The Feminist Majority Foundation’s (FMF) annual Women Money Power Summit started off yesterday with a bang and showed no signs of slowing down today. In addition to honoring Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Shuler, the first day set forth challenges facing women both here and abroad, from child care to violence against women to global women’s health to right-wing attacks on reproductive health.
Today, the summit focused primarily on the global, with living legend Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, moderating the morning session. Mavis Leno kicked things off by recounting the near decade she has chaired the FMF’s Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls. The women of Afghanistan continue to inspire her with their fearless courage and dedication to their rights, said Leno, especially when it comes to education. She recalled one Afghan woman telling her that while education was something she would like to have for herself, it was something “she must have for her child.”
Leno also recognized that while the American public as a whole may be notorious for having a short attention span, women don’t. The FMF, she said, “would not leave this issue until Afghan women have full human rights.”
Zareen Taj, an Afghan woman, shared her moving story of living in a Pakistan refugee camp for years until she was able to receive a college education here in the U.S., thanks to a scholarship from the FMF. She spoke about the empowerment knowledge gave her, and the confidence she has gained. Taj told the audience of other Afghan women, who refuse to go back to the rule of the Taliban: “Afghan women are now awake.”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) recounted her years of fighting for global women’s rights on Capitol Hill, and pointed out how legislation she introduced helped advance those rights. She spoke about Afghan women and the importance of funding UNFPA, and reminded us how, even in the U.S., women have to fight for their rightful place in history, recounting how hard it has been to get a women’s history museum built! Maloney also remembered the words of the late Geraldine Ferraro, who said that “when women run, women win” because they ran in the first place. She recalled a story of how male colleagues would frequently ask Ferraro if she knew how to make blueberry muffins, to which the first female Vice Presidential nominee would reply, “No, do you?”
The session wrapped up with inspiring talks by Reverend Barry W. Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Sussan Tahmasebi of Iran’s One Million Signatures Campaign. Tamasebi told of Iranian women’s rights activists networking in prison, where the women who are the victims of the Islamic regime’s discriminatory laws are held. She was hopeful, however, because the population of Iran is so young and the women’s movement in the country is “the strongest in the Middle East.”
The rest of the day consisted of workshops and breakout sessions on the fight for marriage equality, fundraising for nonprofits and increasing women’s representation in state legislatures, among others. I spoke on a panel along with Susan Cohen of the Guttmacher Institute and NOW President Terry O’Neill about how to fight budget cuts for women and girls here and worldwide. Having lobbied hard under the Bush II Administration to secure U.S. funds for international family planning, I was having deja vu all over again now that House Republicans are not only trying to reduce funds for global reproductive health but even trying to impose a permanent global gag rule.
From defunding Planned Parenthood, to zeroing out funding for UNFPA, to slashing programs for women here and abroad, the U.S. government–as Harry Reid has pointed out–came very close to shutting down over women’s health and rights. So the Women Money Power Summit–which has informed women on how such budget cuts affect their health, their families and their homes–could not have been better timed. After all, knowledge is power, letting us know where our attention and energy is required.