A leap in the right direction: takeaways from the Women Deliver conference

Hannah Dawson, September 2023

It’s hard to put into words the energy and sense of solidarity you feel when more than 6,000 women from different walks of life and identities come together in one place.

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Women Deliver conference in Kigali, Rwanda. The event served as a platform for myself and other Sightsavers colleagues to engage in discussions about how to dismantle barriers and tackle the obstacles impeding progress around women’s rights.

Worldwide, around 18% of women have a disability – yet these types of discussions and forums on women’s rights have often forgotten women and girls with disabilities. That’s why we travelled to Women Deliver: to raise awareness about disability inclusion and promote women and girls with disabilities as leaders within the women’s rights movement.

Sightsavers staff stand in front of yellow lettering saying '#WD2023'.
Sightsavers staff at the conference in Kigali.
Five women sit in a row at the Women Deliver conference, one holding a microphone.
Sightsavers global advocacy manager Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame (centre) spoke at the conference.

Women with disabilities taking centre stage

Over the past year, Sightsavers, along with our partners, has advocated for women with disabilities to have their voices heard at Women Deliver. So it was uplifting to see many women with disabilities sharing their experiences and expertise at different events throughout the conference.

I was honoured to watch my colleague Gertrude ‘Getty’ Oforiwa Fefoame, global advocacy manager at Sightsavers and chair of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, speak at the plenary session on accountability of gender commitments. This was one of the most highly attended plenary sessions and was opened by Malala Yousafzai. Malala spoke passionately about the importance of collective action and how ‘every young girl can be a Malala if they can access their rights’.

In front of presidents, government ministers and heads of UN agencies, Getty shared her thoughts on how mechanisms that monitor progress on gender commitments can become more inclusive. She highlighted how women with disabilities should be at the table when policies and programmes on gender are being designed. She also emphasised the importance of collecting and using inclusive data (data that is representative of all people, especially those who have been marginalised and excluded) to inform these policies.

Getty also used this platform to highlight the barriers that women with disabilities experienced during the Generation Equality Forums in 2021 and called on states and UN agencies to sign up to the Feminist Accessibility Protocol. This is a set of 13 commitments to ensure that discussions and decision-making spaces on gender are fully accessible to and inclusive of feminists with disabilities.

It was good to see women with disabilities take the stage at three plenary sessions across the conference. For example, Catalina Devandas shed light on the harmful practices women with disabilities are often exposed to, including forced sterilisation, abortion and contraception, at the plenary on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Experts discussed how ensuring that women and girls have autonomy over their own bodies and futures is both the right thing to do and a smart investment, so it was great to see disability included in this conversation.

As part of Sightsavers’ leadership of the Inclusive Futures consortium, our team sponsored two OPD leaders, Lucy Mulombii and Esther Mkamori, to attend the conference and share their insights. Through this initiative, we showed our commitment to supporting women with disabilities to tell their own stories. Liz Ombati’s guide to reporting on disability was also included in the Women Deliver media pack, which went to all journalists attending. This shares an important message with the media to do more to reflect the lived experience of people with disabilities accurately.

A key moment for Generation Equality

Women Deliver was also a key moment for Generation Equality, the world’s leading initiative to accelerate investment in gender equality and ensure its implementation. Sadly, disability inclusion is very much overlooked in this process.

With this in mind, I was pleased to watch Maryangel Garcia-Ramos, Women Enabled International’s executive director, speak about the importance of disability inclusion at the Generation Equality Impact Fest. We have been working closely with Women Enabled International in the lead up to the conference, so it was great to see Maryangel underline the urgent need to collect and use inclusive data when creating, implementing and tracking Generation Equality commitments.

She also highlighted the great work of the Inclusive Generation Equality Collective (IGEC), which raises the voices of feminists with disabilities to ensure their effective participation and inclusion in Generation Equality. As only a very small number of Generation Equality commitments include disability, Maryangel used this platform to call for more commitments and reporting on disability and intersectionality.

A young woman smiles as she holds a baby.

About our inclusive health work

Sightsavers is promoting access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.

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Sightsavers’ booth and solidarity spaces

I was honoured to participate in and support our initiatives at the Sightsavers booth. This provided an exciting space for us to speak and interact with other conference delegates and share more about our work on gender and disability inclusion.

Our booth placed women with disabilities centre stage, sharing their stories of how they have defied discrimination and negative attitudes to define their own place in society. We encouraged people to write their own messages on our interactive wall and sign our Equal World petition calling on global decision-makers to include people with disabilities in their plans to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

To support our calls to action, we distributed accessible postcards, which included Braille and handed our ‘disability-inclusive feminist’ badges to encourage people to show their support. Seeing so many people walking around the conference wearing our badge, even the CEO of Women Deliver, Maliha Khan, was uplifting! This reaffirmed how together we are shaping a future where every woman’s voice is heard and valued.

A group of people sitting at tables in front of a banner saying 'Women Deliver 2023 Conference'.
The solidarity space at the event. © Women Deliver/Franck Axel Nyabagabo

Accessibility successes and challenges

In the past, women and girls with disabilities have faced significant accessibility barriers in joining and participating in gender forums (both in person and online). That’s why we were so heartened to see Women Deliver sign the Feminist Accessibility Protocol, engage women with disabilities throughout the process and outline their plans for accessibility on the conference website.

As soon as I walked into the conference, I was pleased to see the Accessibility Information and Support Desk and personal sign language interpreters providing support to those who had requested it. However, despite this progress, there is still a long way to go to ensure a fully accessible conference, with gaps including the availability of lifts and accessible shuttle buses for wheelchair users.

What needs to happen now?

It is critical that we continue to ensure that the voices of women with disabilities are heard and valued in the women’s rights movement. I’m coming away from Women Deliver feeling optimistic and energised that this can be achieved. But we can’t do this alone.

Disability inclusion means working together across different countries, sectors, policies and identities. Together, we can drive progress towards a more inclusive and equal world for every woman, and the Women Deliver conference was definitely a leap in the right direction.

Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame.

Why you should sign the Feminist Accessibility Protocol

In my years as a disability advocate, I’ve learned that getting angry needs to be accompanied by getting active. We wanted to advise organisations on how to do better to include women and girls with disabilities.

Read Getty’s blog


Hannah Dawson is Sightsavers’ policy officer on gender and social inclusion.


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Making sure the rights of women and girls are addressed is critical in everything we do, whether it's the right to go to school, get a job, vote, or make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health. We’re committed to making our programmes gender responsive and disability inclusive.

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