By: Mariko Rasmussen, Program Assistant for Women Deliver; 1 of 50 Young Champions for Women at the WIE Symposium
On September 20, 2010, I attended the inaugural Women: Inspire & Enterprise (WIE) Symposium, hosted by Sarah Brown, Arianna Huffington and Donna Karan, an event that drew powerful women in politics, philanthropy, media, fashion and the arts to New York City for a full day of speakers, panels and workshops, as well as exhibitions, performances and awards. The WIE Symposium was held to coincide with the United Nations review summit on the Millennium Development Goals and the Clinton Global Initiative, adding to the multitude of events taking place in the city this week to push world leaders to keep their promises to girls and women and to get new pledges and commitments to maternal health.
Arianna Huffington opened the event by asking the crowd to increase their “empathy index” with engagement and enthusiasm, using social media to accelerate change and bring issues to the global stage, while Donna Karan stressed the importance and value of healthcare, education and culture. Sarah Brown presented , who has launched, lauded, and lent support to a variety of education initiatives, with the WIE Leadership Award. Queen Rania was and is truly inspiring, and her dedication to girls’ and boys’ education deserves every leadership award that exists and more. One thing we know is that education is the key to achieving all sorts of development goals, including reducing maternal mortality.
Sarah Brown gave the morning keynote address on maternal health, outlining the various successes of the year that are building momentum around the issue, including the H4’s release of lower maternal mortality rates worldwide, but stressing that MDG 5 is still the farthest off. She asked us to use our networks and available technology to continue the campaign with increased hope. Check out our and to see how Women Deliver is trying to do just that.
Melinda Gates gave the afternoon keynote speech, and shared her personal experiences in India, Ethiopia, and Malawi to tell stories of progress and not only problems. There is still much government and donor country funding that needs to be raised, but, she attests, we are becoming more effective with aide. “It has been a woman's task throughout history to go on believing in life when there was almost no hope,” she said, quoting Margaret Mead and calling for more voices to rise up in a song of support, kinship and empathy for global women.
- The White Ribbon Alliance brought to the symposium, and each advocate shared her story with the crowd, all speaking of both tragedy and hope whether in regards to child marriage, fistula, human rights, and more.
- The panel Wired for Change discussed the new ways that technology can advance health system responses, such as Google analyzing trends in search topics to discover when a flu outbreak hits an area.
- The panel Dressing and Addressing highlighted philanthropy, showcasing campaigns, products, and various means to raise awareness and consciousness of consumers, such as with Lauren Bush’s FEED bags.
- The panel Telling Women’s Stories brought together producers, writers, and directors to discuss the challenges of women within the entertainment industry on getting women’s stories told and finding audiences for them. Panelist Christy Turlington stressed that while her directorial debut, No Woman, No Cry, is an advocacy tool, it is a film first, touching on the challenge of women’s issues and sad stories being relegated to documentaries and seen as ‘videos’ rather than art.
The final panel of the day was Philanthropy and Advocacy. Inspiring advocates rallied the room to give voice to the voices of others who cannot speak. Ambassador MelanneVerveer asked attendees to help influence the world we want to live in by putting gender issues at the core of our work and to see “women as agents of change, not just victims.” Women are part of the solution. Baroness Amos reminded the room of the struggle of women in Pakistan in the aftermath of the floods and of the millions of women living in areas of conflict and violence and natural disaster, and to really help these women, we must see the interconnectedness of development issues. Maria Eitel of the Nike Foundation gave points of action to maintain momentum in the maternal health movement, especially stressing the need to engage boys and men, to celebrate women’s champions and heroes, and to create partnerships and combine forces for social good. Watch the new Girl Effect video here. When women are invisible, they die uncounted. Ashley Judd shared emotional stories from her humanitarian work, stressing accessibility, quality, and accountability in our health interventions. The panel closed with a few words from the 12 year old activist NthabisengTshabalala, an HIV positive young girl, who asserted that without education she would not be on the stage with these other women.
With only five years left to reach the goal of reducing maternal deaths by three quarters, the room was full of hope. The day was spent in the company of creative and successful women, who share a passionate determination to see that the world is a safer and better place for girls and women. I was proud to be one of them.