On Tuesday, June 14th, the United State of Women Summit took place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Sponsored by the White House (with support from the Ford Foundation, the Pepsico Foundation, the Tory Burch Foundation, and Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Women program), the summit was an exhaustive look at the state of women and girls in the U.S. Speakers focused on six topics: economic empowerment, health and wellness, violence against women, education, entrepreneurship and innovation, and leadership and civic engagement.
Political leaders, activists, and celebrities were among the summit speakers. White House leaders such as President Obama, Vice President Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama, Valerie Jarrett, and Tina Tchen spoke about the status of women, as well as comedian Amy Poehler, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, astronaut Christina Koch, tennis player Billie Jean King, It's On Us' Kristin Avery, the International Rescue Committee's Nazanin Ash, Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles, Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chávezs, and NORAD commander General Lori Robinson.
My colleagues and I had the pleasure of attending the summit, where we manned an exhibit table for our workplace. I fondly recall Mariachi Flor de Toloache performing in the exhibit hall, and Batalá Washington beating drums on the floor above us. As speakers addressed the crowd in the main auditorium, exhibitors watched the speeches on a huge screen suspended above the exhibit hall.
For your reading pleasure, below are some quotes from the United State of Women summit speakers. President Obama observed that women have made great gains during his lifetime.
"The year I was born, in 1961, women made up less than 40 percent of college students. Today, you earn almost 60 percent of college degrees, make up roughly half of the workforce. Back then, the pill was still illegal in some states. And today, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, birth control is free. In the old days, women actually needed a husband to open a credit card. Today, more women are choosing to be single -- and all Americans are able to marry whoever they love.President Obama also acknowledged that sexism and gender stereotypes still exist and must be confronted.
Fifty-four years ago, Katherine Johnson did the behind-the-scenes math to put a man in orbit. Today, almost 60 women have blasted into space themselves. When I was growing up, fewer than 300,000 girls played high school sports. Today, because of Title IX, more than 3 million girls are on the field. Women are leading America at every level of society, from Hollywood to Silicon Valley, from the C-suite to the federal bench to the Federal Reserve.
And that is progress. It’s real and we have to celebrate it, but we also have to remember that progress is not inevitable. It’s the result of decades of slow, tireless, often frustrating and unheralded work by people like Dorothy Pitman-Hughes and Gloria Steinem, who is here today -- people who opened our eyes to the discrimination, both subtle and overt, that women face. People like Pauli Murray and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who insisted on equal justice under the law. People like Wilma Mankiller and Patsy Mink, who redefined what leadership looks like. And, yes, people like Hillary Clinton who’ve raised the expectations of our daughters -- and our sons -- for what is possible."
"We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure, and our boys to be assertive; that criticizes our daughters for speaking out, and our sons for shedding a tear.
We need to change the attitude that punishes women for their sexuality but gives men a pat on the back for theirs. We need to change an Internet where women are routinely harassed and threatened when they go online.
We need to keep changing the attitude that congratulates men for changing a diaper, stigmatizes full-time dads, penalizes working moms.
We need to keep changing the attitude that prioritizes being confident, competitive, and ambitious in the workplace -- unless you’re a woman.
We need to keep changing a culture that shines a particularly unforgiving light on women and girls of color. About how they look, about how they feel, about what they should or should not do."
First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey had a conversation on stage, during which Ms. Obama spoke at length about her life, her family, and her time in the White House. When Winfrey asked the First Lady what she wanted attendees to take away from the summit, Ms. Obama replied that much works remains to be done.
"... The work always continues. And by that I mean we’re never done. We can never be complacent and think that we’ve arrived now as women. Because I hear this from young women. Some of you young women who aren’t feeling the pains that many of our predecessors have felt -- you think, well, there aren’t any problems, women’s rights, we’ve got this all figured out, I’m already equal, I’m good -- I’m just like, oh, just you wait, you’ll feel it.
So the work continues. And for all the young women in this room, all the young men, we can never be complacent. Because we have seen in recent times how quickly things can be taken away if we aren’t vigilant, if we don’t know our history, if we don’t continue the work."
Vice President Joe Biden delivered a passionate speech about violence, during which he called men's violence against women and children "the cardinal sin of all sins".
"This abuse is not a personal matter. It's not a family issue. It's not a misunderstanding or something she had coming. Violence against women is a crime, pure and simple, deserving of our nation's legal and moral disapprobation."Biden talked about legal advances for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). However, he stressed that cultural changes must accompany legal changes.
"Changing law is only the beginning. We have to change the national culture, a culture that condones [and] too often promotes violence against women ... We have to take off the social blinders that make it so easy for people to overlook violence rather than confront it. We have to throw [out] the mindset that excuses sexual assault by saying, 'boys will be boys; it's just the way it is'. We have to ensure that survivors' right to justice is always paramount above everything else, including, including the perpetrator or the school's reputation."
Actress and Allstate Foundation ambassador Kerry Washington talked about financial abuse and the vital importance of economic empowerment for women, especially for women escaping domestic violence.
"We have to support economic empowerment and freedom for women, because if women have the tools to leave, they can leave and get the kind of emotional and psychological healing that ends the cycle of abuse. We can no longer allow economic disempowerment to keep women and families trapped."
Attorney General Loretta Lynch offered poignant reflections on the Orlando shooting just two days before, urging Americans to come together against hatred.
"Far from dividing us, as terrorism aims to do, let us show the world that this attack, this attack has brought us together in support, has brought us together in solidarity, has brought us together in love ... We will all stand together. We will all be united. We will all be proud."Many thanks to the White House and to all the organizations that made the United State of Women possible. These are the empowering messages that America needs to hear!
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Good: White House Hosts First United State Of Women Summit
Teen Vogue: The United State of Women Summit Is Proof That Girls Run the World
Colorlines: Michelle Obama's Advice to Men at United State of Women Summit: 'Be Better'