Umba Zalira is TfaC Malawi’s Community Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Manager. Below, she reflects on her time at a conference focused on women, development and the sustainable development goals.

Umba, tell us about the Women Deliver conference.

The Women Deliver conference was held in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 16 – 19 May 2016. It brought together 5500+ participants from across the globe including partners, donors, ministers, researchers, implementers and very importantly, young people 🙂

Why was it such an important event?

On a global perspective, the Women Deliver conference came at the right time. It provided a space for partners, donors and stakeholders to come together to reflect, refresh and re-strategise on what the implementation of the SDGs will look like, especially for the benefit of girls and women.

On a personal level, this conference was important to me as a youth advocate for sexual reproductive health, as it provided me a great opportunity to learn and network with my peers from different parts of the world who are equally as passionate about the cause.

What did you learn at the conference?

A lot! I attended different sessions each day, but they all had one thing in common: partnerships are key to sustainable development. This is true for all interventions we have at any level of society – we can only deliver for women and girls if we invest in partnerships in our respective communities.

What were your top three personal highlights?

It is hard to pick just three as each day brought new connections, ideas and networks. But here are my top three moments:

1.       I delivered the closing remarks for a session titled ‘Advocacy: what works for government officials’. This session focused on discussing the relationship between advocates and government officials and how the two camps can effectively work together. In my remarks, I shared my experience working with the Ministry of Health as a Global Health Corp Fellow and my ask was for the panellists and the audience to invest in mentoring girls and young women so that they have space at the decision making table and have their voices included in the development discourse.

2.       Meeting the Crown Princess Mary of Denmark. My scholarship as a Women Deliver Young Leader to attend the conference was fully sponsored by the Mary Foundation, so I had the honor of meeting the Her Royal Highness.

3.       I participated in a side event outside the conference called Talk town. A few peers from Kenya, Zambia, South Africa and I facilitated a session on African Feminisms at the 3-day event that brings together different speakers and  activists from around the world and focuses on feminism, gender and human rights.

Did anything surprise or shock you?

I was surprised by the under-representation of women from vulnerable and marginalized groups such as sex workers and the LGBTQI community. During the main plenary sessions, there was little or no talk about these groups and how they face extra difficulties because of their work or sexual orientation, which makes their experience is twice as hard.

Finally, do you have any other thoughts how you could work with others going forward?

It would be great to do in-country debriefing sessions and put together an action plan on which issues as a country we would collectively advocate on and share some progress on what we have achieved so far, in addition to looking at where the gaps are in our plans.

Thank you for sharing your Women Deliver experience with us!