Investing in Women’s Economic Sustainability: #WD2013 Speech

Investing in Women’s Economic Sustainability: What Interventions Will Advance Women’s Economic Empowerment, Health and Well-being?

Economic empowerment is often at the heart of securing women’s and girls’ universal human rights. Speakers will discuss the interventions and partnerships that are making a difference to women’s and girls’ economic security and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and what is needed to accelerate and adapt those interventions to other areas.

MODERATOR: Jane Sloane, Vice President of Programs, Global Fund for Women

Investing in Women’s Economic Sustainability: What Interventions Will Advance Women’s Economic Empowerment, Health and Well-being?

Wednesday, 29 May, 11:00-1:00pm, Room 410

With market forces and globalization overriding social ethics and justice in many countries, we know that universal sexual and reproductive health and rights for women will not be achievable unless there’s a strong campaign for economic justice and an end to poverty.  This remains a crucial and yet often weak link in both the design and delivery of policies and programs.

In this session we’ll be hearing from leaders of development organizations who are recognizing that women need access to finance, livelihoods and decision-making mechanisms in their countries and communities in order to be able to access health care and advocate for their sexual and reproductive health needs.

As Rosalind Petchesky has said “More practically speaking, it has to do with the fact that a woman cannot avail herself of her right ‘to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of her children if she lacks the financial resources to pay for reproductive health services or the transport to reach them; if she cannot read package inserts or clinic wall posters; if her workplace is contaminated with pesticides or pollutants that have an adverse effect on pregnancy; or if she is harassed by a husband or in-laws who will scorn her or beat her up if she uses birth control.”

Today we’ll be hearing about what’s needed in terms of stepping up commitments to women’s economic sustainability in order to realize better health outcomes for women. We’ll about the kinds of broad structural transformations that are necessary to achieve women’s reproductive and sexual rights in reality, not just in words.  They’ll share examples of the work they’re doing to contribute to a human rights framework that’s linked both to economic justice and to gender justice. We’ll also discuss models that have honored women as creative solution builders and social entrepreneurs and that have proven to be circuit breakers.

Each speaker will provide a 7 minute summary of their own perspective and then we’ll have a panel discussion before opening it up to a dialogue with the audience.

I hope that you’ve all had a chance to read the bios of each of the speakers and so I’ll just provide a brief introduction to each panelist here, recognizing that their individual and combined experience, skills and talent is immense.

Kaosar Afsana, Director, Health, Nutrition and Population, BRAC, Bangladesh

Kaosar Afsana has been working at BRAC in Bangladesh for over 20 years, currently, as the Director Health, Nutrition and Population. She is a Professor in James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, Bangladesh. Kaosar Afsana is an MD with MPH from Harvard University, USA and PhD from Edith Cowan University, Australia. She is an author of two books and the recipient of multiple awards including a 2011 Woman of Distinction Award.  In her work with BRAC, she plays a special role in providing technical support and policy decision-making in reproductive, maternal, neonatal, child and adolescent health and nutrition.

Vicki Escarra, CEO, Opportunity International

 Vicki Escarra is also a woman who has received multiple awards as well as being highly respected leader with a distinguished career as an executive in the nonprofit and corporate sectors. From 2006-2012, Vicki Escarra was president and CEO of Feeding America and she led Feeding America through the most significant period of advancement in its three-decade history, elevating it to a $1.2 billion organization. Prior to her role with Feeding America, Vicki Escarra was the chief marketing officer with Delta Airlines where she oversaw $15 billion in revenue and led a work force of 52,000. She received her degree from Georgia State University and completed the Columbia Executive Management Program and the Harvard Leadership Program.

Ruth Messinger, President and CEO, American Jewish World Service

Ruth Messinger is president of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), an international development organization that supports human rights for marginalized people around the world. She took up this role in 1998 following a 20-year career in public service in New York City in order to continue her lifelong pursuit of social justice. In recognition of her leadership, Ruth Messinger has served on the Obama administration’s Task Force on Global Poverty and Development and currently sits on the State Department’s Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group.  She has multiple honors and awards for her service and vision and was included in the Jerusalem Post’s list of the “World’s Most Influential Jews of 2011. Ruth Messinger is a graduate from Radcliffe College and she received a master’s degree in social work from the University of Oklahoma.

Afshan Khan,  President and CEO, Women for Women International

Afshan Khan assumed this role in June 2012, becoming only the second CEO in the organization’s history. She succeeds Zainab Salbi who had led the institution since co-founding it in 1993. Afshan Khan joined WfWI after a career spanning more than 25 years with the United Nations, mainly with UNICEF, most recently as Director of UNICEF’s Public-Sector Alliances and Resource Mobilization Office (PARMO). During her tenure in PARMO, she led a team that was responsible for mobilizing more than $10 billion for programs for children and their families from both governments and foundation partners. leveraged to improve development outcomes.  She received her undergraduate degree in political science from McGill University and a Master’s in Public Policy from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.