Bella: The last session in the World Health Summit 2016 was titled: “Women, Empowerment and Health: Equity and Agency”. This was a a very powerful presentation and one of the only ones that spoke about women in global health. There were very powerful and experienced women speaking that gave very insightful thoughts and opinions about how to better women’s lives all around the world and how to increase the amount of leadership roles that women hold in global health. However, I was very disappointed that this keynote presentation was left to that last block of time when so many people had already left. The main hall (where the presentation was held) had several empty seats when on the first day of the conference, people had to watch the presentation going on in an overflow room because the main hall could not hold any other people. Besides the disappointing attendance, I really enjoyed this informative presentation and the whole conference in general.
Lucia: Today after an engaging discussion on gender equality in global health, our group filed into the large auditorium eager to hear more and continue the dialogue on a larger scale. The final panel of speakers was entirely made up of women, each one incredibly accomplished and intelligent. This final panel also doubled as the closing ceremony. With that in mind, we hurried from the Gender Responsive Government workshop to the auditorium. We expected to see the room as packed as it was during the opening ceremony when even the extra overflow room was full. However, when I took my seat I noticed that most of the spots around me were empty. In fact, most spots everywhere were empty. In the earlier workshop, we had just discussed the issue of gender inequality within the fight for gender equality itself when we noticed that within the workshop of around 40 people there were only 4 men. We spoke about how odd it was that in such a male dominated environment such as the conference, so few men elected to come. The idea that men might not be jumping to talk about gender equality is not a new concept to me, but I don’t think I have ever seen it manifest so obviously.
At the closing ceremony, the spots in the room that were taken were mostly taken by women. Again, not a new concept, but still startling to see it so clearly. The session began and we listened to 4 inspiring women make a case for women’s health in a logical and passionate way. They spoke about pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, education, gender norms and many other factors that have strong impacts on the health of women and girls worldwide.
After each woman had spoken, time was given for a question and answer period between the audience and panelists. Before long, Maansi from BHS raised her hand to ask a question and a conference aid handed her the microphone. She thanked the panelists for their time and presentations and asked why, since gender equality is so important, was it scheduled as the topic for the last time slot? The closing ceremony is typically at a time when many people have already left to catch a plane, or beat the rush on the way out. This, in conjunction with the low male attendance due to the conversation being centered around women’s issues, really compromised the discussion. Before Maansi had even finished her question the audience began to clap for her. She had asked what everyone had been thinking. The chairwoman experienced visible discomfort before giving a wishy-washy answer and moving on to the next question. But after the session concluded, multiple people stopped Maansi to say they agreed with, supported, and even had tweeted what she said. Though her question was never really answered I think the fact that it was said was enough.
After watching several male doctors enter the room after the women spoke, just to catch the President’s closing remarks instead of sitting through the actual session, I was fully convinced of the level of gender inequality within global health. Everyone had been thinking what Maansi said and I hope that next year the President of the World Health Summit will keep her words in mind when considering women’s health issues and their importance to people of all genders.