Near the beginning of June, I had the privilege of being one of the over 8,000 attendees from around the world at the 2019 Women Deliver Conference. It is the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights, and well-being of women and girls, and this year it was held in Vancouver. The experience of meeting people of all walks of life who are doing incredible work to make our world a better place was one which I will never forget.
At the conference I met students, government officials, filmmakers, activists, charity workers and representatives of NGOs. Some notable attendees who I hoped to meet but was unable to were Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ziauddin Yousafzai.
A moment that particularly stood out for me was meeting Hibo Wardere, a survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM), activitist, author and public speaker — and, incidentally, an ambassador for Islamic Relief Canada! I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to personally get to know Hibo and learn about the important work she is doing to educate people about FGM.
I also attended a panel discussion which she spoke on, where a video of her describing her experience of FGM was played. Looking around the room, I could see that it was invoking some powerful, emotional responses in everyone, including me. Hearing of the suffering she endured as a child and seeing her resiliency as she described everything she has accomplished since then was an inspiring experience I will never forget.
As one of the sponsors of this event, Islamic Relief Canada was given a booth in the exhibition, where myself and some colleagues were able to showcase and discuss some of the excellent work our team is doing both in Canada and internationally to uplift women and girls. As one of the only Muslim organizations that had a presence in this space, and given the misconceptions about the place of women in the Islamic worldview, we received many visitors and questions.
And that is precisely why we were there: to demonstrate that it is, in fact, our faith which gives us the powerful motivation to be able to do everything we can to ensure that women everywhere are able to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives. Examples of this work include our research on gender-based violence in the Canadian Muslim community and our microfinance projects that help widows and single mothers in Bosnia and Bangladesh escape the cycle of poverty.
This conference also featured keynote speeches, workshops, panel discussions and film screenings, all focusing on progress and challenges in the areas of healthcare, education, gender-based violence (GBV), and economic empowerment. The schedule was quite overwhelming, as there were so many interesting conversations and events taking place that I would have loved to attend, but there just wasn’t enough time in the day! However, I was able to hear some very inspiring keynotes and join informative panel discussions on topics such as FGM and women and girls in the Middle East.
As a young person, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of young people attending this conference, not only as attendees but also as panelists, activists and thought leaders. I often hear people speak about the importance of engaging youth in discussions and decision-making processes but I rarely see it happen, so this was refreshing to see and be part of! I had the chance to speak with so many young people about the work they were doing and some of the issues they are passionate about.
I myself had the opportunity to speak on a panel focusing on adolescent resilience-building and health outcomes. As the youngest person on the panel with considerably less experience than my fellow panelists, I was very hesitant at first and assumed I wouldn’t have enough to contribute to this conversation, or that I wouldn’t be taken seriously. However, I learned from this experience that regardless of your background, you can always bring something valuable and insightful to the discussion.
Having experienced all this, I left the 2019 Women Deliver Conference inspired and grateful by the incredible work that is being done to ensure that every woman and girl everywhere has a chance to live a safe, healthy and fulfilling life. There are many challenges ahead, but I am confident that through the work of individuals and organizations like the one I proudly work for, Islamic Relief Canada, we are headed in the right direction.
Aminah Arab is a Programs Officer at Islamic Relief Canada.