On Oct. 11, Global Citizen hosted a special event to honour International Day of the Girl at the world’s first Vagina Museum in the heart of Camden, in London.
It’s wasn’t your typical Friday night: a panelist discussion on all things feminism, covering everything from sex education to contraception and maternal health.
“Don’t Deny Me My Future” brought together Global Citizens, women’s rights advocates, and gender equality campaigners in a powerful bid to open up the conversation around the right for women to control their own bodies — and in doing so, their futures.
The panel was chaired by Dr. Leyla Hussein OBE, a psychotherapist and award-winning international campaigner against female genital mutilation. Boasting a line-up that channelled some serious woman-power, Hussein welcomed to the stage Flo Perry — author of How to Have Feminist Sex; SheDecides activist Floortje van der Plas; and Taban Shoresh, a child genocide surviver and women’s rights activist.
Also joining the panel was Matt Jackson, UK director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which supplies safe contraception and lifesaving maternal health medicines to over 20 million girls and women in the world’s most challenging conditions.
Alongside the Vagina Museum’s exhibitions and vulva-themed artwork, artist Viktorija Semjonova was also on hand to create beautiful live illustrations of both the panelists and guests.
Tonight!! Our sold out discussion at the @Vagina_Museum talks all things feminism: sex education, contraception, maternal health, and more!— Global Citizen UK (@GlblCtznUK) October 11, 2019
We’ve got a killer panel: thanks for joining @LeylaHussein, @TabanShoresh, @FloortjevdPlas, @FloPerry, and @MattJacksonUK ✊ #DayoftheGirlpic.twitter.com/bGWbICUJOK
The evening saw the panelists discuss the current barriers women and girls are facing globally; the sexism that still exists in today’s society; and how gender inequality is reflected in the stigma surrounding female sexual health.
“Politicians and policymakers are still controlling what happens to our bodies… I will be outraged until they keep their hands off our bodies, full stop,” Hussein told Global Citizen before the event.
Talking about her own experiences with sexual health, Perry encouraged everyone to have open conversations about female sexuality to help break down barriers and stigma.
“My work is about helping women feel in control of our own sex lives,” she said. “I want women everywhere to examine what they really want.''
Shoresh captivated the audience as she recalled her experience volunteering with Yazidi female survivors of ISIS, and addressed the unique challenges faced by refugee women in accessing sexual and reproductive rights.
Having set up The Lotus Flower, a non-profit organisation supporting women and girls impacted by conflict and displacement around the world, she is well aware of the difficulties faced by the world’s most vulnerable women.
“We have women who have faced sexual violence,” she said. “There are different layers you face in different contexts.”
In order to end gender-based inequality and create lasting change for women across the world, governments need to step up and provide vital funding, speakers said, to ensure that girls have the power to shape their own futures.
“Choice is everything,” one young activist from the audience added. “It's what everybody wants and needs in their lives”.
Although women’s sexual and reproductive health rights are a big part of the fight for equality, Van der Plas was keen to point out that this is not an issue that only women should be talking about.
“It’s important that the conversation also includes men,'' she said. “We are all just humans fighting together.”
In 2019 this conversation shouldn’t need to be happening. Allowing women the right to control their own bodies seems (and is) so simple — yet it’s a global problem that continues to affect women everywhere.
There are 214 million women across the world who don’t have access to safe contraception. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth remain the biggest killer of teenage girls worldwide — a shocking and avoidable tragedy that UNFPA seeks to readdress.
Jackson told the audience that more needs to be done to safeguard the sexual health and reproductive rights of women across the world, so that they can have the chance to control their bodies and their futures.
“Every day there are 830 women who die in childbirth,” he said — drawing everyone’s attention to a vital moment quickly approaching.
This November, a global summit will be held in Nairobi, Kenya. World leaders will have the opportunity to pledge funding to UNFPA Supplies, and protect the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls whose lives are most at risk. You can join the fight and urge governments to support UNFPA Supplies by taking action on this issue here.