Choice, not chance.

I believe each individual is made of stories or narratives. Stories are often described as close-ended, while narratives are open-ended, awaiting resolution.

I attended the Women Deliver Conference, a global gathering of women and girls advocates in Denmark, a country where gender equality is present in most facets of life.

The author, fourth from left, as one of the panelists in a Concurrent Session hosted by ACTION.

Along with two nutrition advocates from Bangladesh and Ethiopia, ACTION, a partnership of locally-rooted organizations around the world that advocates for life-saving care for millions of people who are threatened by preventable diseases, provided the three of us with the opportunity to strengthen our advocacy and communication skills. I believe ACTION recognizes potential where it is growing and invests in the potential of emerging advocates and influencers to elevate nutrition agenda as a powerful agenda in their respective communities and the world. It is a meaningful investment which very few are willing to dedicate resources for. I laud ACTION for their commitment to nutrition advocacy.

Do you know that when a woman gives birth, one foot is in the grave? Do you know that 90 percent of maternal deaths are preventable ?

The Women Deliver Conference was replete of narratives. Some painful and harrowing narratives and yet these were the same narratives which inspired advocates to take brave steps to speak up for women and girls. Narratives were deepened by anecdotes and data. Time and again, speakers inspired the audience to harness rage and transform this into motivation.

Do you know that there is a ‘ripple effect’ when governments invest in women and girls?

Promising narratives were discussed in the Women Deliver Conference. Evidence has shown that women and girls’ agenda is in fact, humanity’s agenda — everybody wins. This is because women and girls are caregivers and nurturers. Investing in women and girls leads to a multiplier effect. Although gender equality is elusive in a million ways, there is no questioning that women and girls nurture households and communities all over the world.

Do you know that investing in women’s livelihoods leads to healthier children?

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim noted that investing in women is a good strategy. Kim talked about the effects of chronic malnutrition or stunting which also means reduced growth in height and connotes that a child has diminished cognitive development. In 2013, 162 million children under 5 were stunted whilst 85% of stunting are concentrated in 37 countries. Kim emphasized the importance of governments and donors investing in ‘grey matter’ or in addressing the “fewer neural connections” among children as if these are most precious infrastructure they can invest in.

A visual map of the plenary where World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim spoke.

In Peru, stunting decreased from 28% to 14% in 7 years. Children, likewise, the future of a country, benefited from investments made on women. Conditional cash transfer programs benefiting women, led to a meaningful ripple effect and the evidence is reportedly overwhelming. It is innate among nurturers to be concerned about the nourishment of others. This shows why investing and empowering women helps build healthier children and a brighter future. This shows why women and girls are at the core of any good nutrition agenda.

Narratives are open-ended, thus, the resolution relies on how the audience responds. I was privileged to speak in a concurrent session hosted by ACTION. I spoke alongside Yvonne Chaka Chaka, artist and humanitarian, who encouraged the audience about the important of action. She encouraged us to work towards making sure that subsequent global conferences will not be merely about challenges and problems but more importantly, about gains. The next conference should be about how participants nurtured what they have learned from the 2016 Women Deliver Conference and how ideas and inspiration from the conference propelled us to contribute to positive change in the lives of women and girls.

Truly, the narrative continues and along with other advocates, we will make sure that the resolution will be in a positive note. In the words of Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, this means “a world where girls and women have choice, NOT chance.”

Nutrition advocates from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and the Philippines.
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