“If we can fix things for mothers – and we can – we can fix so many other things that are wrong in the world. Women are at the heart of every family, every nation. It’s mostly mothers who make sure children are loved, fed, vaccinated, educated. You just can’t build healthy, peaceful, prosperous societies without making life better for girls and women,” – White Ribbon Alliance (WRA) Global Patron Sarah Brown.
As world leaders convened at the UN for the Millennium Development Goals Summit, the WRA brought 400 women together for the first annual Women: Inspiration & Enterprise (WIE) symposium. Four of the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) deal with women’s issues, specifically Gender Equality, Child Health, Maternal Health and HIV/AIDS.
The symposium was co-hosted by Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, Sarah Brown, wife of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and fashion designer Donna Karan. Panelists included boldface names like Melinda Gates, Cathie Black, Bobbi Brown, Kris Carr, Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy, Lauren Bush, Soroya Darabi, Diane Von Furstenberg, Glenda Bailey, Natalia Allen, Elizabeth Banks, Susan Smith Ellis, Nora Ephron, Christy Turlington, Helene Gayle, Windsor Genevieve Hanger, Mellody Hobson, Sheila Johnson, Ashley Judd, Tamara Mellon, Pat Mitchell, Dana Perino, Katherine Schwarzenegger, Ann Veneman, and special guest Queen Rania of Jordan.
MDG5, Improving Maternal Health, was the main focus of the symposium — a tough issue that has been given more of the attention it deserves lately, through an unprecedented wave of campaigning by maternal health champions worldwide. The goal is to hold governments accountable for extending access to lifesaving care during pregnancy and childbirth to all women. Christy Turlington has recently completed a documentary titled “No Woman No Cry,“ highlighting the issues women in developing countries face around childbirth. Turlington herself experienced complications after giving birth to her first child, complications that were successfully addressed by doctors but may have killed her had she been living in the developing world. “Film is the perfect medium to make Westerners care about the issues of people they will never meet,” she said, “stories that are not cheerful can be told with hope.”
So, why is maternal health important? Shouldn’t we worry more about alleviating poverty or reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Watch the video below for a simple explanation.
In between panel sessions were short presentations by five exceptional young women – Gloria Iribagiza from Rwanda, Deepa Jha and Jayshree Satpute from India, Alberta Steven from Tanzania and Hadhya Al-Zawm from Yemen – who were nominated by WRA members in their home countries and selected by a global committee to represent young advocates from across the globe. Each gave a speech throughout the day about progress being made to save women’s lives and calling for everyone to “play your part.”
“We must use our voices on behalf of the poor in the world,” said Melinda Gates. “Although terrifying for any woman to go through childbirth alone, this is something we can and must change. By saving mothers’ lives, we lift their families, communities and nations.”
The MDG Summit at the UN resulted in pledges by governments of $40 billion for maternal and child health — a big success. Women’s voices are being heard like never before, but in order to keep the world listening, we need to keep talking about these issues and the resources needed to close the maternal health gap and ensure all women access to quality health care during pregnancy and childbirth.
The WRA describes the WIE symposium as both “a convention and a celebration of the power of women to change the world.” There certainly were powerful women in the room, from the forefront of fields as diverse as politics, philanthropy, media, fashion, and the arts. Philanthropy is often about those at the very top trying to help and create change for those at the very bottom. What about those of us in the middle, who aren’t heads of fashion or media empires or married to a Prime Minister or software magnate? What can we do?
It’s like what they say on the airplanes, you have to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help others — we have to empower ourselves first. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but the kind of person I wanted to be,” said Diane Von Furstenberg, who went on to tell the story of her mother gaving birth to her after escaping Germany after the war, weighing only 45 lbs. “My birth was a miracle. The minute I was born I had already won.” This is true for all of us. Life is a gift that we should not take for granted but work hard every minute to make the best of. Von Furstenberg says that the first thing she does every morning is something that does not benefit her. That’s something we can all do.
We also need to demand more attention. Women have traditionally been underrepresented in the media, with traditional news outlets covering only 16% of women’s news. This is all changing with the rise of the Internet, social networking and blogging, specifically mommy blogs. Lisa Stone, founder of BlogHer, said that there are 23 million women bloggers today and 16.5 million women who are in social networks (compared to 11.7 million men). Pat Mitchell, President and CEO of The Paley Center for Media, said that “women like to write and create communities. It’s irresponsible to not take advantage of that.” On the business side of things, Catherina Fake, founder of Flickr, mentioned Etsy, the online handmade goods marketplace, as something that has very much empowered women, who make up 90% of the sellers.
Women have to do things differently, when it comes to career, success, family life and philanthropy. Diane Von Furstenberg said “The only chance to save the world is for women to save the world.” Let’s start now.
All photos by Johanna Björk. Top photo: Health and Wellness panelists, from left to right, Dr Hyla Kass, Marianne Williamson, Dr Sue Smalley, Kris Carr, Amanda de Cadenet, and moderator Kathy Freeston.