One thing we must NOT be

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.

(See orphan-turned-ballerina Michaela DePrince)

They turned their pain into advocacy.

(See Pakistani girls’ education advocate and Angelina Jolie’s hero Malala Yousafzai)

They transformed their seemingly impossible dreams into reality.

(See humanitarian and Oprah’s hero Dr. Tererai Trent)

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.

*This week’s Spark PINspiration*  

                   Pin to Pass on the Love!

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7 Ways My Eyes Were Opened

I am stuffed – and writing to you from New York City after finishing the yummiest brunch at Nice Matin, one of my favorite restaurants.

Edward Beck Debbie Phillips Holly Getty and Ellen Wingard
My uplifting and treasured friends Ellen Wingard, Edward Beck and Holly Getty. (Thank you, random person on street who took this wonderful photo!)

When I am surrounded with supportive friends who make me feel loved and cherished like Edward, Ellen and Holly, I believe I can go out into the world and do anything.

Who in your life makes you feel this way?  Whoever cheers you on and helps you move forward, I hope you have a date on your calendar to spend time with them!

I am in New York City because I was invited to attend the 3rd Annual Women in the World Summit, hosted by Newsweek/Daily Beast  Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown.

The summit was a convergence of 2,600 women from around the world and a showcase for some of the world’s most dazzling women change-agents – Meryl Streep, Hillary Clinton, Leymah Gbowee, Gloria Steinem, Angelina Jolie, Sheryl Sandberg, Christiane Amanpour, Sheryl WuDunn and many, many more.

After three days of immersion into the hopes, dreams, conditions and status of women and girls worldwide, I so wish I could give each woman who presented her due.

Instead, I will share the 7 Things That Opened My Eyes.  These were awarenesses that inspire me to want to be part of the solution for a better world.  In some instances, I’m not sure exactly how to help so I will take our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s call to action as a roadmap.

“What does it mean to be a woman in the world?” she asked. “It means never giving up. It means getting up, working hard, and putting a country or a community on your back.”

There are many terrible things going on in the world that affect women.  The conference was not about politics, not about women vs. men, not about casting blame.  But rather how can we all join forces — no matter age, religion, political party, nationality — and find solutions.

This was, however, a call to action for women to use our gifts and talents, many unique to our gender, and help to solve our world’s problems.

Here are some topics that opened my eyes:

1) Child marriage is a horrific, pervasive problem in this world – and even in our own country.  25,000 girls under the age of 18 get married globally each and every day, some of them as young as 8 and 9.

In the United States, it is legal (with parental or court permission) to get married at age 12 in West Virginia and age 14 in New Hampshire.   Girls who marry at these tender ages face cascades of lifetime issues from lack of education and health to abuse and poverty.  Laws, customs and family traditions must be changed.

2) Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, at age 74, is an outspoken and powerful advocate for women.  Addressing the Summit, she made no bones about her opinions:  To people who say, “there are not enough qualified women (for elected office and top-level positions), that’s one of the biggest bullshit things I’ve ever heard!”

And, she will always hold a special place in my heart for her most famous quote: “I think there should be a special place in Hell for women who don’t support other women.”   You go, Madam Secretary!

3) Women are exquisitely and uniquely qualified to lead the world’s police and security forces. They bring different and needed gifts to this profession, which is increasingly more and more complex locally, nationally and globally.

Women are “lionesses” when it comes to protecting their families and communities,  innate skills and instincts for creating secure environments, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano pointed out.

Case in point: Washington DC’s Chief of Police Cathy Lanier, a single mother who entered law enforcement to make a better life for her son, is now celebrated for significantly reducing violent crimes in that city.  It has occurred because of her commitment to communication and outreach into the community.

4) “Women are too politely angry,” warned Nobel Peace Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee, in discussing the power of women in conflict zones to replicate her success in toppling a corrupt government and violence in Liberia.  Pray The Devil Back To Hell is a stunning documentary (and one of my all-time top movies) detailing how women joined forces and conquered the violence in their country.

5) Jessica Matthews and Julia Silverman, two 20-something entrepreneurs shared their invention “SOccket Rockets.”  The device brings electricity to impoverished communities around the world and works when kids kick a soccer ball! One out of 5 people in the world don’t have power.  30 minutes of play gives 3 hours of power!

6) Former presidential daughters Chelsea Clinton and Barbara Bush, in separate forums, championed new generations of change-agents.

Barbara highlighted astounding success of her Global Health Corps.  What Teach America has done for education, Global Health Corps is doing to solve health issues and enlisting an entire generation of young people in making it happen.

Chelsea celebrated The Digital Lives of Girls and highlighted innovative young women who are harnessing technology to prevent bullying, to develop self-esteem and supportive communities for leveraging issues that are important to them.  Inspiring to see how Barbara and Chelsea contribute to the world.

7)  Women can change the world. Not that I did not know this going into the Summit.  Walking out, I know it for sure and am ready to take more of the need “on my back,” as Hillary would ask.

And, as she put it so beautifully, ““Women with help from their friends can make a difference.” She urged us to be  “fearless, committed and audacious.”  And, then she sent all 2,600 of us out into the world to make that difference:

“So let’s go for it, and make it happen!”

As we move forward into the next months, I will be asking your opinion for ways that Women on Fire join forces with other women in the world to bring about change, healing and peace to all.

Until then, is there a situation that you want to correct in your life, in your community, in this country or in the world?

You are only one step away from making a difference.

Have an absolutely wonderful week and keep me posted on how you want to make a difference in any aspect of your — and our world.