries. Girls are used to raise money for a family by being sold off in child marriage. Often girls are pulled out of school to work on the family farm, locking in cycles of poverty and inequality. An estimated 35 percent of women will experience sexual violence at some point in their loves.
So it is not surprising that a young woman is twice as likely to contract HIV as a young man. In some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, that ratio can be 5:1. In the hardest hit countries, girls account for 80 percent of new infections among adolescents. And girls out of school are three times more likely to contract HIV than girls who stay in school. However, studies show that girls who complete secondary education get married later, are more likely to get pregnant when they want, have smaller families and earn a decent income.
Oshun Partnership worked with the Global Partnership for Education and our production partner, Vivace, at Women Deliver to share the importance of education to health outcomes. The focus was on the challenges of delivering education to the most vulnerable and excluded, in emergency situations, and for those who live with disabilities. Through side events and a fabulous exhibition stand we generated numerous ways to engage an audience largely new to the education sector.
At a breakfast meeting jointly organised by GPE and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, Julia Gillard and Mark Dybul spoke about ways to forge closer links between their institutions. Drawing on the experiences of the Minister of Education from DRC, Maker Mwangu Famba, and Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tedros Adhamon, the message was clear – a great education not only builds girls’ knowledge, self-confidence and power, it widens perspectives and lengthens horizons, boosting work opportunities and increasing earnings. It reduces rates of HIV transmission and malaria infection, decreases the likelihood of girls’ early marriage and pregnancy and offers education and health benefits for future generations. Together these will have powerful impacts on reducing poverty, combating disease and building a more prosperous and sustainable future for everyone.
The GPE exhibition stand was a real centre piece in the vast exhibition hall. With Julia Gillard speaking on numerous stages, the space proved a focal point for delegates to find out more about the work of the Global Partnership for Education. Chamki, Sesame Street’s girls’ education champion was a particularly popular visitor!