International Women’s Day 2012

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International Women’s Day 2012

March 1, 2012

On March 1, 2012, Women Thrive hosted its 4th Annual International Women’s Day Breakfast on Capitol Hill.  Find speaker info, photos, video and media hits from the event here.

One in three women will experience violence in her lifetime, and in some countries, the number of women affected can reach up to 70%. These statistics have inspired activists and policymakers worldwide to tackle the issue head-on, working together to find solutions that will someday end the epidemic of gender-based violence and secure a brighter, safer future for women everywhere.

Women Thrive Worldwide’s fourth annual International Women’s Day Breakfast event, “From One in Three to None in Three: Women and Girls Living Free of Violence,” featured a distinguished panel of speakers who discussed the necessity of educating both women and men about the effects of violence. Special appearances were made by Representative Ted Poe (TX)Representative Jan Schakowsky (IL) and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (TX).  Women Thrive Board Chair, Joe Keefe, served as Master of Ceremonies and Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour contributed opening remarks.  Panelists included:

  • Maria Bello – Actress and Haiti Activist
  • Sean Callahan – Executive Vice President, Overseas Operations, Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
  • Kent R. Hill – Senior Vice President, International Programs, World Vision United States
  • Edna Adan Ismail – Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Activist, Former First Lady and Former Cabinet Minister, Somaliland
  • Siham Salman – Program Manager in Iraq, Islamic Relief
  • Ritu Sharma, Moderator – Co-Founder and President of Women Thrive Worldwide

Event Highlights

“Violence is something that can be ended,” Ritu Sharma began, kicking off a riveting discussion that addressed everything from the lack of funding toward women’s programs in Haiti to systematic rape in Congo. “The reason it continues to be an epidemic,” she continued, “is because we haven’t called it an epidemic. We need to name this a public health issue.” Gender-based violence, she pointed out, affects everyone, and will continue to do so if it isn’t recognized as an internationally damaging disease that has the potential to devastate struggling economies.

Sean Callahan agreed, emphasizing that gender-based violence isn’t just a female issue, but a societal one. He explained that women need to have more opportunities in society, and that men need to let them. With this sort of cooperation, he insisted, entire communities can be empowered. “Everyone needs to be involved,” said Sean, “from civil society to religious leaders. They need to lead by example, speak out, and tell men that it isn’t courageous to attack women.”

The importance of working with men and boys is something Edna Adan Ismail spoke passionately about, explaining that too often, “we let them off the hook” when it comes to addressing violence. Ismail, who has dedicated her life to ending female genital mutilation, claims that one of the most effective ways of educating men about the effects of violence is to point out their strength as the head of the household and inform them that they must use their power to protect their daughters and wives from harm. “You are the father,” she tells men in her home country of Somaliland, “It shouldn’t be little old women like me taking action. It should be you.”

Kent Hill took the opportunity to affirm America’s potential to serve as a model country when it comes to taking action to stop violence. “Even with restrained budgets,” he said, “we can pressure other governments to follow our example. We can activate them.”

Guiding all countries’ steps toward ending violence against women is the new USAID gender policy. The policy ensures that every sector of every issue reflects gender differences, which, Maria Bello claimed, also helps regulate the funneling of funds down to local businesses and women’s organizations. “Building strong businesses,” Bello said, “helps curb violence against women.” This is in part due to the economic opportunities women can have if they’re able to find local employment, thereby becoming self-reliant.

“It’s difficult to be violent against a powerful woman,” Ismail agreed. In her country, she said, training women to be midwives is a cost-effective way of empowering them economically. These women, whose training costs less than a cup of coffee a day, can help reduce Somaliland’s national mortality rate by learning how to help other women as they give birth.

“Women are stronger when they stand together,” added Bello, who, along with the rest of the panel, concluded that the approach to ending violence must be holistic, addressing health and hygiene as well as abuse. Sometimes, she said, men need to be taught what many people assume is common sense. Maria Bello described a letter her organization, WE ADVANCE, received from a man who wrote, “I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to beat my wife. Thank you.”

Often, Sharma pointed out, the link between domestic violence and poverty is financial stress; Men worried about money take their anger out on the women in their homes. Sean Callahn believes getting women more involved in their communities will help relieve this stress, and states, “If you’re not using 50% of your assets, what a terrible waste. We need to invest in women.”

“It’s smart to invest in women,” agreed Bello.

As the event concluded, President and Co-Founder of Women Thrive Worldwide Ritu Sharma made an impassioned call to action, asking everyone in attendance or watching online to push for change at every level.

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March 1, 2012
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