Speaking of real women's lives, one question perhaps trumps all others that we are asking right now: In a globalized, media-saturated world, are we as aware of the range of experiences, conversations, and considerations?
During one of the panels I moderated last week, directed primarily at an audience of professionals in the financial sector, a woman from Papa New Guinea bravely stood up and said something to this effect: "You American women are always talking about mircofinance as if that alone changes a woman's life. What do you know about the lives of women in my country?"
This woman was in town for The 55th Commission on the Status of Women, also held this month at the United Nations. She helped remind us that in all our conversations about what we need and want as women and in all our deliberations, we need to think and plan and prioritize strategies for investment and development through a global lens. There is not just one way to empower women, one way to protect women from violence or one way to improve their status or unlock their potential. The needs are different and so much be the solutions.
While many of the conversations during Women's History Month taking place in New York, LA, DC, or other U.S. cities focused on the issues of removing barriers to corporate advancement and full economic parity, or on how to invest our money and optimize our power as consumers and citizens, women in far too many other places in the world are wondering where their next meal will come from, or whether they can walk safely from their home to the well to get water, or whether they are safe in their own homes.
But there is a common thread uniting us and connecting us. Economic security--at every level--is the key to unlocking potential and reducing violence. As Eve Ensler so often points out, violence is the 'mother' of all other issues. A woman can't be fully empowered unless she is also free from violence or the fear of violence.
According to the latest United Nations reports, one billion women will be victims of violent abuse, rape and acts of brutality this year. Imagine how different the future could be for all countries if those one billion women were free of fear and free to learn, to invent, explore, create, build and lead...a very different world picture emerges.
What emerged for me from the focus of Women's History Month and International Women's Day is that the global narrative for women and girls is evolving and changing quickly; that progress is being made in many places, but there are worrisome gaps that we must focus on or the gains will not amount to real change. The one constant in the global women's story is that women and girls, fully free and empowered, are agents of change. It's in the chromosome. It's in our hearts and minds.
Photo: Courtesy of Kiva - Loans that change lives