The women of Vital Voices are dynamic, bold, daring risk takers, in fact even putting their lives on the line. The five award winners, Global Trailblazer Award winner and the women behind Vital Voices are transforming the notions of women, and most importantly, their connotations with power and leadership. These women were recently honored at the Kennedy Center by Ben Affleck, Candice Bergen, Sally Field and Diane Von Furstenberg because they are defining success on their own terms in their own countries, organizations and families. Each woman is championing her own cause, but the women who graced the stage showed that we are all individuals working together for a common goal. Hillary Clinton stated this goal in 1995 at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, "Human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights." After attending such an inspirational event I felt that I owed it to other generations to share 5 ways women can make changes across generations.
1. Educate Yourself. "Knowledge is power, no one can take education away from you." Sadiqa Basiri Saleem brings hope to Afghanistan and a new generation of women. Sadiqa and three other women pooled their money together after the Taliban fell to found a learning center, which provides uniforms, supplies, and funding for 36 girls to study in an abandoned mosque. Sadiqa said her "dream is to see my sisters well-educated in a peaceful Afghanistan. They should be able to raise their voices to get their rights since I can't stand seeing them tortured and murdered in the name of honor anymore."
2. Be Bold and Brave. Chouchou Namegabe Nabinut and Marceline Kongolo-Bice brought issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo to the international stage. Chouchou used her powerful voice as a journalist to shed light on women, health and human rights issues. At age 23, Marceline has shown her strength and courage time and time again. At 13 she was imprisoned for refusing a military order to marry a local commandant. She also lost her older brother and father to murderous soldiers and witnessed the use of rape as a weapon of war. She then founded an NGO, SOS Femmes en Dangers to heal and rehabilitate rape victims, and how to empower themselves by knowing their rights so that they can defend themselves, supporting one another so their voices are heard.
3. Invest in Others. Temituokpe Esisi of Nigeria started her own tailoring company to benefit her country's economic empowerment as well as her own. She serves as a role model to leaders across the globe, since she invests in her employees, in their future and in their education. She works to inspire other women throughout Nigeria and beyond with her success.
4. Follow Your Heart. Somaly Mam of Cambodia was forced to work in a brothel, where she endured rape, beatings and humiliation by her bosses and clients. After one of her closest friends was murdered by a pimp, she escaped. She then showed her bravery by sharing her story and rescuing young girls and women from her brothel. She never had an education and just "gave love." She is a visionary who shows that you have unlimited potential by following your heart.
5. Keep Moving Forward. How did these women move beyond the traumatic events and brutal atrocities which the award recipients experienced first-hand? This is a question that has been resurfacing in my mind since I left the event in Washington, D.C. On its face it seems to not make sense that women are still forced to overcome rape as a weapon of war, lack of education and lack of opportunities. The five amazing women who accepted their awards at the Kennedy Center showed that even though they were given significantly fewer opportunities for achieving leadership positions, they still prevailed, and so can the rest of us.