Maliha Khan was born and raised in Pakistan, a country where women suffer from pervasive gender-based violence, domestic abuse, honour killings, and sexual violence to institutional discrimination, according to UNFPA. “Pakistan is one of the most conservative countries. It is very patriarchal, and it ranks quite low in the gender equality index on many levels,” Khan told The New Times. Khan, who is now the Women Deliver’s President and CEO, started her career of advocating for girls and women’s rights by working with rural women in her home country where she gained exposure on the issues that girls and women face. “I couldn’t think of working on anything else. When you come out from that context and you see that you are just, by chance, been able to achieve all these things, and then you know you are not any better than anyone else, for me it is really painful that every girl and woman does not have those chances if she chooses to pursue a career, an education or other things. To me, it is all about giving autonomy and choice of whatever it is someone wants to do,” Khan said. Kathleen Sherwin, Women Deliver’s outgoing CEO and incoming board member during the interview at Kigali Serena Hotel. Photo by Dan Nsengiyumva She now heads one of the leading global advocates that champions gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women. During the Commonwealth Women’s Forum in Kigali, Women Deliver announced that their next conference in 2023 will be held in Rwanda, and it is set to become the worlds largest conference on gender equality, health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women. But why Rwanda? “There has been a lot of policy advancement around gender equality over, particularly, the last decade. We work on areas of gender equality like Universal Health Coverage (UHC), and Rwanda has near UHC. We talk a lot about building back from the pandemic in the gender lens that Rwanda has done really well in terms of the rate of Covid-19 and their response to the recovery program. “We talk about political leadership and women being at the leadership table, and 60 percent of the Rwandan Government has female leaders. And we know Rwanda is a leader in the technology coalition under the Generation Equality Forum,” explained Kathleen Sherwin, Women Deliver’s outgoing CEO and incoming board member. She added that these were only a number of reasons why the conference is being held in Rwanda, but also how some of the conference priorities and Rwanda’s work well together. For a fact, the Global Gender Gap Index ranks Rwanda the second most gender equal country in Africa and seventh in the world, with a score of 80.5 percent. The conference, which is expected to attract more than 6,000 people in person and more than 200,000 others online, was last held in Vancouver in 2019 where 8,000 people attended and 200,000 others online. Asked if being the largest conference is synonymous with their impact, Sherwin said that they conducted a study a year after the last conference, and the results said so. “We asked if the conference was valuable, and if they got anything from it. 97 percent of attendees said that they got a job, a grant, met a new partner, and created a new program, explicitly from the relationships that they got at the conference. That for us is impactful,” Sherwin said. She added that Women Deliver Conferences have never been about commitments. “There are plenty of commitment conferences out there, and that’s great. For 2023, we have made some adjustments. The top request that we had from the delegates in 2019 was to have more skill building and workshops. “The second was around accountability. How can the attendees hold their governments to account on these commitments, like the Generation Equality Forum as an example, was $40 billion commitments. We want to see that money flow to youth organisations, to women-led organisations, and so we want to use the conference to create accountability for all the types of commitments that are out there,” Sherwin said. This was echoed by Khan, who added that they want to create a forum where people don’t feel defensive but can instead start a process for accountability to happen. She also explained that the other outcomes of this conference will be making sure that they are catalysing collective action. “Individually, organisations, people, or even governments or ministries can’t make change themselves, so you have to bring together a number of different people from different sectors, government and civil society, all sorts of different actors and you have to put them into a space where they are actually talking to each other rather than talking at each other, which is often what happens,” Khan added. Rwanda, through the Gender Ministry (MIGEPROF), has been designated to be the co-chair of the conference host committee.