As the world celebrates The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women today, a day that marks the beginning of The 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, we look at challenges women still encounter even in the face of various campaigns and initiatives aimed to empower and protect them. The limited access to women’s rights or the lack of them thereof in some parts of the world, their absence in positions of power and policy making, all of which have impact on how far the world can go in achieving gender equality. In an interview with The New Times, Kathleen Sherwin, Interim President and CEO of Women Deliver, the worlds largest conference on gender equality, health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women, shared her stance on the prevailing challenges impeding equality, present strides and what more needs to be done. Below are the excerpts; As CEO of a conference that consistently attracts diverse participants from around the world. What impact does the platform hold in terms of empowerment? In 2007, the maternal mortality rate was high and falling too slowly. World leaders and advocates needed to step up, rally around the issue, and commit to action. And they needed a place to do it. To fill the void, the Women Deliver Conference was born. By bringing together 1,700 people and making the investment case for reproductive and maternal health, Women Deliver was able to get Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 – Improve Maternal Health – on the global development agenda. At a time like this, the conference serves to catalyse political change, investments, action, and accountability. We hope that advocates, whether engaging in our gatherings in-person or virtually, will be inspired to take action and harness new knowledge, skills, and connections to achieve their advocacy goals. What’s your take on the current state of women empowerment? We see many strides around the world in women empowerment, but specifically here in Rwanda, gender equality and women’s empowerment are mainstreamed in all development frameworks, starting with the constitution which guarantees equal rights for women and men and stipulates a quote of 30 percent representation of women in all decision-making bodies. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are mainstreamed in various development frameworks, informing both Rwanda’s National Strategy for Transformation (2017-2024) and Vision 2050. The World Economic Forum ranks Rwanda seventh globally and first in Africa as a regional and global leader in advancing gender equality. However there are many challenges in how countries implement laws that support women, the lack of education for all citizens, and the need for prioritising health care for women. As the world looks to build back better from COVID-19, what should be considered for women? The pandemic has further exacerbated gender inequalities for girls and women it has hampered access to essential sexual and reproductive health services, and led to an increase in unintended pregnancies, maternal deaths, and unsafe abortion, particularly in low-and-middle income countries (LMICs). Evidence collected by United Nations Population Fund and partners from 115 LMICs in early 2021 suggests an estimated 12 million women may have been unable to access family planning services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with disruption of supplies and services lasting an average of 3.6 months. As a result of these disruptions, as many as 1.4 million unintended pregnancies may have occurred before women were able to resume use of family planning services. As the world looks to build back better from COVID-19, we need implementation and funding that are rooted in equity, that reach those furthest behind first, that build up resilient health systems and that are gender-responsive, filling the gaps that have widened during the pandemic and recognising that SRH services are essential, not optional. Women Deliver looks forward to hosting WD2023 in Kigali. Why choose Rwanda as the host? Rwanda will be the first African country to host the event. To begin with, the Rwandan parliament comprises of 60% women in leadership. This is far more notable than any other country in Africa and the country serves as a case study for many African and global nations. The countrys new constitution, passed in 2003, decreed that 30 percent of parliamentary seats be reserved for women. The government also pledged that girls education would be encouraged, that women would be appointed to leadership roles, like government ministers and police chiefs. Today, Rwandan politics is cited as a model of gender inclusiveness and a reflection of the importance of ensuring that SDG 5, gender equality and women and girls empowerment is achieved towards the sustainable development of Africa. A key enabler of this has been strategic policies that have been implemented by the government and a friendly political environment. Our organisation undergoes an extensive and participatory process for selecting host countries for the Women Deliver conferences including multiple site visits, meetings with host country governments, and feedback and conversations with Women Deliver partners and global advocates. It gives us great pleasure to host the 2023 conference in Rwanda as this due diligence process has been successful. What are the event’s expectations? The Women Deliver 2023 conference and global dialogue aims to improve policies and programs and drive political and financial commitments for gender equality, and to advance progress on SRHR by creating space for advocates and decision-makers to come together to engage in critical dialogue, knowledge sharing, and networking. It will focus on COVID-19 response and recovery, centring the implications of the pandemic on girls, women, and gender equality progress and developing solutions to address some of the major setbacks the pandemic has caused. WD has also adjusted its conference to a hybrid model for people to attend virtually; however, those interested in on-site participation should adhere to restrictions and best practices around COVID-19 regulations. Going forward with empowering women and overcoming current setbacks, what do you think should be done? We need to see bold real accountability in the commitments made to women, though appropriate budgets and strengthened national gender networks from our governments and our private corporations. We believe that gender equality will only be achieved once all people have equal access to power, dignity, justice, rights, health, and opportunities, including to network, develop skills, share knowledge, access funding opportunities, and participate in conversations that contribute to global agenda setting.