Josephine Ndao, a volunteer in Tostan’s International Program Team, reports from the Women Deliver Conference 2010, in Washington, D.C. In early 2010, Josephine was selected from a pool of thousands of applications to attend the conference.

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 10 2010 – Over the past three days, I have had the privilege of attending the 2010 Women Deliver Conference in Washington, D.C. alongside political leaders, medical practitioners, members of advocacy groups and youth groups, and representatives from NGOs, international organizations, and donors.

Powerful words on the first day of the conference from Ban Ki-Moon, Melinda Gates, and the former President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, set the stage for a truly educational and inspiring conference, which focused on improving reproductive and maternal health around the world. The conference was an opportunity to celebrate the progress that has been made in improving maternal health, but also served as a platform for individuals in the sector of reproductive and maternal health to learn from their peers and to build on the international momentum toward reaching Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 (reducing maternal mortality by 75%).

Testimonials from the likes of Maribel Guitierrez Lopez, a young woman native to Guatemala, reinforced the fact that in order to improve the health of women and girls, diverse fields such as education and community empowerment should be taken into account when setting health policy. Health practitioners and experts from the field insisted that women’s health should be addressed as a lifecycle matter and not as an age specific issue. Healthful living is a lifestyle that starts at a girl’s birth, and which develops during her youth, her child bearing, menopausal, and post-menopausal years. Women should have knowledge about and access to services that allow them to make healthy, hygienic, and safe decisions: from nutrition to assisted child birth.

Youth advocates and activists highlighted the importance of addressing topics traditionally considered taboo in a manner that is both educational, entertaining while still respecting the overall values and culture of a community. Having discussions and “edutainment” led by peers and individuals from one’s own community that the audience can identify with are successful methods that can lead to positive behavioral changes and better life choices.

The conference made sure to address technological progress in the medical and communication realms that can further improve reproductive and maternal health. Expert panels discussed and debated the use of delivery kits and contraceptive methods that could be distributed or administered by rural health workers. Communication strategies, such as SMS texting, connecting health workers to communities, were also addressed. Having more opportunities, choices, and access when it comes to reproductive and maternal health are necessary  for saving the lives of women and girls.

New grants, such as the $1.5 billion contribution announced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation during the conference, will help to scale up the successful evidence-based solutions in reproductive and maternal health that were discussed and validated during the conference.

I believe that the three-day conference, which brought together more than 3,000 participants, has given us, the attendees, greater motivation to strengthen our efforts to save the lives and improve the health of women and girls around the world.

Josephine Ndao