Women Step Up to Take Global Action

June 11, 2012

Think about your own next leadership step.

Tiffany Dufu, president of the White House Project, had this advice to offer a room of committed, passionate women gathered at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., last weekend for the annual conference of the U.S. National Committee for U.N. Women  (USNC). Formerly known as UNIFEM, USNC supports the mission of U.N. Women and social, political, and economic equality for women and girls around the world. U.N. Women is the only U.N. entity that is dedicated to addressing women’s and gender issues.

USNC’s goals include advocacy and education for women globally, building support and funds for U.N. Women, and partnering with other organizations to achieve these goals.

The conference, Women Lead: Civil Society and Peace-Building Worldwide, focused on three areas: elected representation in the political arena, leading local organizations for change within civil society, and leadership in global post-conflict peace-building movements.

The pre-conference session was similar to the work that the AAUW Action Fund’s Lobby Corps does. The session included training for participants followed by meetings on Capitol Hill with elected officials and staffers.

Opening remarks were presented by Bathilde Diouf, executive director of AfricAgir, an organization committed to improving economic conditions for West Africans. Diouf outlined the tremendous challenges and opportunities that she faces in her work to improve the quality of life for women and girls in Africa.

The other conference speakers, who represented governments and nongovernmental organizations alike, included AAUW Associate Director for Government Relations Erin Prangley, U.N Women Senior Policy Advisor for Peace and Security Elsie-Bernadette Onubogu, National Women’s Law Center Vice President and General Counsel Emily Martin, U.S. Department of State Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith, and Women’s Refugee Commission Director of Advocacy and External Relations Joan Timoney. They shared familiar messages about women’s leadership in peace and security, civil society, and politics:

“Run for office. Or ask someone else to.”

“We all thought that once women were educated, it would boost leadership and economic strength. But that hasn’t happened.”

“When there is no budget, action plans sit on the shelf.”

“Want to be a leader? Practice. Learn to fail.”

“The fact that the United States hasn’t ratified [the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination against Women] diminishes our credibility as a leader for women.”

“We need to see more Hillary Clintons around the world.”

“No country has gotten to a critical mass of women in leadership without some form of affirmative mechanism.”

In addition to hearing from these great speakers, we also watched a preview of the PBS Half the Sky project that will premiere this fall. The program is inspired by the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, written by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The four-hour primetime international broadcast event will also include a Facebook-hosted social action game, mobile games, two websites, educational video modules with companion text, a social media campaign supporting more than 30 partner NGOs, and an impact assessment plan.

From left: USNC board member Younghee Overly with AAUW’s Erin Prangley and Gloria Blackwell

Throughout the event, we were reminded that although the United States has a burden and the responsibility to shape women’s rights globally, we also need to look inward at our own problems with women’s leadership and empowerment. This is glaringly apparent in today’s election-year headlines.

So how do we help elevate the power of 50 percent of the world? Advocate, learn, mentor, and use your purse. Do your part. And remember: People do not give up power easily.

Gloria L. Blackwell By:   |   June 11, 2012

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