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The Global Treatment of Women: Lessons From the Women in the World Summit

At this month's Women in the World Summit, world leaders and activists gathered to discuss the issues facing women and girls around the globe. Watch the full event on video, then read on for a recap and video clips of the discussion surrounding the global mistreatment of women.

Earlier this month, everyone from Hillary Clinton to Angelina Jolie to grassroots activists around the globe came together at the Women in the World Summit in New York City. Their goal? To honor those who fight for gender equality, to bring light the mistreatment of and violence toward women around the world, and to share solutions to these issues that we can all take part in.

The Global Mistreatment of Women

I’ll start by sharing some of the startling statistics I learned while at the Summit. While it’s true that women worldwide are seeing more opportunities than ever before, the Summit reported data outlining the grim situations and environments that many women still face each day. For example, in Somalia, 95% of girls experience genital mutilation. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, 1,000 women are raped each day. Every day, 10 Brazilian women lose their lives to domestic violence.

What’s more, a conspiracy of silence still exists around these issues because of many cultural norms. The silence of survivors, their families and friends, law enforcement, and other citizens, has enabled and fueled this violence and mistreatment. The "Outcry in India" panel provided us with some tough data to swallow: 90% of raped women in India know who their rapist is—but very few of these men are prosecuted.

The panel of experts and activists at their Summit shared their thoughts behind what is happening.

Problems like these stem from the fact that women around the world are often not treated as equal human beings. Those in power stifle their rights, voices and ways to fight back. Many countries don’t even allow women to leave the home or receive education—places such as Afghanistan experience a 90% illiteracy rate among women. So, not only are women being victimized, when they try to stand up for themselves by using their own tools and power, they face extreme opposition and resistance.

These are obviously not easy issues to tackle, but the Women in the World Summit started some important conversations that aim to move us in the right direction.

Education is Key

One of the key obstacles women face is a lack of education. In many countries, education is granted only to men, denying women of their right to knowledge and leaving them in the continuing cycle of mistreatment, violence, and poverty. But when women are provided with education, they’re better equipped to make decisions for themselves, to obtain employment, and to gain new perspectives about gender equality and basic human rights.

At the summit, Zimbabwean education pioneer Dr. Tererai Trent (introduced by Oprah!) spoke about her work transforming women’s rights and education in Africa.

Other speakers at Women in the World, Humaira Bachal and Khalida Brohi, are inspiring testaments to the fruitful results of engaging in education and dialogue about gender roles and rights. In Pakistan, they risk their lives speaking to women about their rights as human beings to be treated with respect and dignity. They have opened their own schools in the country, and now they are appealing to the men of Pakistan and engaging in dialogue about allowing women to be educated.

Slowly, they have seen a change in attitudes of the people they’ve talked to, and have had good discussions about women contributing to the economy and participating in decision-making. This type of human rights education around the world has opened doors for new perspectives, ideas for a better future, and the foundation to carry out those dreams.

Invest in Women

The Summit also addressed ways that we can invest in women around the world—to help them gain employment, earn money, and break the cycle of poverty and mistreatment. Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coca-Cola, spoke and pledged to help empower 5 million female entrepreneurs by 2020. And organizations like Girltank, an international community that helps young women become social entrepreneurs and change makers, are helping provide women with these opportunities. As Girltank founder Sejal Hathi put it: every girl “has something deep and tangible and valuable to offer the world.”

Be Your Own Role Model

In addition to these important efforts underway, we have to work together and turn “the” human rights issue into “our” human rights issue. The Summit panelists repeatedly expressed the need for America to serve as a role model for democracy and freedom, and to lead the world by taking a clear stance against corrupt regimes. As each country steps up, the country and its people provide moral and political support while serving as role models for freedom-fighting groups.

In her keynote speech, Hillary Clinton reminded the audience that we must not negate the fight to win gender battles within our own country before we move on to help other countries.

Which brings me to the final lesson that the Summit really brought home for me: Fighting for women’s rights is something we all are called to be part of. While the speakers of the Summit are certainly role models, there are things we all can do to take part in the fight for gender equality.

One easy way we can support women around the world is to support organizations focused on spreading awareness and assistance to women. Check out award-winning, women-founded organizations such as Girltank, Recovers, Fenugreen, and the Dream Foundation Trust. We can also help support individuals such as Malala and volunteer with organizations here and abroad that educate both men and women.

As well as funding and working with organizations, it’s important to encourage women in our own worlds to speak out if they have been mistreated. We need to bring the dark into the light, and we need to make it safe for individuals to speak up and ask for help and protection.

Last but not least, explore these issues for yourself. What are the issues in your community and around the world that you care about? Go out, explore, and gather the facts for yourself.

As the Women in the World Summit showed me, with more press and media, increased public awareness and both large social movements as well as grassroots activities, women around the world will continue to receive the aid, respect, peace and freedom they deserve. But we'll only get there if all of us keep fighting for the rights of everyone.

Photo courtesy of aphrodite-in-nyc.