An Eye-Opening Day at the Women in the World Summit

I attended the sixth annual Women in the World Summit at Lincoln Center in New York City on April 23. It was an emotional and eye-opening day as I learned about issues facing women and girls around the world.

"Together, we're going to parachute behind the frontline of the news. We'll experience dramatic stories through the eyes of some extraordinary women and the men who champion them. Our guides are activists, artists, entrepreneurs, fighters, journalists, peacemakers and rabble-rousers," said Tina Brown, Founder and CEO, Women in the World/Tina Brown Live Media.

A Galvanizing Agenda
Each discussion was more stirring than the next, with subjects ranging from gender inequities and women's health to sexual violence and mutilation, to the importance of human rights and education for women and girls. The growing impact of climate change, caregiving, cyberbullying and maternal mortality were also on the agenda.

You can watch many of the presentations at the Women in the World website (coproduced with The New York Times) or by clicking on the links throughout this post.

Here are some of my takeaways from the day:

Obiageli Ezekwesili, cofounder of Bring Back Our Girls, talked about the 276 Nigerian school girls who were kidnapped last year by Boko Haram terrorists. "Everyone must use your influence to bring back our girls; these girls are not back yet," said Obiageli. "Nobody has the right to make you have to decide between education and being alive." (Hearing this story made me really appreciate the educational opportunities we have in America.)

Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, moderated a panel on caregiving. "Forty percent of working moms are single," she said. "In 2000, 30 million people were over 65. By 2030, that number will double. Sixty-two percent of caregivers are women." Panelist Sheila Lirio Marcelo, founder, chairwoman and CEO of, echoed these concerns. "Caregiving is the #1 budgetary item for working families," Sheila said. "Investing in care drives economic growth. We have a crisis coming if we don't take care of caregiving." (Having been a part of the AARP Kitchen Cabinet of Caregivers, I am passionate about this issue. Valerie asked for help: "What more should we be doing to spotlight caregiving? Send suggestions to me on Twitter at @vj44.")

Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, director of St. Monica's Girls Tailoring Centre in Uganda, spoke about her efforts to save thousands of young women who survived years of captivity under Ugandan rebels. Many children were abducted and sold into sex slavery. She teaches these girls sewing skills and how to love their own babies, many born out of rape. "These girls are using machines to sew their own lives," she said.

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and president and founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, rallied around reducing our carbon footprint globally. "In 25 years from now, there could be 200 million climate displaced people. You need to prepare people for change," said Mary. "In 2015, the world will make sustainable goals for each country. What is one thing you can do to support a more sustainable world? Do it for your children," she urged. (This issue is very real. Panelist Patricia Cochran, executive director of the Alaska Native Science Commission, told us that coastal communities in Alaska are already seeing their homes engulfed by rising seas.)
Ting Shih, CEO and founder of ClickMedix, shared a glimpse of the future of mobile health care. She and her team at MIT developed an app that is being used in India to screen patients using a smartphone. (It was very impressive.)

Leslee Udwin, director/producer of "India's Daughter" and CEO of Assassin Films, provided shocking news about the gang rape and death of Jyoti, a young Indian women and medical student. "All Joyti wanted to do was go to see a movie. She went out after dark. Women are not allowed out after dark," Leslee said. "Men don't think they have done anything wrong. One woman is raped in India every five minutes." She described the politics of shame and stigma in India and the worldwide fight against sexual violence and gender inequality. (Sadly there were quite a few stories about slave trading of young girls in other parts of India, Africa, Iraq and North Korea. It was hard to fathom such atrocities. On a positive note, I was uplifted to hear from courageous female leaders who are striving to improve human rights for all.)

Barbra Streisand participated in a panel on heart disease, which is the #1 killer of women. Barbra is a philanthropist and works to improve heart care and research specific to women, including the Cedars-Sinai Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center in California. "It's still an old boys' club. The mice that they do research on are male mice," she said. "There's a stigma attached to heart disease. The heart is hidden. It is the center of the soul. It's thought of as an aging disease. We have a lot to overcome." (This is another issue I am equally passionate about. Barbra encouraged women to be proactive about their heart. Get checkups for cholesterol, blood pressure and sugar, and understand signs of a heart attack, which are different for women.)

Other powerful speakers included: Ashley Judd, actress, activist and humanitarian, with her fight against cyber-exploitation and online bullying; Doniece Sandoval, founder of Lava Mae, who brings showers to homeless people via a "shower bus" she created; and Yeonmi Park, director, North Korean Human Rights Activist, a young woman who walked across the Gobi desert to defect from North Korea. "For the first time in my life, I own myself," Yeonmi said.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton closed out the day. "Human rights are women's rights," Hillary said. "Women's rights are human rights. Rights have to exist. Access for women is unfinished business of the 21st century. By coming to this extraordinary gathering, you now must be an agent of change. It's about making sure every child has the chance to achieve their dreams."

A Global Sisterhood
Can you see why I was moved by the Women in the World Summit? Sometimes I wanted to scream and other times I wanted to cry (I did shed quite a few tears) as I listened to the stories. I left feeling a certain "sisterhood"—as Tina Brown remarked, a "sisterhood" of wanting to help these women and girls in some way.

"They remind us of a world beyond our own lives," Tina said. "What are you going to do about these stories when you go home? Keep these women in your heart."

Sharing this blog post with you is my small way of helping to generate greater awareness of these life-and-death issues facing women and girls. I encourage you to share this post with others. The more who know about these struggles, the more we can create change.

Boomer women make up a majority of the population of women—we can make a difference.

How Can You Get Involved?
Women in the World Summit has partnered with Catchafire, an organization that connects talented professionals who want to volunteer their skills with social enterprises that need  help. Visit to learn more.

Shop to Help Sisters Around the World
If you would like to shop for a cause, there are multiple vendors providing handcrafts by women from around the world including Bajalia, Catrinka, Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, Feed, Global Goods Partners, Kandahar Treasures, Same Sky, Sisters United for Africa, To the Market, and Walmart/Empowering Women Together.

Perhaps purchase something for a Mother's Day gift.

Thanks for listening and please help create change.

This post originally appeared on


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