My first year at FIGO: the journey so far and my ambitions for the future

Frances Longley

Today marks my first anniversary as FIGO’s chief executive. And the year has just flown by — we’ve come a long way together over the past 12 months. 

I joined FIGO because of its powerful position as a champion of the health and rights of women, girls and newborns. As an experienced CEO at not-for-profits, I was appointed with a clear remit to strengthen our organisation to allow us to boost our impact on women’s health and rights and reinforce our role as a global professional body. I was also appointed to ensure our financial sustainability for the future.

In my first three months, FIGO was buzzing with activity in preparation for the XXIV FIGO World Congress in Paris. That event was our first in-person event for five years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I spoke at the opening ceremony, where I encouraged us all to be ambitious for women’s health and rights — because FIGO is more than just a federation of professional associations. We are also a movement, and we are calling for change. We magnify the voices of women and girls around the world as they state their rights and claim them. 

We must act together to honour and uphold those rights in every part of our own work.

In Paris, I saw first-hand the extraordinary convening power of FIGO to bring that movement together. It was an immense privilege to meet so many officials from our member societies — and volunteers, partners, speakers and delegates — in person so early in my tenure. And it was a privilege to welcome our new president, Prof Kihara Anne-Beatrice, our board of trustees and the committee chairs for the 2023-2025 term. 

It was a spectacular event, and a huge credit to everyone who worked so hard to make it so memorable. 

Since that inspiring Congress week, I have worked to maintain that momentum, to push forward in our journey together to advance women’s health and rights globally. Here at FIGO HQ in London, we have taken that inspiration to heart and started a programme of change and improvement, informed by our members and endorsed by our board of trustees. 

It’s certainly been a busy first year for me — and a rewarding one.

Embracing change 

We work in turbulent times. The effects of climate change, economic recessions and conflict are exacerbating health inequalities and inequities. At FIGO, we are determined to adapt and evolve to ensure we are well-equipped to respond to emerging challenges. We are making bold decisions and taking decisive action to widen our global influence and make a tangible impact on the lives of women, girls and newborns. 

We have embarked this year on a series of initiatives to modernise and professionalise our organisation, while remaining true to our founding mission. 

As a member-led federation, we put our membership at the heart of what we do. We are undertaking a detailed review to make certain that our activities, services and benefits meet the needs and expectations of our member societies. This review will help foster collaboration and engagement with members – a crucial step if we are to strengthen our international reach and cement our position as the global voice for women's health and rights. 

Another vital area for us is enhancing engagement and support among volunteers. When I joined FIGO, I was humbled by the number of expert volunteers who lend their time and knowledge to serve in our scientific divisions and committees. More than 200 come from countries all over the world. 

And, as we prepare to launch five more committees, we are fine-tuning processes and building capacity to offer better support to our committees’ work towards improving OBGYN practice across the world. 

We are also reviewing our programme work in low and middle-income countries to increase our impact. Over the next three years we will expand our portfolio of partnerships and funders to create a sustainable programme in collaboration with member societies. This is critical to support our efforts to protect and progress women’s health and rights – focussing our work where we can make the most difference in addressing health inequality. 

Working together towards a better future 

There is still much work to do if we are to meet our vision — that the women of the world will achieve the highest possible standards of health and wellbeing throughout their lives. Women’s health has been overlooked, pushed aside and neglected for far too long. In times of economic and societal turmoil, women’s rights are always marginalised – and we have seen a dramatic erosion in sexual and reproductive rights in recent years. FIGO has a pivotal role to play in elevating the voices of OBGYNs, allied healthcare professionals, women and girls as they demand and promote comprehensive health rights.

As the world’s largest alliance of national societies of obstetrics and gynaecology, we will continue to facilitate knowledge sharing and help our members to grow, strengthen their capacity and collaborate with each other to deliver the best possible care. 

We can only do this together. I am immensely grateful to our President, Prof Kihara Anne-Beatrice, for her support for our programme of change and growth, and to the full board of trustees for their unanimous endorsement of our plan to deliver this change. I’m also extremely fortunate to work with a wonderful staff team who bring passion and commitment to our endeavours, and who are a real joy to work with every day. 

FIGO remains strong in its unwavering commitment to championing the rights of women and girls to bodily autonomy and access to safe and respectful healthcare — wherever they live. We will continue to press ahead, alongside our member societies, partners and kindred organisations, to bring down barriers preventing access to family planning and safe, comprehensive abortion care. We will work to tackle disparities in health and support women and girls to make informed decisions about their futures.

We are a global movement ready to stand up, speak out and call for urgent action and systemic change. Looking back over my first year, it is this which is my driving purpose. 

I look forward to seeing many of you again at Cape Town for the XXV FIGO World Congress. Planning is already well underway, and it is going to be an unmissable meeting! Until then, stay connected to learn about the latest clinical guidance in the field of women’s health and join forces with impactful initiatives advocating for reproductive rights. And see how we move forward in our collective effort to build a better future for women, girls and newborns worldwide.