'WIE need you' in the fight to save women's lives around the world! So say Arianna Huffington, Sarah Brown and Donna Karan, co-hosts of the first annual Women, Inspiration, Enterprise (WIE) symposium in NYC. Timed to underscore appeals to world leaders, WIE is at once a convention and a celebration, bringing together women at the forefront of politics, philanthropy, media, fashion, and the arts with young women from the US and developing countries who are already making a difference to change the world.
I suppose there are some issues in the world that I've always considered to be above my pay grade.
It's difficult to consider the scale of problems such as poverty and world peace without feeling overwhelmingly small. I suspect many of you have felt the same way.
So we carry on with our own lives, hopefully give a bit of our time and money to the causes we hold dear, and try to make a difference on a smaller scale, all the while hoping − or assuming − that somewhere, the world's best and brightest are tackling these seemingly insurmountable problems.
But for me, one day recently, a flip switched.
Ariana Huffington has described a dinner she attended several years ago where Sarah Brown, White Ribbon Alliance Global Patron and wife of former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, spoke about the need to address maternal mortality worldwide. Huffington writes that even at the time, she knew she was witnessing something special. Brown asked each woman there to make a pledge to do something in her own life to empower women globally.
I had a similar experience − only instead of at a dinner half a world away in a room full of inspirational women, I was alone in my apartment with my laptop and a web video I had stumbled upon about the social injustice of gender inequality and discrimination worldwide.
But - for Huffington and myself − the effect was the same. Sitting there in that room, I knew that I was about to become a part of something special.
The situation is astonishing. About each minute a woman somewhere in the world dies during childbirth. In Angola and Malawi, the lifetime risk of maternal death is one in seven. In west and central Africa, just 58 percent of primary school-age girls are enrolled in school. In Afghanistan, the adult literacy rate of women is 29 percent of that of men.
But for every heart-wrenching statistic, there is a story of a girl who overcame the odds, managed to escape the cycle, and is now helping to break it by empowering and inspiring women across the globe.
Obviously this video hadn't convinced me that I could singlehandedly change the lives of millions of women worldwide, but it had convinced me that at the very least, I could change the life of one. By investing in a girl's education, by donating to groups that provide pre- and post-natal care to mothers and infants, and by supporting an organization that makes small loans to women in impoverished countries, I can make a difference.
Beyond that, the experience had convinced me that I needed to do so; that, being a woman who was fortunate enough to grow up in a loving family, receive a good education, and live in a place where I can pursue any opportunity I wish, I owe something to the girls out there who aren't as fortunate. To quote Sarah Brown, I and other women like me can "add our voices to help other women have theirs heard."
So how do we add our voices? The White Ribbon Alliance and Half the Sky web sites each have extensive lists of aid groups and organizations, and Charity Navigator shares financial information for more than 5,000 U.S.-based charities.
To be sure, the problem is still bigger than any of us.
But there's a way to multiply our efforts, to broaden the scope of what we can do. That is to inspire our friends and loved ones to join the cause, to do something in their own lives, in their own way, to fight gender inequality.
If I can change the life of one woman, and inspire another woman to do the same, our impact can be infinite.
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Bonnie Wise does public policy work at a government affairs and consulting firm in Washington, D.C. and will be attending the WIE symposium in NYC on September 20. Check out the rest of the WIE series here.