“Is this the 1950s?”
It’s the question Katja Iversen, the CEO of international advocacy group Women Deliver, poses rhetorically when discussing the rise of conservative forces in America and beyond.
“We are seeing things that have never been politically correct to say, that go against all of the gains we have made on civil rights for women,” Iversen says. “The way [Trump] says things and his approach to women and gender for example has definitely had an impact. It’s made more women step up and say no. But it has also somewhat allowed misogyny to flourish.”
Iversen is a leading global advocate for investment in the health, rights and wellbeing of girls and women, with a specific focus on maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rights.
She was in Sydney last week as part of Business Events Sydney’s bid to host the Women Deliver conference in 2019. The global event, focused on the rights and health of women and girls, which had Michelle Obama and Melinda Gates as speakers, was held last year in Copenhagen and was attended by almost 6000 people from 179 countries.
Iversen says the proliferation of explicit sexism and misogyny has wrested many women – and men too – from the clutches of complacency. She points to the millions of citizens who took to the streets around the world in Women’s Marches as proof of the awakening among the masses.
But being sparked into action – and having several uphill battles to win – is not without its challenges.
“There are so many fronts where we need to to step up and be resilient right now,” Iversen says. “There is so much energy and an eagerness to ‘do do do’ and sometimes that comes before ‘think think think’.”
Spreading yourself too thin and burning out is a real risk – for individuals and organisations.
“You have to choose what you focus on and do it well. Not everyone can do everything,” Iversen explains. “Being strategic about what you want to achieve and how you can best do that – in a deliberate and collaborative way – is the challenge.”
The way individuals and organisations have responded to the global gag rule, which cuts funding for organisations that provide women with advice on abortion, is a case in point.
“Governments – particularly in Europe – have collaborated with not for profits, academics, health institutions and professionals – in a timely and deliberate way. We aren’t going to turn over the gag rule but we can be effective on three levels,” Iversen says. “We can contain the damages, mobilise money to fill the decency gap, and we can be loud in saying this is not ok.”
Securing the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women worldwide isn’t easy, but Iversen says there is nothing unfamiliar in that.
“It will be hard but girls and women are used to hard. Women are not just victims, they are powerful agents of change.” Iversen says. “We believe – even if some people say we live in a post-fact world – that evidence and stories can still change hearts and minds. We see that every single day.”