Women and Girls Have Spoken. Now We Must Listen, and Act.

Jun 22, 2020 | Global Secretariat, News

By Kate Gilmore
Fellow, The Carr Centre For Human Rights, Harvard Kennedy School and former U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

I was honored last year to be a “featured listener” at the launch of the findings from the What Women Want campaign. The campaign tackled the “solution-privilege” problem that plagues much of global health and development – wherein “experts” are found “telling” people what the solutions are to their pressing problems.  The What Women Want campaign, by contrast, asked girls and women directly – “What is your #1 priority for quality reproductive and maternal health?”  This inspirational example of participatory democratization of health yielded, from 1.2 million women and girls around the world, a powerful response: “We want respect and dignity!”

Their top answer – and the other findings – challenge all of us to rethink how we institute transparent, open ways for people, especially for young people and women, to contribute directly to the policies and programs that affect them.  Now, thanks to White Ribbon Alliance’s campaign, their demands have emerged as a powerful action agenda that calls on each of us to commit to giving girls and women want they want.

Against this backdrop, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and in a world whose streets swell with demands for a conclusive, inclusive end to the scourge of racism, the What Women Want campaign could not be more important. The pandemic is wrecking an outsized impact on women and adolescent girls and a specifically disproportionate impact on those of African descent, on those of color and on those whose identities are otherwise politically and socially manipulated for their exclusion, stigmatization and discrimination.

In other words, we are in the midst of an era in which fundamental human rights are being violated out of hate, fear, ignorance and political opportunism, as is evidenced, for example, in some governments and other authorities going so far as to put lifesaving, life-enhancing services, information and commodities for sexual and reproductive health in the “non-essential” category.  However, by listening to what women and young people want – with their preferences and demands leading the way – those who control health investments, health systems and health services can ensure those assets are responsive, inclusive and accountable, now and into the future.

It is way past time, but not too late, to transform power structures, including within global health, that routinely silence the voices, ignore the preferences and under value the lives of women and girls specifically.

Join me, the White Ribbon Alliance and thousands of partners and human rights advocates around the global, in turning these demands into the tangible changes that girls and women deserve – and to which they are entitled.  Join us in transforming our “businesses as usual” by putting the voices and rights of people first.


Important Action Agenda Links: