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The second annual Women in the World summit started on Thursday with a welcome from Tina Brown, Editor in Chief of Newsweek and the Daily Beast, who hosted the event, and ended with a farewell on Saturday. Over the course of the few days, an esteemed collection of women and men participated in panel discussions and conversations at the Hudson Theatre in Times Square. There seemed to be one phrase on everyone’s mind: We are at a pivotal moment in history.
Memorable speakers from the weekend included Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Diane von Furstenberg, Melinda French Gates, President Bill Clinton, Ashley Judd, Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine K. Albright, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Anna Holmes, Arianna Huffington, and many others.
Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke on Friday evening directly after a panel discussion with Dr. Hawa Abdi, founder of Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation and HA Village. Dr. Abdi started a health clinic on her own family farm in Somalia, where more than 90,000 displaced people now live peacefully.
Dr. Abdi recounted the story of being held hostage by Islamist militias not long ago. When they tried to take over her hospital, she refused.
“I will die with dignity,” she remembers saying, “I will die with my people.”
Abdi’s speech moved much of the audience to tears. Her hospital and shelter have a zero-tolerance policy for abuse, or for sexism.
“If a man beats his wife,” Abdi tells us, “I throw him out.”
Her daughter, Dr. Deqo Mohamed, who is also a doctor at the Hawa Abdi Hospital, praised her mom for her strength and chimed in when discussing what the relationship between men and women should look like nowadays:
“We brought men into this world. We have to educate them and teach them how to respect us.”
Secretary Clinton took the stage shortly after, beginning by addressing Dr. Hawa’s work toward revolutionizing the way women are regarded in her country.
“I have to confess that I think the evening could and probably should end after hearing from Dr. Hawa and her daughter, and her other daughter, who is here as well, about what she’s doing in Somalia and…what that tells us about what needs to happen around the world,” Secretary Clinton began.
Secretary Clinton was recently on the cover of Newsweek as part of an issue focusing on the role of women in society today, and what their role can and should be in the future.
This weekend’s summit came at a pivotal moment in recent history. Revolutions across the world have paved the way for new democracies to take their place. Clinton reminded the audience that women have been at the forefront of many of these revolutions.
“In Cote d’Ivoire this month, we have seen thousands of women come together, marching arm-in-arm in the streets, calling for a return to democracy and for Laurent Gbagbo to respect the results of the recent elections and give up power… Now they are standing up for their rights and for their future. But last week, Gbagbo’s thugs turned their machine guns on the peaceful marchers, and at least six women were killed. But the women of Cote d’Ivoire did not give up. They returned to the streets with signs that said, ‘Don’t shoot us,’ and they kept right on going.”
Clinton will head to Egypt and Tunisia next week to meet with transitional leaders to discuss the future of both countries with direct representatives. However, Clinton assured us she will also be realistic about the situation overseas.
“Transitions to democracy are fraught,” she stated, “Jobs and economic opportunities do not materialize overnight. Democratic dreams can be dashed by new autocrats or ideologues who use violence or deception to seize power or advance an undemocratic agenda. Elections only work if their results are respected and if they are embedded in a durable democratic framework of strong institutions, the rule of law, a vibrant civil society, and human rights protections for everyone.”
Finishing up, she announced that the State Department is working with the “Seven Sisters” colleges to create a new Women and Public Service initiative, and again thanked Dr. Hawa Abdi for her efforts in changing the world as we know it.