12Mar

A Message from Women in the World: Be Fearless, Committed and Audacious

Liberty Mutual Responsibility ProjectI was lucky and privileged this past weekend to be contacted by Liberty Mutual Insurance, a sponsor of the third annual Women in the World summit, to attend the summit as their guest.  Hosted by Tina Brown, editor in chief of Newsweek & The Daily Beast, the summit brings together women leaders and activists from around the globe to address the most urgent challenges facing women and girls.  I was there to catch the premiere of one their films about a woman who embraces responsibility and impacts change, and I also got an all access pass to attend the conference.  The day was life-changing.

The film “Right to Play,” featuring U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist sprinter Allyson Felix, brings Felix’s work with the nonprofit organization Right to Play to life. It shares Felix’s experiences with Right to Play, a nonprofit that provides opportunities for children’s development in the United States and around the world through the creation and facilitation of recreational activities. Felix, a track and field sprinter, is an athlete ambassador who brings her energy, dedication and passion to program visits across the globe. She also organizes and participates in fundraising events while spreading the word about the organization.

The Responsibility Project

I was completely awe-struck and inspired by Felix, as you can imagine, and was honored to be representing Liberty Mutual and The Responsibility Project at this prestigious summit.  The Responsibility Project, created by Liberty Mutual, is an organic evolution of the company’s advertising campaign that has showcased personal acts of responsibility and daily examples of ordinary people making the decision to do considerate things for strangers.  All very inspiring.

The Women in the World summit is centered on vivid journalistic storytelling, featuring inspiring women and men from diverse cultures and backgrounds. From CEOs and world leaders to artists, activists and firebrand dissidents, Women in the World tells the stories of the courageous and intelligent women who are battling the status quo in their countries, picking up the pieces in the aftermath of war and shattering glass ceilings in every sector. The line-up was unbelievable on print and even more inspiring in person.

From the minute I arrived at Lincoln Center, my head was spinning as I could tell I was surrounded by other aware and interested women from around the world.  I sat and listened carefully to inspiring stories of courage, dedication and passion. There was Molly Melching, the U.S.-born founder of the Tostan organization, who has lived in Senegal for more nearly 40 years, working to stop female genital mutilation. I heard Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee say it’s time for American women to stop being polite. “We have to be our own Gandhis, our own kings, our own Mandelas,” she said, referring to the recent uproar over contraception and abortion. “Why are these women not angry and beating men left and right?” Chelsea Clinton spoke with rising feminist stars about how they’re using social media to empower girls. “I sometimes talk about naming my kids after social media,” Noorjahan Akbar joked, speaking about the organization she founded in Afghanistan, Young Women for Change. Kal Walla, the amazing out-spoken president of the People’s Party of Cameroon was unforgiving when it came to strides made by women in politics—both in Africa and elsewhere—in a panel about women world leaders. “We don’t have critical mass,” she told moderator Andrea Mitchell. “We need to be Sweden, Norway, Denmark needs to be the norm. We cannot accept that having 19 percent of women in Congress is OK.” Sarah Brown, Dr. Ida Betty Odinga and Shelly Esque took the stage to explain how they are working to help achieve one of the United Nations’ Millennium Development goals: universal primary education. Brown works with Dr. Odinga, wife of the Kenya’s current prime minister, to keep girls from Kenya and other developing countries in school and away from childhood marriages—a cultural obligation that plagues many young girls. “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,” such as genital mutilation or a pregnancy for which her young body is ill-equipped.

Women in the World

And did I mention Mery Streep?    She introduced Hillary Clinton with conviction and love  by noting a shared history between them. Both were raised in middle-class families by bighearted mothers. Both went to public schools and onto prestigious all-women colleges. Both went to Yale. But while Streep was a cheerleader, Clinton was the president of the student government, Streep joked. “And there, the two paths in the woods diverged.”  She said that “she’s just been busy working. Doing it. Making those words—‘Women’s rights are human rights’—into something every leader in every country now knows are a lynchpin of American policy.” And then she held up her Oscar and said, “I am an actress. And she is the real deal. This [the Oscar] is what you get when you play a world leader. But if you want a real world leader, and you’re really, really, lucky, this [Clinton] is what you get!”

As for Hillary, she truly is the real deal.  She called for all of us to be “fearless … committed … and audacious.” Those words described every single woman we heard from at the conference, including Allyson Felix, and I will never forget her words until I, too, can make a difference in my lifetime.

Like one of my heroes, Shelby Knox said: “The Internet is how we cut through the noise. It’s how we organize to tell our stories.” And perhaps that is how I will make my mark.

Disclosure: Liberty Mutual did sponsor my attendance at Women in the World, but all opinions expressed are my own.

 

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