Last night I had the privilege of viewing, with my daughter Sarah, my friend Kathy and two strangers, an incredible film, A Powerful Noise. It was an event organized by Care International and One.org among others to coincide with the UN International Women's Day. At theatres across the country, women, and men, gathered to view the film and listen to the discussion panel which followed. At our theatre in Dallas, we arrived early to pick up our tickets and get a good seat. Imagine our surprise when only two other women showed up! Where were the people who cared about this issue--the empowerment of women? Certainly instead of a powerful noise in our theatre, we heard the crickets chirping.
At least until the movie began.
For an hour and a half, we watched the lives of three women unfold before us. These were women from far-flung reaches of the globe, light years from us, worlds apart.
Hanh is from Vietnam, working with victims of HIV-Aids, suffering with it herself, forming a support network called the Immortal Flower Group. These people include women and children, the recipients of HIV from husbands long dead, and men as well, who feel the stigma of the disease in a country still loathe to recognize it as the epidemic it is. Her efforts include educating local businesses and being an advocate for children at risk. Her own child was lost to the disease years before.
Nada is from Bosnia, a country devastated by war, where many of the men were killed and the women are left to tend to fields and families. She works tirelessly to build a women's co-op, where the fruits of their labors can be sold at a fair price. For many, the harvests are lost because no market exists, no way to process and sell produce, meat, milk, or grains. The loss of dignity goes hand in hand with poverty and is as devastating as the crumbled infrastructure of the ruined country.
And last is the flambouyant Madame Urbain in Mali. She plucks marginalized girls off the streets, teaches them to read and write, and serves as an advocate with unscrupulous employers, making sure they are treated fairly and paid the wages owed to them. She is passionate about education for girls, and pushes, in a patriarchal society, for parents to send their daughters to school. As the recipient of an education herself, she knows it is the one true way to rise up out of poverty and create a different life for oneself and family.
Three women, one message: when women thrive, the world is a better place.
After the film ended, a panel began discussing global women's issues. It consisted of Moderator Ann Curry, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, actress and activist Natalie Portman, CARE president and CEO Dr. Helene Gayle; CARE advocate for maternal health and contributing editor for Marie Claire Christy Turlington Burns; and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, New York Times columnist and acclaimed author Nicholas Kristof.
This elite group touched on a number of issues including rape as a weapon of war, micro-lending, women's health, and gender bias. They also recognized how difficult it is for women to rise up in societies where they have no legal standing, can't own property, can't vote, and are basically the property of fathers and husbands.
At the end of the evening, the bottom line became clear: it will take the empowered women of the world, and the men who support them, to change the status quo. Women helping women in the poorest of the poor neighborhoods in the world. Women in the richest nations reaching out in different ways to lift up our sisters so they can help each other.
One of the powerful women I admire a great deal once said, "It takes a village. . ."
I would say today, it takes a world.