A few days ago Megan Kingery asked me if I'd like to attend the Women in the World Summit being held at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. I took one look at the lineup and RSVP'd yes. The summit was held from Thursday through Saturday. Unfortunately I could only make Saturday as I would have loved to have seen the whole thing. Megan messaged me, "It starts early. Doors open at 8:30." And so my Saturday morning began.
I can honestly say there wasn't a moment I didn't enjoy. I'm not usually drawn to summits, neither is Megan but each presentation was interesting, well thought out, and flowed into the next. The day had a rhythm and that rhythm had a beat. It started with Africa: A New Dawn featuring:
• The Honorable Jane Harman, Director, President and CEO, Woodrow Wilson Center
• President Atifete Jahjaga, President, Republic of Kosovo
• Alyse Nelson, President and CEO, Vital Voices Global Partnership
• Kah Walla, CEO, STRATEGIES!, and President, Cameroon People’s Party
• Margot Wallstrom, Chair, The Council of Women World Leaders Ministerial Initiative; U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict
Two of the most wonderful moments of this dialogue was Kah Walla who stated "Africa isn't poor, it's run poorly." and urged women to band together. “We don’t have critical mass,” she told Mitchell “As women, we need to understand it is in the politics—it’s politics that defines the economy, the social norms. Until we get political power, we are not going to make great strides. Every woman here needs to be involved in getting a woman elected. We need to be organized.” President Atifete Jahjaga who is only 36 is the first female president, first non-partisan candidate, and the youngest to be elected to the office urged the audience to vote more women into public positions.
Next up Bagging Hunger a talk with Lauren Bush Lauren Chief FEEDER and Cofounder, FEED Projects, LLC, interviewed by Alex Witt, MSNBC Anchor, Weekends With Alex Witt, and NBC Correspondent. Lauren created her first bag in 2006 to benefit the United Nations World Food Programme's (WFP) School Feeding program. Since then she has been creating bags to help feed children in villages around the world.
Toppling Tradition was one of the more sensitive presentations as it touched on the cutting of female genitalia and putting an end to these traditions by educating the villages. Sheryl WuDunn, Pulitzer Prize–winning Journalist, President, TripleEdge, and Coauthor, Half The Sky interviewed Imam Demba Diawara, Village Chief of Keur Simbara, Senegal; Human Rights Activist, Tostan, Molly Melching, Founder and Executive Director, Tostanand Abdoulie Sidibeh, Tostan Community Empowerment Program Participant, Human Rights Activist, Tostan about the importance of educating men about the risks of female genitalia cutting. Molly admitted to making a mistake when she first started teaching people the health risks of genitalia cutting, she called it women's right. The men immediately stood up and said, "What about our rights?" from then on she knew she must educate all and work with human rights. Imam Demba Diawara was adamant about educating men on the dangers of these traditional practices. He said, "No one ever questioned them because our ancestors did it for hundreds of years before us. It was tradition." He has travelled and spoken to 378 communities, working with both the men and women of these communities to help end the practice. Five thousand villages have abandoned it so far, and by 2015, it might be eliminated from Senegal altogether.
Making Justice Real in the World was an incredibly interesting conversation between Cynthia McFadden, Coanchor, ABC News’ Nightline and sisters Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, California and
Maya L. Harris, Vice President for Democracy, Rights and Justice, Ford Foundation who discussed fighting underage prostitution and child marriage, educating women, and growing up with a feminist mother who believed that everyone had potential. The sisters fought for what they perceived as injustice even from an early age, like when they forced their apartment building to turn over an unused courtyard to the children to play in. They were 8 and 10 years old.
Kamala specialized in child sexual assault. She found the justice system treated underage prostitutes as small criminals. Rather then get them counselling and medical attention they would be thrown into juvenile hall. “We had to reconfigure the system, use a different term," she said, recounting how she introduced "sexually exploited youth" to the legal lexicon in California. Pimping was a minor charge and Kamala fought to change it. Now it is attached to sexually assaulting a minor.
Maya works with child brides. Forty percent of girls in developing countries marry before 18, some as young as 8 or 9. "When girls marry, their education often stops, to say nothing of the health risks of early pregnancy. “It’s an issue that fundamentally affects the life opportunities for girls,” she said. “If we can delay marriage we can have very different outcomes.”
Mothers of Invention:Talia Leman and Randomkid.org was the last interview before the break. Jill Iscol, Ed. D., President, IF Hummingbird Foundation, and Author, Hearts on Fire: Twelve Stories of Today’s Visionaries Igniting Idealism Into Action interviewed seventeen year old Talia Leman, CEO and Founder, RandomKid.org After seeing devistating footage of hurricane Katrina Talia decided she was going to raise a million dollars by creating a website and tapping into kid power. She placed a picture of her brother on the website dressed as Darth Vader. That caught the attention of the Today show of from there she sky-rocketed. "To make a difference," she said. "you don't have to become someone—you already are someone."
At this point the conference broke and Megan and I traveled through the theater in search of coffee to warm our bones. It was freezing. Photographers roamed the hall taking snapshots and uploading them to computers while HP printers printed out the photos for anyone who wanted them. Megan and I had two shots taken before doing an mini interview in the press room.
After break came The Digital Lives of Girls moderated by Chelsea Clinton, Board Member, Clinton Foundation. This panel featured:
•Noorjahan Akbar, Cofounder and Member, Young Women for Change
• Shelby Knox, Director of Women’s Rights Organizing, Change.org
• Crystal Ogar, Activist and Blogger, SPARK Summit
• Emily-Anne Rigal, Founder and Director, WeStopHate.org
• Julie Zeilinger, Founder and Editor, The FBomb (TheFBomb.org)
I was really excited to see this talk as I love social media and how it's developed into a platform for change. While I understand SPARK Summit and why they want to fight the over sexualization of teens and women in the media, I was less than thrilled when the topic of tumblr and nude images came up between the girls. While I agree tumblr is a wonderful platform and you can choose who to follow and who not to follow I would have preferred that the feeling from the talk was looking down on women who chose to be naked on the internet. I know many people in the sex industry who are doing amazing things, working with women owned companies and demanding to be treated with respect for their hard work. I wish Women in the World would have a panel of women working with sex workers, friends like Audacia Ray who traveled to India and created VAMP: Sex Work Organizing in India a film about the rights of sex workers, or PJ Starr who created Prostitution Free Zone a film about DC's anti prostitution laws and the sex works who continually fight for human rights.
It was interesting to hear the girls speak and wonderful to see the projects they were working. Knox from change.org spoke and stated “Stories are key. We as humans want to connect with each other—since we were sitting around the campfire, we have been telling stories. For my generation, we’re able to receive all these messages online, and on Change.org we can take on the corporations and take on the Man.” Chelsea piped in “Isn’t it funny how it’s always fighting ‘the Man,’ and not ‘the Woman?’” This rubbed me the wrong way. How about we just all work on bettering ourselves and our countries and not making statements about how it all comes down to a battle of the sexes. For an afternoon of people saying "don't define me by my sex." that comment just killed it.
I think I love Principal Asenath Andrews and the Catherine Ferguson Academy.
“It is surprising that in 2012, there is an attitude that once you get pregnant as a teenager, your life is over, sit here and wait to die.” Andrews said. “That is not ok. If you come to our school, we expect you to not just sit there, but to do your best. You create a future for yourself. Nobody can hold you back except for you. It’s our job to take away their shoes and give them wings."
Interviewed by: Renée Montagne, Co-Host, NPR’s Morning Edition guests included:
• G. Asenath Andrews, Founding Principal, Catherine Ferguson Academy, Detroit, MI
• Tiffini Baldwin,Catherine Ferguson Academy Graduate
• Ashley Rodgers,Catherine Ferguson Academy Graduate
The school boasts a high graduation rate, international experiences , and working gardens. "You can't be a mother if you don't know how to feed your child." Despite years of awards and outstanding graduation and 100% college acceptance rate for graduates, the school has recently been the subject of an award-winning documentary called Grown in Detroit—the city announced in April that because of a multi million dollar district deficit, it would close Ferguson Academy along with two other alternative schools. The students retaliated with a protest to which the police circled the school and put on their sirens. The school was closed officially for 5 minutes before a saving grace came in the form of news that the school would be operated as a charter, outside the umbrella of the Detroit Public School system.
Girls Can Change the World sounds a little Spice Girl but Juju said as much when she announced the next panel. She had a thought and that thought proved to be very true. "educate girls and change the world,"she said. "In just one generation we can break the cycle of poverty. Girls are the key." JuJu Chang, Correspondent, ABC News Nightline spoke with Sarah Brown, CEO, Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown, and President, PiggyBankKids, Shelly Esque, Vice President, Global Affairs, Intel; President, Intel Foundation, and Dr. Ida Betty Odinga, MGH
Brown and Odinga work together to keep girls from Kenya and other developing countries in school and away from childhood marriages. "The truth of the matter is, if that girl is in school, she's not out there married or facing any of these things that might come her way." They have also created Educator without Borders building schools for children in refugee camps.
Juju Chang also introduced Suma's Song and a film about Kamlari's, who are basically sold as children as indentured servants. The best way to describe this is to listen to it. The Highlight of the entire summit for many.
• Richard Robbins, Director, 10x10 Films
• Suma Tharu, Room to Read Girls’ Education Program Scholar
Burma: A Door Opens was another haunting interview opening with powerful black and white images of Burmese prisoners telling their stories. Each had been imprisoned for up to 15 years for delivering paperwork or showing support for Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who's spent fifteen years under house arrest. Moderated by Tina Brown, Editor in Chief, Newsweek & The Daily Beast, it featured:
•Zin Mar Aung, Democracy Activist
•Peter Popham, Author, The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi
•Melanne Verveer,U.S.Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues
They talked of Spring in Burma and how for years the mostly male dominated jails that would imprison people for almost anything. Zin Mar Aung told her story as the audience sat captivated. We all seemed to hone in on this one statement. “I was mostly in solitary confinement but even though I was held in a tiny cell, I felt I wasn't alone. I repeated a poem that kept me going: Someone can imprison your body, but not your mind.’" Zin Mar Aung jumped right back into political work after she released. She understood there was no time to be scared. There was only time to take action.
The panel ended with a short clip of Burma's first all girl electro punk band. Things certainly are shifting.
I'm posting video for both Meryl and Hillary as I can't quite describe their speeches in words. And I feel it's best to listen to the messages on their own. So I will leave you with these two videos of Meryl Streep and Hillary Clinton.