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PAI Catalyst Session with Dr. Maliha Khan

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Advancing Rights, Agency and Autonomy and the Urgency of Collective Action at Women Deliver 2023 and Beyond

On June 29, PAI hosted its first Catalyst Session of 2023 with Dr. Maliha Khan, president and CEO of Women Deliver, and PAI’s president and CEO Nabeeha Kazi Hutchins.

With Women Deliver kicking off in mid-July, the conversation with Dr. Khan was a timely opportunity for exchange on gender equality, the threats and opportunities for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and the power of a global community of activists, advocates and accountability holders coming together to advance and sustain progress. Dr. Khan reinforced the important moment we are in and where commitments, intentions and funding to achieve gender equality must be accelerated for impact.

We were reminded that gender equality requires the attainment of SRHR for all, and to achieve that, intersectional and intergenerational approaches must be centered and operationalized. Dr. Khan noted during the conversation, the use of intersectional and intergenerational is widespread in development discourse, but we must move away from being performative about it and instead determine what this actually means from an operational perspective. It is this latter reality that the “development sector seems to be profoundly uncomfortable with,” because it means giving up power, asking the question of who actually carries and holds knowledge and expertise, and coming to terms with who should be deciding the priorities, particularly around funds.

Women Deliver will convene 6,000 advocates and gender equality champions from across 140 countries online and in Kigali, Rwanda, from July 17-20. Dr. Khan underscored the urgency and importance of the community coming together in a shared space to reflect on our achievements, call for new and needed policies and funding for equality and agency, and stand, in force, against an anti-rights opposition that continues to export both funding and ideology to diminish rights around the world.

“Without having these spaces to sit down as a movement, talk to each other, get to know each other, trust each other, rebuild those bonds — and through that have the solidarity to move forward — we’re never going to be able to move gender equality at the speed it needs to be moved.”

Key takeaways include:

  • Our movement toward gender equality must not only be inclusive, but more importantly be redefined and re-occupied.

Dr. Khan spoke of the importance of an inclusive movement and one that should be defined and occupied by those closest to where change occurs. Dr. Khan recognized that conversations around shifting leadership and ceding space and power are difficult, but that we should have these conversations without turning against each other or canceling each other out. She also noted that prioritizing localization and national-level efforts is “absolutely the right thing to do — but in that, we’re forgetting a little bit that all of these people have to come together and have conversations at a global level, too.”

  • Combating the anti-rights movement means understanding it and enabling rights advocates to come together.

The opposition is “moving forward to realize their ideology,” and Dr. Khan noted that to combat and stand against the opposition requires understanding who they are, where their funding is coming from and what tactics they are using. She noted, “What they are doing has a direct infringement on the rights of people.”

During the conversation, Dr. Khan illustrated how and why anti-rights actors do not target, nor do they affect communities equally; rather, they seek out vulnerability. In addition to covert actions and space, the opposition is taking up visible space in the global halls of power and yielding their influence in multilateral convenings, such as at the United Nations, as was evidenced during the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) in New York in April. No outcomes document emerged during this year’s CPD as a result of the opposition’s efforts to deny people their SRHR.

Knowing we can’t fight against these forces alone, Dr. Khan encouraged coming together to build a stronger response saying that “we can’t achieve all these objectives by ourselves. We need the collective to come together in order to do it.” Dr. Khan noted that during Women Deliver there will be dedicated space to discuss and refresh strategies and approaches to not only tackle the opposition’s tactics, but also determine how we mitigate harm and how to protect spaces that the opposition wants to enter.

  • Harness political will, technical solutions and grassroots movements to achieve progress for gender equality and SRHR.

The solutions, technologies and approaches to achieving SRHR and gender equality exist, but we will not reap their benefits if we do not also tackle and address the social and societal barriers that stand in the way of agency and autonomy for all.

Political will is an essential part of the change equation, including demands and pushes from grassroots movements for that will. In addition to embracing, naming and funding all that encompasses comprehensive SRHR, Dr. Khan encouraged us to be courageous and name what needs to be named, such as the colonialism and racism in our sector: “Justice doesn’t come easy and we, as advocates, must continue to have these hard conversations. If we don’t have them, then we can’t move forward.”

Women Deliver looks forward to welcoming champions and changemakers from around the world in a couple weeks to advance a global rights, equity and justice agenda. PAI remains committed to a unified global movement to make SRHR and gender equality a reality for all.

Hear the powerful discussion between Dr. Khan and Nabeeha by watching the Catalyst Session recording below. A French version of the discussion transcript is available here.

Dr. Maliha Khan is an anthropologist and advocate, and the President and CEO of Women Deliver. With more than 25 years of experience in women’s and girl’s empowerment, Maliha has designed rights-based programs, taught as a professor of gender studies and implemented women’s programs in at-risk regions of Pakistan and around the world. She serves on CARE International UK’s Board of Trustees and is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.

Women Deliver is a leading global advocate that champions gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women, in all their intersecting identities. Our advocacy drives investment — political and financial — in the lives of girls and women worldwide. We harness evidence and unite diverse voices to spark commitment to gender equality. And we get results. Anchored in sexual and reproductive health, we advocate for the rights of girls and women across every aspect of their lives in all their intersecting identities. We know that investing in girls and women will deliver progress for all. Learn more at womendeliver.org. 

PAI is a leading civil society organization dedicated to advancing universal access to SRHR across the globe. For nearly 60 years, PAI has served as a credible source of information, a strong ally to in-country partners and an unrelenting advocate for improved and expanded SRHR at the national, regional and global levels. PAI works to advance its mission by propelling evidence-informed advocacy strategies in the United States and globally and supporting in-country civil society partners across nearly 40 low- and middle-income countries to advocate for increased access to sexual and reproductive health services and expand SRHR for all. Learn more at pai.org.

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