Today I attended a highly stimulating conference in Berlin: "Exploring Cultural Diversity and Gender Equality: towards universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights".It started with a panel discussion featuring illustruous speakers including Gita Sen, a pioneer in gender & development research and activism. She shared key findings from her (et al.) report on Gender Inequity in Health. The full report Unequal, Unfair, Ineffective and Inefficient - Gender Inequity in Health: Why it exists and how we can change it is available on the net (see link list at the bottom of my blog).
Dr.Sen explained how culture, gender and human rights interact with key economic forces to impact on women's health. Quoting graphic examples from her own, well-to-do social environment in India, she showed that dealing with poverty without addressing gender inequality does not yield acceptable health status, health outcomes and health service access to women. This is a world-wide pheonomenon - e.g. in Sweden, a woman is more likely to die from her heart attack than a man because of inaccurate diagnosis: a form of social vulnerability. Dr. Sen called for addressing the structural dimensions of gender inequality and providing more comprehensive universal health care for all. The following speaker, Paul Hunt, former UN Special Rapporteur, emphasized the legal obligation of all states to work towards the highest attainable standards of health for all their citizens. Maternal mortality (some 500.000 deaths just in 2005) and morbidity must be treated as grave human rights violations.
The afternoon was conducted in the World Café format: all participants met around small tables, each with a designated host, to exchange views on broad questions around gender equity, human rights and something called culture, hard to define. One group came up with the image of a snail's house: culture is what we carry around with us - and where we retract to when we feel threatened? Thuraya Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, quoted Wole Soyinka in her opening address: "culture is a matrix of infinite possibilities and choices". I felt uneasy about some of the interventions stating how "we" would have to work with "others" - as if there was no need to work on ourselves to start with? As if we knew what others need? A participant from GTZ in Uganda responded, we must understand things - what do I mean with by gender justice, how do I understand "culture" - from a personal point of view to engage effectively with others on these issues. Gill Greer, Director General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), concluded the meeting with an appeal to the German government to prevent a EU rollback on funding of sexual health programmes for women, and an allegedly African saying: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, take others with you."
Photographers and cameramen kept pointing their machines at us which led me to believe that ample documentation of the deliberations would be made available at some point. For official information on the conference, please try out the hosts' website, www.kfw-entwicklungsbank.de