Event Recap- Zero Tolerance: Making Society Accountable for Women’s Safety

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Last week I attended the UN Women event Zero Tolerance: Making Society Accountable for Women’s Safety which included an amazing panel including Abigail Disney, Michael Guarnieri, Dorchen Leidholdt, Patricia Latona, and Steven Rotolo. Though the conversation spread among many topics, a major issue that kept coming out was the Super Bowl being a magnet for human trafficking. It was interesting to hear the perspective of not only women, but also the two male contributors. Both men worked as police officers for major transit hubs: Michael for Port Authority in Manhattan and Steven for Newark Airport in New Jersey.

This Super Bowl season isn’t the first time Michael had run into trafficking within New York City’s Port Authority. His unit often stops youthful people who are alone to question them. It is then that he may find out that they are indeed there to meet someone. An example he had seen too many times was a girl with little education from a poor area who believed a man who bought her a ticket to a better life, only to be raped and then sold into trafficking, gun/drug running, or forced labor. He mentioned Port Authority’s Y Issue Unit, which is one of the most successful models in the country to find and help runaway youth which is impressive for a bus terminal that sees 220,000 people each day. They watch for signs and if they take someone in, they are interviewed with a social worker. One thing I did wonder, though, was how the police treated young women and girls who were prostitutes, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. I have been to other events and panels who highlighted this mistreatment in particular.  The NYPD has vocalized their plan to hold sex buyers accountable, but it still is often the case that the girls are the ones who get in legal trouble rather than the pimps or johns.

At Newark Airport, Steven and the police there have been planning for the Super Bowl for a year and a half (before NY/NJ even knew for sure they would host it). They learned a hard lesson from New Orleans where the authorities were unprepared and appalled by the level of trafficking they ended up encountering. In Newark they developed a taskforce and are extending beyond transit to hotels, cabs, and more. They must also keep a close eye on backpage ads and social media outlets. Steven stressed the importance of authorities needing constant education as issues like human trafficking evolve.

Images from UN Women's powerful campaign this year

Images from UN Women’s powerful campaign this year

Abigail suggested that we are having more trouble defining sexual violence today. The media tends to make it casual and funny. She also mentioned that this upcoming generation is the first to grow up with access to porn on the internet, which by the way accounts for 60% of internet traffic. So how to we speak out against bad media and reward media? Sure, the NFL often shows support for women related causes such as wearing pink for breast cancer. However, in the next breath are ads featuring a sexy woman by a car. Abigail believes that mixed signals like these make a bigger impact than we think. This leads to a failure of empathy between men and women and Abigail suggested that men do not cringe when they see violence against women as much as when they see another man being hit between the legs. However, I didn’t particularly care for this generalization because I have men in my life who are very empathetic and deeply disturbed by these cases. I think it’s important to not point fingers as much and offend or blame those men who are advocating for the safety of women and girls. However, it is popular for masculinity to be defined by power and domination. Society will always have a minority number of psychopaths, but when the average individual is influenced by things like the media they become the tolerator, bringing about more individuals to commit these violent acts against women then the small number we might otherwise see. “Rape should be as embarrassing as child molesting,” Abigail said. Unfortunately this typically isn’t the attitude that surrounds it.

Dorchen asked, “How do men and boys get socialized to behave in this way?” Just as Abigail had, Dorchen mentioned porn and media and how it contributes to sex trafficking. “Why are these things sexy and OK?” she asked, referring to the fact that these platforms often show women as objects that exist for another person’s pleasure. Sure laws have passed to legislate that this is not the case, but the media too often puts the negativity in the spotlight rather than showing and reinforcing these laws. She brought up an accountability model that is working in Scandinavia where the country asked themselves, “what is driving sex trafficking?” They found that the demand seemed to be for women considered young and exotic since the men could easily separate them from their moms, sisters, and wives visually. Of course it is the men’s demand that is driving this industry .The country began holding the buyers accountable and using media in various campaigns including simply stating “it’s a crime to buy sex.” I actually recently saw an outdoor advertising campaign in New York City trying to do something similar. My question to Dorchen though would be, how do certain countries get law enforcement to hold these buyers and sellers accountable? In many places police are easily bribed and can sometimes be just as violent to the girls as their pimps and are often even clients in brothels.

Patricia made a point that for gender based violence we have a cause being discrimination and the result of that being oppression. She allowed us to face disturbing facts including that 70% of women across the world live in poverty and 800 women die in child birth each day. Of course each country in the world is difference and it’s essential to look into culture as well to determine what is influencing the violence. Patricia asked us to consider what lens boys from different cultures are looking at girls through.

The discussion in general brought up important points and allowed the audience to ask difficult questions while considering these violent acts against women from different angles. I am glad UN Women included a mixture of men and women since these issues face everyone in society.

NYC Pride Parade Filled with Energy After Win Against DOMA!

Ever since I was young and growing up through school, I never understood why gay marriage did not exist. In my eyes it was simple: these two people love each other, it isn’t affecting anyone else anyways, and then I would think of it on a more personal level. What if I was gay and one of my dreams in life was still to get married just as it is in my actual life? Why should a person be denied this important aspect of life, especially after going through a possibly more difficult life because of how people treat them only for being themselves?

These values that took hold of me from a young age, followed me even up until today. Though of course now they have become more complicated as I have gotten involved in the human rights, political, and religious sides of the argument. But why does it have to be complicated? In the end, it really still should be as simple as how my 12-year-old self saw it. However, that is the country we live in. Finally, last week, the Supreme Court struck down DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), which I have been fighting as part of Amnesty International for years. It was such a huge day, even though really, it’s just common sense. The United States is founded on the separation of church and state, why that is such a difficult concept to understand I will never know. Not only will the marriage ceremonies be able to take place (where states allow), as I always hoped for growing up, but many more aspects will take hold that my younger self didn’t know too much about yet. Gay couples are finally recognized by the federal government for being who they are. So, if they are in a state that allows (which hopefully this will get the ball rolling for the other states) married gay couples they will have the same benefits as straight, married couples, making a huge difference for the rights of so many people! I’m talking, life changing for the better. And what will it do for people who aren’t happy? Absolutely nothing. In fact, those people’s lives wouldn’t change either way.

I’m sure you’ve heard most of the arguments and details by now. I want to focus on the celebration. The New York City Pride Parade, one of my favorite days of the year in NYC, was of course incredible. A day of equality, acceptance, love, and happiness for a huge win after a long fight for equal rights. It was the first time that as I volunteered for Amnesty International we didn’t have the DOMA petitions. Instead, we participated in the Pride Festival where we collected signatures to pass legislation for a federal law that would make it illegal to discriminate against students based on sexual orientation. Currently, it’s illegal to discriminate based on factors such as gender and race, but believe it or not, not sexual orientation. We also collected signatures on postcards to send to South Africa in solidarity with a woman who was murdered for being gay and advocating for LGBT rights.

Jon, myself, Jacquie, and Chris collected nearly 200 signatures in 2 hours for the proposed anti-discrimination legislation.

Jon, myself, Jacquie, and Chris collected nearly 200 signatures in 2 hours for the proposed anti-discrimination legislation.

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Wall of solidarity postcards for South Africa.

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After volunteering we went over to enjoy the Pride Parade itself. The energy after the win against DOMA was incredible. Everyone was filled with hope as there was finally evidence that when you fight hard for what’s right, change CAN happen and nothing is impossible. It took way too long, but we as a country have finally taken a step in the right direction of equality. Enjoy a few photos of the inspiring celebrations!

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Why Ask Why? A Question Worth Spreading. (Ted X Teen 2013)

I was so excited to have the opportunity to attend Ted X Teen on behalf of She’s The First this past weekend. I was immediately brought to a good mood to see all of the ambitious, open minded, and driven teenagers (many with their moms and dads) as the check in process began. I took advantage of this by giving out a few She’s The First cards and talking about the cause hoping to fire up some more campus chapters while all of this positive, young energy was in one place. I made my way to the authors and got their books signed, while also chatting with them about the organization and why I was there. They were all so friendly and interested. I’m especially excited to learn more about Andrew Jenks, who swore we had met before and had a mild obsession with my name.

I always love conferences like this because it’s an automatic re-up to my inspiration and motivation, which is needed when day-to-day life can start to push it down. Chelsea Clinton was hosting, and although I did not get to meet her, I still swear we are destined to be best friends. Hopefully someday she will realize this as well and I will become a family friend of the Clintons. Anyways! Chelsea kicked off the event with some amazing Teddy Roosevelt quotes and inspiration:

 

Chelsea Clinton shares Teddy Roosevelt quote.

 

Chelsea Clinton then shared a Clinton family saying:

“The worst thing that could happen is you get caught trying.”

She advised for those wanting to step forward and make a difference:

1. Start where you are. What is one thing you can dedicate your life to? What makes you mad? What doesn’t make sense? Society often creates unnecessary fine lines between humility vs. self defeat and arrogance vs. integrity.

2. Be brave enough to be second. Don’t be afraid to identify what works and build from it.

3. Because I can I should, and because I should I will.

Chelsea Clinton hosts Ted X Teen

Chelsea Clinton hosts Ted X Teen

Caine Monroy, a 10 year old who created a cardboard arcade, left us with these words that I loved, as they reminded me to stay true to my roots of my young self. Sometimes those times were simpler and it’s hard to see through the cloudiness of growing up.

“When you were 10, what did your imagination tell you to do?”

Caine Monroy bult a cardboard arcade.

Caine Monroy built a cardboard arcade.

Joseph Peter, who created the Book of Happiness, reminded us of the power to smile, find happiness, and remember the happiness of others. About reflecting on the good of the world, rather than the bad we see in the media. To use a smile to peer into the heart and soul of a person regardless of culture and language, and to build bridges with it. He found a different Africa than what you see in the media, which I also found while I was there. One of love, inspiration, and happiness. He began giving away his images for free, trying to do anything to spread this realization. Although he struggled at the beginning, he learned that, “disappointment causes us to come back with something better, different, truer to self.”

“How beautiful is our common humanity?”

Joseph Peter

Joseph Peter

The UN has even made March 20th the International Day of Happiness. There will be a week of celebration that everyone should take part in to reflect on what makes you happy and changing the world.

Myself in front of Joseph Peter's wall of happiness.

Myself in front of Joseph Peter’s wall of happiness.

Kuha’o Case was one of my favorite speakers of the day. A piano/organ prodigy from Hawaii, he is blind, and came with an important message for everyone.

“I see no limits, sight may be more limiting. Your eyes haven’t seen it being done, you don’t know it CAN be done. Don’t allow yourself to be blinded by sight. Don’t ask why, rather, dare to see no limits and ask, why not?”

This compared with a favorite Nelson Mandela quote of mine that he also shared.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Kuah'o Case

Kuah’o Case

Case also reminded us of our untapped potential. That our goals, dreams, and ambitions do not have to be within perceived boundaries.

Kelvin Doe, AKA DJ Focus, from Sierra Leone, would pick up scraps from a garbage fill on his way home from school every day. At night he would build things..beginning with radios and moving on to batteries, an audio mixer, and eventually having a full radio station. It made me think of all the high tech things we have in the world, and all of the “trash” people throw away. Do we really need to be constantly creating from new materials when we can use and be innovative with what we already have like Kelvin was? At the age of 15, Kelvin was able to come to the U.S. to be a visiting practitioner at MIT and even lecture at Harvard. He is pursuing engineering, and joked that his YouTube video has over 4 million views, nearly twice as many as President Obama’s acceptance speech. Though his story was one of inspiration and success, Chelsea Clinton reminded us of something I’ve heard and seen too many times.

“Talent, passion, and perseverance are everywhere, but opportunity, resources, and mentorship are not.”

Kelvin Doe AKA DJ Focus

Kelvin Doe AKA DJ Focus

Tania Luna shared her study of the psychology of surprise. How when you are younger you tend to be open to surprise, but as you get older you try to hide from it since it can make you feel out of control of a situation. We try not to look naive and vulnerable. However, this holds us back from learning and changing to something that may surprise us (a common factor to the existence of stereotypes or not accepting what might be outside of the norm.) She also mentioned how schools award students for knowing more so than asking to know, and so they often never actually find out. She encouraged us to step outside of our comfort zone, allow ourselves to be surprised, actively choose to be vulnerable and ask:

“I don’t know, but I wonder.”

Chelsea Clinton with her husband and Tania Luna

Chelsea Clinton with her husband and Tania Luna

Maria Toorpakai Wazir, from Pakistan, was fortunate to  have a father who saw women as equals. She dressed and was renamed as a boy to have equal opportunities. She grew up with anger toward these cultural norms still in existence, and eventually channeled her negative energy into weight lifting. Once her true gender was discovered, she was bullied by adults and even threatened by the Taliban. She spent 3 years training her room and e-mailing colleges. Finally, Jonathan Power of Canada replied and gave her the opportunity to become a globally successful Squash player.

“You will find a way, don’t give up, life is waiting for you at the end. Fly as an eagle, don’t be afraid of wind or rocky mountains, they challenge and shape you.”

Maria Toorpakai Wazir

Maria Toorpakai Wazir

As a huge fan of Nelson Mandela, I was extremely anxious to hear his grandson, Ndaba Mandela, speak. He shared how he learned to honor a legacy by learning from the past and building, but charting your own path. He is working to change the perception of Africa.

“Poverty, disease, and war exist, but many positive things happen and are ignored by the media. By shining a light on these, people can empower themselves and inspire their communities.”

The majority of African people live in rural areas, but to not have access to education or extra curricular activities. However, since that is where most of the people are, that is where the post potential is as well. The power of technology, and the Mandela Global Digital Platform, has started to allow people to share what they are doing for their communities.

Ndaba Mandela (granson of Nelson Mandela)

Ndaba Mandela (grandson of Nelson Mandela)

“The story begins with Nelson Mandela, but ends with others.”

He then recognized young people in the audience who have started amazing movements, and gave them the credit they deserved, he felt, as much or more than he does. He encouraged us to use Nelson Mandela Day to fund the best, sustainable way to give back.

Talia Storm shared her story of discovery thanks to Elton John and pushed us to #discoverurstorm.

“Be ready to seize your moment.”

Talia Storm

Talia Storm

Kris Bronner, founder of UnReal, created a candy without artificial colors, high fructose corn syrup, less sugar, and more protein and fiber. Seeing a young person accomplish this made me think, why is our government fighting over how much we are allowed to consume and not spending more time and resources creating products like Kris’ instead? They could learn a few lessons from Chris, such as to think, why can’t it be different? Think big, but allow yourself to remain naive. It’s not enough to do what’s easy, you have to do what’s right.

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

Kris Bronner of UnReal

Kris Bronner of UnReal

Amaryllis Fox had a life that was hard for me to imagine, taking a risk to move somewhere on a whim with no money and no plan. She found herself near the Thailand/Burma border working with refugees, many of whom were injured from land mines and military regimes. Her experience showed the benefits of acting by instinct and intuition.

“I couldn’t have found my life at the end of a pro and con list.”

Amaryllis Fox

Amaryllis Fox

Sophie Umazi, of Kenya, was nearly killed during the 2007 elections when her light skin made her seen as an “enemy tribe.” When the elections of 2013 began, she knew she had to do something to help avoid this from happening again to herself or others. She began the “I Am Kenyan” campaign, where the world shared photos of themselves saying “I am Kenyan” to show that we are all humanity and that the world stands together with an rea that needs it. We are all citizens of the world. On a smaller scale, she believes that her country must identify as Kenyan first, before politics, ethnicity, tribe, etc. I believe this is a powerful lesson that the U.S. should learn as well.

“I believe we are all human beings, not just citizens of our countries.”

This is an idea I have always ALWAYS lived by, and it gave me goosebumps hearing someone else bring it forward as well. The elections in Kenya, though some violence occurred, were overall peaceful and democratic. They even had 88% voter turn out, which is much higher than the U.S. has possibly ever head.

Sophie Umazi of "I am Kenyan"

Sophie Umazi of “I am Kenyan”

Finally, there was Dylan Vecchione. Through his experience in his project working to save reefs, he shared with us the importance of asking passionate questions. To prompt, research, encourage work, and find puzzles that must be solved. Letting questions lead to new thinking will inevitably lead to making new discoveries.

Dylan Vecchione

Dylan Vecchione

The entire day made for a wonderful Saturday. I even ran into Omekongo, who I had seen perform at the Stanford Stand conference I attended in 2011, and spend lunch chatting about my own thoughts and goals, while hearing input from someone I admired so highly. I’m reminded of all the people doing good in the world among all of the bad that is constantly shoved into our attention. But I think anyone can take the lessons that these young people have already learned, ask why whenever possible, and step confidently in the direction of your dreams. Happy International Happiness Week!

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What Did I Do in 2012?

With 2012 flying by so fast, I wanted to document some of its highlights. For me it was a big year with a lot of growing and changing to work toward the person I’m trying to be. I’m often good at being too hard on myself trying to figure the world out immediately, that I forget that it takes time to learn and to realize what I’ve already accomplished.

I rang in 2013 with some of my favorite New Yorkers including Sarabeth, Elle, Brad, and of course my boyfriend Jon. We started off the evening at McSorleys before heading into Williamsburg to feel classy at a jazz bar. Even with living in NYC, I will never have any desire to go anywhere near Time Square.

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Jon and I at McSorleys

February brought my 4th Jack’s Mannequin concert. I’ve seen him in Cleveland twice, Columbus once, and now NYC. Sadly, he announced that the band was ending in November of this year.

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Andrew McMahon at Irving Plaza

In honor of Valentine’s Day, and as a part of Young Professionals of Amnesty International, we put on our “Make A Date with YPAI” event. At Lolita in downtown Manhattan we held the event to take action for LGBT rights including issues such as DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We had speakers who were professors, heads of organizations including In The Life Media, and ended the night with 2 transgender comedians and spoken word artist Athens Boys Choir.

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Myself speaking at our YPAI event at Lolita

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Athens Boys Choir performing at our YPAI event

In March, I was fortunate enough to attend two of my favorite opportunities that I had the entire year. First was the Amnesty International Secret Policeman Ball. A night of comedy and music to bring attention to the organization and some of the current urgent human rights abuses that were going on at that time. Radio City filled up with the help of a wide range of celebrities such as Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman, Coldplay, Mumford and Sons, just to name a few.

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Alex and I front row for Amnesty’s Secret Policeman Ball

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Cold Play performing

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Me, Steph, Emily, and Alex outside the event

A week later I was in Lincoln Center for three of the most inspiring days of my life as I covered the Women In The World Summit for Girls Who Rock. Jam packed with individuals who have been through the unimaginable and accomplished the incredible, I learned so much and never felt so motivated to keep working toward creating change. The summit ended with a speech by one of my favorite people, Hillary Clinton.

Tina Brown, Merryl Streep, Hillary Clinton

Tina Brown, Merryl Streep, Hillary Clinton

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Girls Who Rock Team

I ended March seeing Nick Kristof speak, which unfortunately I have no photos of, but you can read more here. April was filled with visitors. Both Jon’s family and mine made trips into the city along with college friends and a couple of guys from Germany. I began May with a trip to Ohio to spend my birthday in Athens, my favorite place in the world, and for our friends Mike and Mariah’s wedding. As I came back, my sister made a big move from NYC to Florida. Finally, it was time for the Girls Who Rock concert. As a digital engagement officer (the Twitter account was named most influential by Internet Week NY) for Girls Who Rock I had been helping plan and promote this event which would raise money for She’s The First to send girls to school at Shanti Bhavan in India.

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The performers and Girls Who Rock team after the concert at Gramercy

In June I found out I was accepted to take on a huge life goal of mine and travel to Ghana with The Humanity Exchange to work summer camps at multiple schools in the Western Region. The next month was filled with organizing paperwork and getting shots in preparation. The experience was as life changing and amazing as anyone could expect. If i begin talking about it I will never stop, so if you want to hear more you can see what I wrote during my time with these amazing kids.

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The rest of summer included playing kickball with She’s The First, holding a rooftop happy hour for Young Professionals of Amnesty International where we took action on the Arms Trade Treaty, speaking at the Amnesty office about conflict minerals in the Congo and other solutions to Kony 2012, and moving. After 2 subleases and squeezing 4 people into a 3 bedroom in Williamsburg, Jon and I finally signed a lease for the first apartment that was actually ours in Astoria, Queens. We also celebrated our 3 year anniversary on July 1st. As fall came around, we joined the Ohio University alums for a cruise on the Hudson River. I went on my first ever business trip for work to Greensboro, NC to represent Blue Outdoor at the Tanger Outlets Conference. Finally, I was made of honor in my best friend Rachel’s wedding.

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The bridal party

After spending the summer reading Half The Sky by Nick Kristof, the documentary was finally airing on PBS. I anxiously went to a few screenings ahead of time of course, one which included Nick, Sheryl WuDunn, and Olivia Wilde as speakers. I also spent a Saturday volunteering at the Global Citizens Festival, a massive concert in Central Park put on by the Global Poverty Project to raise money for some of the poorest areas of the world.

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Central Park Global Citizens Festival

At the end of October we made it through Hurricane Sandy only losing cable and internet, extremely fortunate compared to others in the NYC area. We walked outside to find our neighborhood damaged, but overall everyone in Astoria seemed to stay safe.

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Day after Hurricane Sandy in Astoria, Queens

I accepted a volunteer position as a Researcher for She’s The First for their schools in Uganda and South Sudan which I cannot wait to get started on! After much excitement and drama over the past year, we watched anxiously until 2 a.m. for Obama to win the election. Well, some of us made it the whole time anyways.

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Jon, Jacquie, and Chris on election night

We celebrated Thanksgiving with my parents coming to our apartment in the city. We held our final event of the year as the Young Professionals of Amnesty International on Guantanamo and stopping NDAA (which Obama recently passed unfortunately). The holiday season brought a delicious work dinner and bowling party, Lion King on Broadway for a night of fun with a few coworkers, and a trip to Ohio to celebrate Christmas, Jon’s birthday, and the New Year with friends and family.

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Eric, Erin, Jon, me, Rachel, Josh

This year brought so much inspiration, love, accomplishments, and learning. It flew by faster than I could ever imagine. So what will 2013 bring for me? So far I have resolutions including eating healthier and joining a gym (pretty normal). I’m also hoping to write more, maybe take the GRE and consider grad school more closely, narrow down a focus of what issues in the world I’d like to focus most on changing, get started with my role in She’s The First, try new things, and find some me time to relax. As most people are, I’m often hard on myself for not doing enough. But thanks to this blog, for me, I was able to see all of the things I did accomplish this year, and they were pretty awesome. Here’s to a positive and even more fun filled 2013!

Day 2 of Women in The World

Continuing off of my last post regarding my time at the Women In The World Summit, I wanted to keep pulling in memories and points from my live tweeting. The summit itself made me realize that nothing is impossible. Here I am in New York City, coming here from a very small town. But none of that matters. Some positions seemed forever out of reach when I was growing up, but I’ve come to think more along the lines now of “why not me?”. Why can’t I be the one to do something? There is no reason. Of course it comes with a lot of hard work, and there are people out there who already start off miles ahead of you if they have the right background? But the support system I’ve developed while volunteering in this city makes me believe that I could be the one making a difference someday. This conference in particular made me think hard of what I want to do. I love writing, and I love learning about the world and how to make the biggest positive impact to give people a better life. All people. As of right now, after listening to Nancy Pelosi, Madeleine K. Albright and Hillary Clinton, I think I would love to study international relations/foreign policy in graduate school and go on to write policy in the U.S. for foreign affairs. Eventually I would also like to go into Academia and teach at a college level to continue my research, travel, and motivate future generations. Here is a continuation from the last post that got me thinking more along these lines.

More inspiring women speak at Women In The World

First of all, especially with the upcoming election even here in the United States, voting is extremely important. One point was brought up that “bad things happen when good people don’t vote”. Regarding women, this is even more important today when we are trying and close to getting more women into office, and also to stay fair on the issues up for debate that affect women especially. It’s important to stand together. I’ve never been one to be a strong feminist, but at the same time there are situations that just make sense. Women, not always, but overall tend to be a bit more sensitive and better at listening. These two characteristics are very important in trying to make a better world for everyone and not strive for power. But it’s not easy. “In our generation now we’re told there’s no longer barriers (being a woman) so when we hit them we think it’s our fault,” said Shelby Knox. The media often makes it appear that gender equality has been achieved, but in most cases that’s not true. Another issue is that women are often the toughest critics of other women, including those running for office. Instead of being supportive, there is this tendency to pull them apart, and without that support there’s no chance of taking steps forward. Jane Harman mentioned traits that women have off the resume that are important for leadership positions: instinct to protect, and trying to resolve problems.

I found many other points made by Jane Harman particularly interesting. She also reminded the audience that the areas with the most violence also has the most victims, who need help and not more harm. Therefore, it’s not best to attack a neighborhood, but to actually find the people causing the problems. This can be best done with the help of the victims since they are likely to cooperate, instead of angering them by upsetting their lives even further. “We must build trust with communities or you won’t know. They won’t help you find 1 bad apple,” Harman said.  She then mentioned the importance of women in building up communities. “If you have a secure woman you have a secure child, a secure family, a secure society.”

Another panel spoke on Afghanistan being the most dangerous place to be a woman. A solution that came up, which I always found to be an important avenue to follow, is focusing on the men. Women already know that they don’t want violence against them, rape, or to be less than any man. Therefore, the energy for change should be focused on teaching men and boys from the start to respect women since ultimately, in circumstances where these occurrences are common, can be diminished from the beginning.

As a panel opened up on murder and machismo in Latin America, another strong and incredible young woman told her story as she was personally effected by sex trafficking and child prostitution in Mexico. This issue is still extremely common today both in Mexico and across into the United States border. See my earlier post on solutions from a speaker at the Amnesty International Office.

Another favorite session of mine was with Nancy Pelosi, a person I have always admired. Her focus began with the recent debate of women’s reproductive rights. I found an important point she made of remembering that being a woman is not a pre-existing condition, and should not be treated as that. Which is why it makes sense for health coverage to include areas needed for the health of a woman. Valerie Jarrett later spoke at the summit bringing up the issues again in regards to her work with President Obama saying that he “was always surrounded by women and values them having a seat at the table.”

After much serious discussion on some very heavy issues, the summit moved to a lighter note with the Soccket Rocket. This was invented by two women. It is a soccer ball that harnesses kinetic energy while being played with. The energy is then used later to power a light in communities that don’t have electricity and use kerosene lamps which cause many health problems. Now that is innovative!

Soccket Rocket

Day 2 wrapped up with Lynsey Addario speaking of her photojournalism in Libya and being captured by rebels. A job of tremendous courage that I can hardly comprehend as I sat there in amazement of what she had faced to tell their story. It looks like she has no plans of stopping anytime soon. Charlie Rose even asked her “You now have a 10 week old baby, are you going to keep doing this?” To which she responded, “would you ask a man that question?” Going into the Arab spring, an uplifting quote came up to end the day. “There is no spring without flowers, there is no Arab Spring without women.” And with that, Anna Netrebko left us with her amazing voice, and we left anxious for the final day of the summit.

“There’s A Special Place in Hell for Women Who Don’t Help Each Other”-Madeleine K. Albright

The Girls Who Rock Team attends the Women In The World summit

The Girls Who Rock Team attends the Women In The World summit

Just a fair warning that this blog is probably going to be longer than a blog post is really supposed to be. However, after attending the 3 day Women In The World Summit, I can’t help but want to remember every moment and all of the inspired ideas and thoughts that I had throughout. This is going to be my documentation of it, but I promise everyt person and everything that happened at the summit is worth reading and learning about. Forgive me if my thoughts seem scattered, I’m trying to collect them through many many tweets. The whole reason I was there was because the Girls Who Rock team was invited, and throughout the whole event I was live tweeting for them (@girlswhorockny). It was an amazing experience! (When I wrote this I didn’t realize just how long it would be, so I have decided to break the summit down by day, this is day 1).

Friday, March 8th

The summit started out with Suma, an indentured servant from Nepal  who was forced into work by her parents where she was treated as a slave and abused daily. She was a beautiful and strong young woman who came to sing her song to help those still suffering this treatment which is common among girls in Nepal after being sent by their own parents.

From there, the evening went into a panel on forced marriages, specifically in Europe. There is an organization there currently called the Forced Marriage Unit that girls can call if they suspect their parents will be taking them away to be married soon. The Forced Marriage Unit then tells the girls to put a metal spoon in their underwear so that when they go through airport security as their parents take them out of the country, they’ll set the alarm off. From there they will be taken into a private room and be given a chance to talk to someone one on one.  However, as Lesley Stahl continued on with the panel, the horror does not end there. Most girls who do speak out against their forced marriage are then turned against by their parents. One woman on the panel, Jasvender Sanghera, hadn’t had contact with their families for decades. It is not uncommon for the cases to be even more extreme than that. Fathers will threaten suicide or divorce of the mother, abuse, or even murder. One woman on the panel had a sister who was constantly abused and raped by her husband she was forced to marry. At age 24 she went to her mother for help, but she refused saying if the woman did anything to ruin the marriage she would be a disgrace to the family. Shortly after, the young woman killed herself by setting herself on fire. The mother refused to let anyone in their family attend the funeral or speak of the young woman or her death again because she had dishonored the family. Stories like this have even come out of the United States. There was a case in Arizona where a mother burned her daughter’s face for refusing an arranged marriage. The awful connection these stories all have, no matter what country they come out of, are that the mothers and grandmothers are often the most brutal and show no remorse on the violence they afflict onto their daughters even if they end up in court for murder. How can a mother feel that way toward their own daughter? There have been 3000 cases of forced marriage in the United States in the past 2 years, but many many more that remain hidden.

Next up was a woman who I have admired for many many years. Madeleine K. Albright was interviewed by Charlie Rose. It was amazing to hear her life story and how she brought it with her into her career firsthand, and inspiring as she made it seem that any person no matter what background you have can have enormous success. She recalled her family who had passed away in concentration camps, which she only found out recently, and her personal experience in the Cold War as a child. “You have to remember those who perished to make a better life,” she said.  She then related the Holocaust in Germany to the current situation in Syria today commenting on how people back in World War II claimed that they didn’t know what was happening in Germany, though she doesn’t buy that, but today we know everything that goes on everywhere and we have a responsibility to protect (R2P). Then the question I think is on many minds today was voiced-how many people have to die in Syria before we can intervene? It’s a thin line right now to a huge regret remembered for all of history such as what happened with Rwanda.  Switching gears, Madeleine Albright began speaking about women in power and how there aren’t enough currently because if there was it would make a huge difference. “Some say there arent enough qualified women, thats the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard,” she said. Then she gave a quote that would highlight throughout the rest of the summit: “There’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t help each other.”

Friday March 8, 2012 at Women in the World Summit

Sandra Uwiringyimana, an 18 year old Congolese woman, told her experience of surviving the genocide in 2004 at age 10. From my past experience working on projects for positive change in Democratic Republic of Congo, it was heartbreaking to hear her story as she spoke of her family fleeing Congo to Burundi and witnessing the massacre that occurred along the way. “Justice needs to be fought for and it can come from anyone, even a teenager like myself,” she said. She now follows her passion of photography and uses it to tell the story of the children she was with during the massacre and what their lives are like now. Hearing her choke up recalling the people she knew and her family, I couldn’t stop the tears streaming down my own face. She was so strong and beautiful, and so young to have seen so much.

To end the evening, Angelina Jolie told the story of a Somali woman. Dr. Hawa Abdi has stood as a strong woman throughout tragedy in Somalia. She has a camp that provides medical help and shelter to refugees and those who were suffering from the famine. However, once international NGOs started setting up camps as well they started paying locals more to work for them, and she began losing her employees. Finally, she had to give them a raise to stay, which took away most of her funds she had for the 2012 year, another example of the western world doing way more harm than good through poorly thought out aid plans. As the drought ended, a great rain occurred which then left most of the people sick with pneumonia. As if any of this weren’t bad enough, women often were raped by rebels if the wandered away from the camp at all. One day the rebels came and took all of the children from the camp. Once they were brought back the children said they were actually taken to a celebration, where they also met members of Al Queda. Now the rebels are wanting to take away areas of the camp to use for their own. Dr. Abdi took them to court, but since even law enforcement are terrified of the rebels, she lost. Now 400 people are being forced out of their shelter at the camp. They were given 5 days to leave with nowhere to go, and that 5th day was Friday March 9th. The only good news coming from this situation is that Dr. Hawa Abdi has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Price. I can not think of anyone who could possibly deserve it more.

Young Professionals Amnesty International (YPAI) Puts On “Freedom of Expression in 140 Characters or Less”

“If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s third largest.”  Alex started the evening off with this shocking statistic that caught the audience’s attention right off the bat.  The first of many bi-monthly events for YPAI (Young Professionals Amnesty International) NYC had begun.  Our mission–to teach people how social media affects human rights both negatively and positively. We had been planning this event for months, allowing us to grow together as a team and build our skills in event organizing to put together an outcome that showcased each of our passions and areas of expertise. Thanks to Lolita Bar on the Lower East Side for being our venue, fellow human rights connoisseurs came together in the evening to mingle, sign the actions available, and drink the “Amnesty Special” that was put together by Lolita for the cause.

We were fortunate enough to have 3 amazing and inspiring speakers.  First, Kyra Stoddart, the Online Marketing Manager for Amnesty International USA in New York set the tone for social media and human rights by showcasing her experience and writing for the Human Rights Now blog.  She showed how people no longer have to rely on traditional media using examples such as Occupy Wall Street and Troy Davis where it was a tool to mobilize many people quickly and efficiently.  However, on the negative side, there are many countries where freedom of speech is not respected by the government.  Social media could be the only tool that citizens have to get information out and try to create a change.  However, since platforms such as Google Plus and Facebook make it necessary for people to use their real names, this information can become lost.  It is essential that a fake name is used to avoid being arrested, sadly.  This is where things can get complicated, but these companies are aware and working on a way to make expression possible.

Speakers (left to right): Kyra Stoddart, Raja Althaibani, Bryna Subherwal

Next, Raja Althaibani spoke.  She currently works at Witness, but before that spent time in Yemen covering the areas that needed change there and following the revolution.  She listed several issues with social media use in Yemen: access to internet is very low, it is difficult to mobilize with social media since the majority of users are the elite.  It was difficult for her to cover on the ground footage while she was there since the mainstream media is very secure-which is where citizen journalism becomes important.  However, even while she was there she found it was very difficult to gain the attention of the international community.  “Yemen was being pushed out of the light because of Egypt,” Althaibani said.  So how do you bring attention to an area that the world isn’t paying attention to?  “Social media gives faces to stories,” explained Althabani, “if 10 people died and you show who they are it will add context over statistics.”  However, in Yemen you are risking your life to push information through social media channels.  “People with cameras (like herself) were at risk of snipers, I had my SD cards confiscated and AK 47s aimed at my face,” Althaibani said.  She asked herself, “is this movement worth putting my life at risk?”  But when she saw the people and the faces first hand her answer was clear–“yes”.

Finally, Brenna Subherwal talked about the opportunity social media gives to create connections.  However, in the United States, it is common for facebook users to worry “my colleague or relatives are going to see this post” where in other places you would worry about police coming to your door and arresting you.  It’s even common for the government to make up charges to convict those who are using social media to portray their society negatively.  Obviously not the case in the United States where politics are freely  bashed and criticized commonly on the internet.  However, these individuals know they are risking their lives and freedom to stand up for what they believe in, and they still do it regardless.  So what can we do?  “We can tweet at other countries, stand in solidarity with those in prison,” Subherwal said.  She also stressed an important point, that social media can be a good tool for social media, but is not necessary.  For example, in Egypt the government cut of power, but sometimes these limitations on social media are what drive innovation.

After the event there was opportunity for actions to be signed.  We focused on three cases of injustice brought upon people due to human rights.  Please take a look and show your support for these three individuals who are currently in prison for expressing their rights:  Jabbar Savalan Shi Tao Maikel Sanad

The YPAI Board with speakers.

We encourage other New York City Young Professionals who are passionate for making a positive change in human rights to join us for our biweekly meetings. Please join YPAI NYC on Facebook and Meet Up to become involved. We thank everyone who came, our three speakers, and Lolita Bar for making our first of many events a success. We also ask-how do you use social media to make a difference?

Please check out our Flickr for additional photos from this and previous events!

All photos are credit of Kelly Samardak, we thank you for capturing this event for us!

We Ran for Congo Women

Jon and I after the 5K.

When I saw the Run for Congo Women tweeted by Women for Women International I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.  From participating in many DRC initiatives the last several years throughout college, I was anxious to stay active upon moving to NYC.  Some of my closest friends at OU came from shared passion for working to create change in the region and stop human rights atrocities.  The people I met who were from DRC had truly inspiring stories that helped motivate me to stay involved and not give up until a difference is finally made.

On a beautiful day we ran the 5K at Roosevelt Island (though I’m not much of a runner so walking was involved, but it’s the thought that counts!)  After the run I had the opportunity to speak with the organizers of the event.  One of them, Amy, saw my energy and invited me to help with future events.  We also spoke about finding a way to incorporate spreading awareness of Conflict Minerals and continuing the initiative further.  Ideas for this are of course welcome, as I continue brainstorming myself.  I also met the founder of Shona, an organization that sells products made by women in DRC with disabilities. Truly beautiful work, I bought a great bag myself and plan to purchase more in the future.  The woman told me about her years living in Rwanda and DRC, which was great for me since I can’t wait to travel there.

A gorgeous bag like the one I bought from Shona.

I felt the run feeling good to be back involved with helping Congo and excited about my new connections.  I have already had the opportunity to meet and speak to them further.  I highly encourage you to check out and attend future Run for Congo events!

The Inspiration of Catchafire

My next set of writing samples to add to the blog were going to be from my internship last winter with Catchafire.  It also just so happens that I went to their summer event last night at Wix Lounge.  Over drinks and snacks we celebrated the success and growth of an organization trying to change the world one professional at a time.  It was a great opportunity for networking, thought-provoking conversation and to learn.

It was great for me to be reunited with the team.  My internship with them helped me grow and gain skills to enter into my career.  I came in as a small town Ohio girl unaware of how to use my background and education in a professional setting.  With the responsibility and support of the other Catchafire employees I ended up not only working on my assigned research project, but also attending networking events, writing for the blog, updating their social media and getting the opportunity to attend meetings and interviews with the CEO/Founder Rachael Chong.  The experience made me more confident about what I had to offer in a career I was so passionate about.  The event last night reignited the spark of motivation I needed to keep learning and growing towards my goals.

Catchafire was an idea by Rachael Chong as she spent countless time looking for an opportunity to share her professional skills without finding anything.  Today, Catchafire matches working professionals with the thousands of nonprofit and social good organizations in New York City.  People are able to donate their skills such as finance, design, marketing, communication and technology to make an affective difference and helping organizations grow to create more positive changes throughout the world.  It’s a great opportunity for CSR.  If you’re looking for a fulfilling volunteer experience, I highly recommend checking them out and creating a profile.  I, personally, can’t wait to see them grow even further.

Here are links to the writing samples I wrote when I contributed to their blog last winter.  Enjoy!

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/03/my-catchafire-endeavors-working-to-build-my-future-in-helping-others/

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/23/matt-miller-the-technical-side-of-catchafire/

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/22/my-catchafire-internship-wrapped-up/

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/16/the-story-behind-jane-slusser-campaigns-causes-and-burger-clubs/

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/15/my-catchafire-project-introducing-the-service-station/

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/10/the-passion-behind-catchafire-meet-rachael-chong/

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/09/food-and-friends-our-breakfast-with-atlas-corps/

http://blog.catchafire.org/2010/12/09/food-and-friends-our-breakfast-with-atlas-corps/