I just returned from the inspiring Women in the World Summit in New York City, hosted by Tina Brown of Newsweek and The Daily Beast.
Some of the most dynamic global advocates for women spoke – from Hillary Clinton and Oprah to Angelina Jolie and Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, who may soon campaign to become the president of South Africa.
I was very honored to represent Women on Fire as one of the 2,500 attendees from around the globe.
During the two days, there was so much presented to digest about the condition of women — our rights, our health, our education and our future.
So, my personal goal was to return from the conference with at least one concrete step or strategy that could improve your life, mine and other women’s as well.
Thanks to hearing so many courageous women tell their stories at the Summit, I found what we must do — or rather, what we must not do.
What these women who survived being raped, beaten, starved, kidnapped, abused, marginalized, shot at, married off at age 11, sent to orphanages, denied education and more had in common was this:
They did not view themselves as victims. Ever.
They found a thread of hope and clung to it.
They turned their pain into advocacy.
They transformed their seemingly impossible dreams into reality.
And in doing so, they are alive and well and telling their stories and advocating for women who are still under the most adverse and sub-human conditions.
It is disheartening in this 21st century that so many women and girls continue to be owned and traded like cattle, defiled, denied education and physically and emotionally abused – and worse, if that’s even possible to imagine.
I hope you have a chance to watch Michaela’s, Malala’s and Tererai’s video stories and be inspired by how they transformed their extreme adversities into an ocean of hope for all of us.
To wild applause, Hillary Clinton reinforced what nearly all speakers said:
“Women are not victims. We are agents of change and drivers of progress.”
My beloved Women On Fire, we must band together and create the changes so necessary for the world.
(And, thank you to so many of you reading this who are working so hard to help women move forward.)
“A thousand spider webs can tie up the fiercest lion” has always been one of my favorite African proverbs.
We must make sure we are not holding ourselves back from sharing our gifts with the world because we feel or act as though we are victims — on any front.
When I became a coach nearly two decades ago, a therapist friend of mine shared with me the five behaviors that characterize people acting as victims:
- They blame.
- They avoid.
- They whine.
- They label negatively others or the situation.
- They are sarcastic.
I shudder to think of the times I play a victim. I really prefer to think I don’t, but that would not be true.
I blame when things don’t go my way; I whine when I think I’ve been treated unfairly; I label negatively and plot revenge (even though I don’t act on it) when I think someone has mistreated someone I love or care about.
What became so clear last week is that none of my being a victim will ever change anything for the better.
What I must do is re-dedicate my energy to stand tall and brave, alongside my fierce sisters in this country and around the world, who courageously stand up to outdated traditions that limit women, who are peacemakers in face of violence, and who rise above deplorable conditions to achieve better lives for themselves and others.
The least I can do is to not play a victim in my own daily, privileged life.
Thank you all for being a part of this amazing circle of incredible women working toward your own dreams and goals. I cherish each one of you and what we are able to do together in the world.
P.S. To see the powerful sessions on video from the Women in the World Summit, please go here.
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