Jill Sheffield met with us this morning and broke down what power means into one word: choice. Ms. Sheffield is the president and founder of the Women Deliver Conference. To her, the concept of choice, and having that option to put our lives in our own hands, is an emotional one. After giving us a fast-forwarded version of her life up to the age of 27 (she grew up in Florida, went to high school, college and grad school, taught for a year, moved to Africa with her husband, and interned in a clinic in Kenya), she described an experience that happened on the day of her 27th birthday. Breaking both clinic protocol and community tradition, Ms. Sheffield began providing health services for women who had not received the consent of their husbands several weeks earlier. On that particular morning, a woman walked in, laden with a child on her back and one in her arms. This woman was 27 years old, like Jill. But in those 27 years she had not gone to college to receive a Bachelor’s and Master’s. She had gone through 11 pregnancies and had given birth to 6 children. She had woken up that morning, carrying two children to a tiny clinic which she wasn’t even sure existed. She was building choices, and through these choices, building power. It was this experience that inspired Jill Sheffield to begin her transition from teaching to leading the fight for reproductive rights and family planning choices.
In 2007, Ms. Sheffield founded the Women Deliver Conference with the goal of bringing the conversation about female empowerment to the international stage. Since the emergence of the conference, although Women Deliver takes no official credit, the maternal mortality rate has dropped 47%. As she finished, she reminded us how the numbers are still too high to remain content. There remains a huge initiative to be taken. Every day we have the power to make choices in our lives, our health, our education, our relationships, our happiness, and our futures. We are reminded that equity comes not simply from the material but from the power to make choices in our daily experiences.