Womenetics

The Honourable Melanne VerveerWhen Melanne Verveer traveled to Africa with then-U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton, the leader of an African nation bragged one too many times that  women in his country did not work. Mrs. Clinton set him straight. According to Mrs. Verveer, she only had to point      out their car window to refute his   claim.

I like this story; too often no one challenges inequity, or champions those who are powerless to speak for themselves. Speaking up for equality is the first step, and finding meaningful ways to help is the second.

 
Those were the themes of a symposium I attended recently, organized by the Womenetics Global Women’s Initiative: Creating the Ripple Effect. Organizers described it as an attempt a “to inspire action and collaboration between the four sectors, business, non-profit, education, and government to make a difference in the lives of women and girls around the globe.”
 
“The takeaway will be not just inspiration,” keynote speaker Melanne Verveer told me, “but concrete ways to take action — to create the ripple effect.”
 
Melanne VerveerMelanne Verveer knows all about taking action. President Barack Obama appointed her U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. She served earlier as co-chair of Vital Voices, a non-profit organization she co-founded. Vital Voices invests in emerging women leaders, and works to expand women’s roles economically and politically, as it helps to safeguard human rights.
 
During our conversation and in her address, Ambassador Verveer spoke passionately about the need to advance women’s economic and political equality. She repeatedly reminded us “that no country can get ahead with half its people left behind.” 
 
A charismatic and compelling speaker, Ambassador Verveer held her audience of high-powered women in thrall.  “Studies have shown that women drive GDPs, and that gender equality is smart economics,” the Ambassador stated with authority. She quoted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as often saying “…women and girls are one of the world greatest untapped resources, and investing in them is one of the most powerful forces for international development. Promoting gender equality is not just the right thing to do – it is the smart thing to do.”
 
She wasn’t the only panelist with interesting experiences to share.
 
Douglas Casson Coutts talked about his experience as a visiting professor at Auburn University. Dr. Coutts has 25 years with the World Food Programme to share with young students. He told us he surprises his young students with how much they can contribute here at home working with the rural poor.
 
Nell Diallo is the Vice-President of Corporate and International Relations of MedShare. It gathers medical supplies that would be considered “waste” but are still good, and ships them where they are needed. This includes surgical supplies that were purchased in anticipation of being needed for a patient. They are considered “used” even though they are untouched and perfectly good. MedShare also raises the money to organize, inventory, and ship supplies where needed.
 
Ms. Diallo spoke insightfully about the need to listen to those what those being helped really need. She shared a great story about church women who lovingly sent baby blankets to women in Haiti. At first, they were offended to learn the women had sold the blankets. Then Ms. Diallo pointed out the blankets helped provide money for urgent necessities such as food. What a great lesson in perspective! Food will trump most things. Mrs. Diallo so eloquently underlined that at its best, giving is a relationship, not just charity.
 
Many speakers seem to have gained meaningful personal relationships from their work. Pamela Livingston, Vice President, Corporate Strategic Partnerships of International Justice Mission — a human rights agency — told the story of Joy T, a young girl sold to a brothel by four women in her village. She was forced to have sex with 20 men a day. Joy T. was rescued by the International Justice Mission and placed in “after-care”. She then told the investigators she knew where to find more sexually-enslaved girls. Acting on her information, they freed the girls. One of them directed the investigators to even more girls who were liberated. 
 
Tragically, child prostitution, as well as the enslavement of women, is a growing problem. Dawn Conway, Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility, LexisNexis Group, made that shockingly clear. According to Ms. Conway there are 27 million slaves in the world today. Eighty percent of them are women. They are forced to work in sweatshops and brothels. The evening news periodically carries tales of girls tricked to prostitution from as nearby as the local suburbs or as far away as Asia and Eastern Europe. Her company supports initiatives to generate public awareness.
 
“It is a simple fact that no country will get ahead with half its people left behind,” Ambassador Verveer said. She is absolutely right. But will any of us get ahead with so many left behind? I don’t think so. Let’s work together to change things. It is the smart thing to do, and it is also the right thing to do. 
Ways to get involved suggested by LexisNexis Group:
 
Write your local, state, provincial, and federal government representatives, and urge them to improve laws and polices that deal with trafficking.
 
Sign a petition such as The Body Shop’s Campaign to Stop Sex Trafficking.
 
Volunteer or donate to:
 
End Slavery Now
Free the Slaves
International Justice Mission
My Sister’s Place
Polaris Project
REDLIGHT Children
Somaly Mam Foundation
 
Partner with a non-governmental organization (NGO), or government resources by donating corporate recourses to tackle this problem.
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