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.
After a long night and day of travel, we have arrived in Copenhagen. We left Boston last night (Friday) at 9:30 PM and arrived at 10 AM in Oslo, Norway. While we had hoped to spend our long layover sightseeing in Oslo, a slow line through Immigration and Customs undermined our plans. Instead we spent several hours in the Oslo airport, preparing for the upcoming conference and resting. We also tried some Norwegian delicacies, like salty licorice (an acquired taste). Happily, our flight to Denmark was brief. When we arrived in Copenhagen, we learned that the blue line down the middle of the airport floor means the “fast lane,” (thanks to the grumpy man who pointed this out to our jet-lagged stragglers). We then took the subway to our hotel, checked into our interesting, space-efficient rooms (for example, the bathroom is the shower), and walked to a local food court for dinner. We’re ready to conquer jet lag with a good night’s sleep before a morning meeting with Jill Sheffield, the founder of Women Deliver.
Women Deliver’s conferences are the world’s largest global convenings to focus on the health, rights and well-being of girls and women. Building on the successes of Women Deliver’s three previous global gatherings—in London in 2007, in Washington in 2010 and in Kuala Lumpur in 2013—the 2016 Conference will bring together world leaders, advocates, policymakers, journalists, young people, researchers and leaders of the private sector and civil society to showcase what it means and how it works when women and girls become the focus of development efforts.
The conference, which will be held in Copenhagen from 16–19 May 2016, will be the largest gathering on girls’ and women’s health, rights, and wellbeing for more than a decade, and one of the first major global conferences following the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The focus of the conference will be on how to implement SDGs as they relate to girls and women, with a specific focus on health – in particular maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and rights – and the inter-connections with gender equality, education, environment, and economic empowerment.
This year’s conference will have a special focus on youth leadership with youth leaders from around the world playing a prominent role. The BHS delegation is the only group of high school students to attend the conference.