Not so for many women and girls overseas. Lacking the luxury of defining themselves by their beliefs, attitudes and values, they face basic questions such as where to get clean water without getting assaulted, how to eke out a meager existence with their bare hands, and who will safeguard their families from brutality in a war zone or refugee camp. I’m thinking of the millions facing such conditions, and the many who help them meet these immense challenges, as we mark International Women’s Day this Sunday, March 8.
A couple of days ago, I attended an IWD event here in Washington courtesy of the United Nations Foundation where they showed the Like a Girl video that made such waves during the Super Bowl and after. But what really excited the capacity crowd were the speakers.
We gave a standing ovation to Girl Up Advocate Award winner Kennede Reese, who developed a social conscience early and was on Capitol Hill that day to lobby for young women everywhere. We were inspired by Joyce Banda, who talked of her own trajectory from a civic-minded childhood to president of Malawi. And we appreciated Heather Higginbottom, Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, who described how the State Department and USAID collect data that helps drive their programming for women and girls and demonstrate impact.
Success stories in this area do not belong to governments alone. Far from it:
Collaboration between the public and private sectors in such efforts is critical; the challenges are daunting, and no one can face them alone. We face them together, knowing that to aim for anything less than success – or worse, to turn our backs on women in need worldwide – is itself failure.
Teenage activist Kennede Reese received more than an award at that lunch this week. Former Malawian President Joyce Banda gave her and hundreds of caring community, business, non-profit, and government leaders this valuable advice: “There’s a lot of work to do, my sweetheart. I wish you the best.”