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Cheryl Saban Ph.D. Headshot

Putting Empowerment of Women and Girls on the Human Agenda

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New York City was beyond crazy with traffic complications last week, but such is to be expected when the annual meeting of the United Nations coincides with The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) -- former President Clinton's remarkable vision-in-action, which has in five year's time managed to galvanize individuals, corporations, and countries to help cure some of the ills in our world by making commitments valued at more than $57 billion.

The 2010 annual meeting of the CGI was especially notable this year due to the addition of the Empowerment of Women and Girls as one of the four distinct action areas to be discussed.

Though worldwide, women and girls have made some significant gains, serious problems persist. Violence against women and girls, inadequate or more expensive healthcare, forced marriage, declines in maternal health, sex trafficking, and the inability to access funding for economic opportunities and education are just a few. The consequence of not focusing on empowering women and girls -- particularly in developing nations, totalitarian regimes, and war-ravaged regions, is that these nations won't realize the substantial gains and returns they would have, if they had invested in girls and women.

There were numerous substantive network meetings, breakout sessions and keynote lunches that focused on the empowerment of women and girls -- all of them facilitated by noted specialists in their fields -- a mighty brain-trust to be sure, and both exciting and daunting to be moving among them. One of the break-out sessions I attended was, "Addressing Violence Against Girls and Women," facilitated by Geeta Rao Gupta, Senior Fellow, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. After an overview, we took part in discussion groups that focused on Policy, Media and Advocacy, Trafficking, and Engaging Men and Boys. The goal of our break-out session was to generate action items, commitments and collaborations to be worked on during the coming year.

I'm pleased to report that each discussion group came up with several concepts, and I have no doubt that good things will come of them. Everyone in the room had both the desire and the capacity to move these ideas forward.

Before our session ended, one participant made an important point, and it resonated with our entire group. Essentially it is this: "Do not allow the empowerment of women and girls to be 'ghettoized' strictly as a women's issue. Addressing violence against girls and women, closing the gender gap, and empowering women and girls is a human issue. We need men to be our partners.

I look forward to more of this dialog in the future, and to more families, communities, states and countries realizing the benefit to society the occurs when women and girls get the tools, and safe passage they need to be empowered.