Our Highlights from the Women in the World Summit 2012
It was such an honor for myself, the Founder and Executive Director of The Women Worldwide Initiative (TWWI), to be able to attend the last day of Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s 3rd Annual Women in the World Summit on March 10, 2012 on behalf of TWWI. The event, held at the David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center in New York City, drew inspiring women leaders and activists from around the world – such as Nobel winner Leymah Gbowee, Madeleine Albright, Christine Lagarde, and many more. In fact, I would like to shout out some incredible rising feminist stars: Noorjahan Akbar (Young Women for Change in Afghanistan), Shelby Knox (Change.org), Crystal Ogar (SPARK Summit), Emily-Anne Rigal (WeStopHate.org) and Talia Leman (RandomKid.org). The audience, equally impressive and enthusiastic, consisted of delegates, academics, community leaders, founders of nonprofit start-ups, business professionals, students, young women and girls.
If I could sum up the event in three words, they would be: powerful, empowerment, community. Women and girls left feeling inspired and ready to take on the world! The panels, moderated by top journalists, provided a platform for incredible women such as Kah Walla (President of Cameroon’s People’s Party), Lauren Bush Lauren (Co-Founder of FEED Projects, LLC), Kamala D. Harris (Attorney General, California), The Honorable Jane Harman (Woodrow Wilson Center) and Sarah Brown (CEO, Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown) to share their expertise, their stories and their vision for the future. Driven by smart solutions to some of the largest issues facing women today, the Women in the World Summit truly gave all 1,000+ women present the encouragement and desire to take on these issues head on! It was a day of feeling larger than ourselves – we were plugged into girl power! I love the term girl power because it accurately depicts the strength, spunk and tenacity of women and girls. It is a term we need to use more often!
One issue I had, that many other women also felt, was that the event inspired us greatly, but then left us without a space to follow-up on that energy. If I could make one suggestion to Newsweek and The Daily Beast for the 4th Annual Women in the World Summit 2013, it would be to organize a time before or after the event, especially for organizations working to empower women and girls, to get to know one another. After all, what the Summit illustrated most was that when it comes to women’s empowerment and success, we need to collaborate, and often we simply do not know that these great organizations with missions that are very much aligned to our own exist!
Here are my top 5 highlights from Women in the World 2012. Write them down:
1. Women are poised to become powerful leaders in their countries and communities.
When women are in positions of power, we make real changes. We care about our families, our communities and our world’s children. We stand for something. We have thousands of examples of extraordinary women doing extraordinary things. Every woman, young and old, that graced the stage this past Saturday, was one of those examples. We should be proud of these women who are making a true difference in the world and lifting up women as they go. When we empower a woman, we have seen time and time again, that she empowers her family and her community. Thus, investing in women in the smartest choice any company or government can make.
In the words of Maya Harris of the Ford Foundation, “Women can have it all. We can do it all!”
2. Women’s rights are human rights, and we need male advocates too.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made significant progress in the way of global women’s rights by ensuring that the U.S. State Department views women’s rights as human rights – and as such, they are universal. However, what many tend to neglect is the role men play, or must play, in pursuing equality for women. During the “Toppling Tradition” Panel, Village Chief and Human Rights Activist, Imam Demba Diawara pledged his support to promoting human, and thus women’s, rights in Senegal, as well as his commitment to ending the entrenched cultural tradition of female genital cutting (FGM), which occurs for young women as a rite of passage. The pursuit of gender equality must include men and boys as allies in the fight, as many of the efforts to improve women’s rights includes changing the attitudes and behavior of society, and particularly, men.
You need men to get involved in elevating women. -Sheryl WuDunn, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist, Co-Author of Half The Sky
3. The Internet allows women and girls to be powerful.
Social media is an effective channel to accelerate women empowerment for many reasons. First, any woman or girl with access to the internet can start sharing her stories and finding her voice. Second, it places so many women, girls, and organizations at our very fingertips. An organizer’s utopia! The internet makes us powerful because no one can silence us there.
The first key to all organizing is to trust the person you want to help, so if young women are saying the Internet is how they are powerful, the Internet is how they are powerful.- Shelby Knox, Director of Women’s Rights Organizing, Change.org
4. Women leaders are essential to change things and inspire other women.
Kah Walla (President, Cameroon People’s Party) challenged us to take part in politics when she explained, “It’s politics that define economics, politics that define social norms.” Therefore, in order to see real strides for women’s rights, women need to get into political roles in large numbers. That does not mean we all need to be politicians, but it does mean that when a woman is running for a political position, we should support her and show up to vote in record numbers. We need to get women in roles where they can make real change – and that is through the political and judicial systems.
“Women lead differently, and that difference is crucial,” said Alyse Nelson (President and CEO, Vital Voices Global Partnership), a phrase that I will not forget. We are creative, strong, compassionate and analytical – among millions of other incredible qualities. We commit to values, are conscious of our evolving selves, invoke passion and courage, arouse the imagination, create community and mentor the next generation. We do it all! And in the words of the Honorable Jane Harman, “Men run for office to be someone, women run for office to do something.”
As we mentioned in our blog post for Gender Across Borders and CARE’s Blog for International Women’s Day event, investing in women and girls leadership is essential to achieving gender equality worldwide.
While all these women leaders and role models empowered us with their words, one lesson stuck out: women and girls need to share their stories. From Meryl Streep to Hillary Clinton to 10 x 10, a social activation campaign and film with 10 girls from 10 countries and 10 compelling stories, the value of a woman’s story and struggle revealed itself. Some of 10×10’s stories, such as that of Suma, were aired at Women in the World, and moved the crowd! In an age of complacency where, if we even act, we want immediate results, it is crucial that organizations doing incredible work use the power of digital media and stories to create volunteers, funders and supporters out of their viewers. More important than this, by sharing our stories and owning our unique voice, we are empowered. And if you empower a girl, you empower a nation and change the world.
What I hope that women take from this event are two things: 1. We need to support each other if we are to see us all rise up in the world and change the world for the better, and 2. We need to share our stories. Our voices are so important, and too often than not society teaches us to silence our voices and repress our emotions.
Founder & Executive Director of The Women Worldwide Initiative