Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Celebrating Women Leaders with Vital Voices and the Women in the World Summit

April 03, 2013

Nick Kristof, speaking last night at the 2013 Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards, said that if the 1800s was the century that saw the fight for the abolition of slavery and the 1900s the battle to end totalitarianism, then the twenty-first century should be about achieving gender equity. Two important weather vanes of our progress towards gender equity, the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards and the Women in the World Summit are held this week – both designed to draw attention to issues of gender equity and celebrate the activists and pioneers who are leading the fight for the rights of women and girls.

Women are central to the success of our work at the foundation and our ability to improve the health and well-being of millions of people around the world. We know that empowering women and girls to reach their full potential is vital to creating long-term change – whether it’s supporting the women’s networks in Uttar Pradesh, India who together are helping to improve the health, education and economies of their local communities or ensuring that mothers in Niger have access to contraceptives to enable them to “bring every good thing” to their children.

 Empowering women and girls to reach their full potential is vital to creating long-term change.

This week’s Women in the World Summit will feature panels and talks by a broad range of courageous women and men working behind the scenes and on the ground to create meaningful and sustainable change for women and girls. Here are a few of the speakers I’m especially looking forward to hearing from.

Ravi Kant, Shakti Vahini, on Gender Violence in India

The brutal gang rape and murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi last December sparked an outpouring of outrage, remorse and questions about what needs to be done in India to fight violence against women. Shakti Vahini, founded by Ravi, Nishi and Rishi Kant, is a New Delhi-based NGO especially known for its work against human trafficking and sexual violence. The Kant brothers received the Vital Voices Solidarity award last night from Vice President Joe Biden, another passionate champion for gender equity, in recognition of their huge efforts on behalf of women and girls. Ravi Kant will be speaking on a panel at Women in the World exploring whether with new laws and public support the tide of gender violence in India may finally be shifting. I first met the Kant brothers in India earlier this year – three brothers who thanks to an inspirational mom have committed their lives to leveling the playing field for women.

Dr. Tererai Trent, Tinogona Foundation, on Girls’ Access to Education in Africa

Dr. Tererai Trent grew up in rural Zimbabwe and attended elementary school for less than one year, before being forced to marry at 11. She was already the mother of three by her 18th birthday.  Heifer International and a number of other NGOs helped Tererai  receive an education and in 2009 she received her PhD.  She will be sharing her story, and talking about what needs to be done for the millions of girls that still don’t have access to a basic education. All over the world, poor families are making brave decisions and huge sacrifices to send girls to school but we still have a long way to go .

Sejal Hathi and Tara Roberts, girltank, on Social Entrepreneurism

Through girltank, an international community that helps women to become social entrepreneurs and global change makers, Sejal and Tara are new leaders in inspiring and funding the types of disruptive ideas and ventures that can create real change for women and girls. “Positive disruption” is an important theme at the foundation – it’s the focus of today’s TEDxChange – and finding new ways to bring women together online and offline to source and develop big ideas will be an important part of moving the needle on our most challenging global issues.

I look forward to sharing some of what I’ve learned following the summit, and hope that you’ll follow along online for what is bound to be a fascinating and inspiring two days.

Information and updates from the Summit can be found on The Daily Beast. You can also follow the Twitter hash tag #wiw13 and @WomenintheWorld for live tweets from the event itself.

 
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