By Cheryl Cedar Face
MHA Times Editor
The inaugural United State of Women Summit took place in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, June 14, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Community leaders, activists, and other “changemakers” from across the country gathered to take part in the summit, which focused on women’s rights, economic opportunity, health, and gender equality. Convened by First Lady Michelle Obama and the White House, the summit featured speeches by several important political figures and celebrities.
The star-studded summit began early Tuesday, with numerous rousing speeches given throughout the day. The scheduled list of speakers included President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Oprah Winfrey. Also included were actresses Kerry Washington, Mariska Hargitay, and Amy Poehler.
Empowered women from across the country were selected to attend the summit. Community leaders, teachers, writers, and activists assembled to take part in what was half a celebration of how far women have come, and half a call to action for the ongoing fight toward gender equality.
Other important issues affecting women were discussed, including economic empowerment, universal access to adequate healthcare, and closing the wage gap between male and female workers.
Combating violence against women was the main topic of the morning session, with Vice President Joe Biden describing his role in fighting the culture of violence that many women have fallen victim to.
“This has literally been, not figuratively, the cause of my life,” Biden said.
“Changing the laws is only the beginning,” said Biden. “We have to change the national culture, a culture that condones and that often promotes violence against women.”
“We will have succeeded when not a single woman who is violated ever, ever asks herself the question: ‘What did I do?’” Biden said. “We will have succeeded when not one man who raises a hand or takes a violent action against a woman is able to say without any credibility in his own mind, ‘She deserved it.’”
President Obama also spoke at the summit, describing his desire for women to fill more corner offices, as well as the Oval Office.
“I may be a little greyer than I was eight years ago, but this is what a feminist looks like,” said President Obama.
“Our progress has been the result of countless ordinary women and men whose names will never be written into the history books or chiseled on monuments, but who dedicated their lives to ensuring that America lives up to its promise of liberty and justice for all,” said Obama.
“This is the future that we’re building, one where all of us here at home and around the world are free to live out our dreams. Where our children’s aspirations aren’t segregated into pink and blue,” said Obama. “Where women and girls, no matter where they live, are free from fear of violence – including gun violence. “
“Together, we can build a world that’s more just and more prosperous and more free. That’s a job for all of us,” Obama concluded.
The summit also featured speakers concerned with the global advancement of women.
“I call on the United States of America and the United State of Women to be part of this global movement for gender equality,” said Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director for United Nations Women.
“This means women and girls are safe and free from violence in their homes, at work and in public spaces; women participate at all levels of government and in the private sector; and women have jobs that make them economically independent and guarantee a decent standard of living, from birth to old age,” Puri continued.
“We count on your leadership to ensure that this is truly the century for women and girls,” Puri concluded.
The highlight of the summit was a sit-down interview between Oprah Winfrey and First Lady Michelle Obama.
In the interview, the First Lady discussed the difficulties involved in being a modern woman and mother.
“I am always irritated by the ‘You can have it all’ statement. It’s a ridiculous aspiration,” said Obama. “So, no, I don’t want women out there to have the expectation that if they’re not having it all, then somehow they’re failing.”
Obama also discussed her methods of coping with malicious criticism, something many women deal with in their personal and professional lives.
“I always tell young girls, surround yourself with goodness. I learned early on how to get the haters out of my life. You’ve got to just sort of surround yourself with people who uplift you, who hold you up,” said Obama. “I had parents who held me up. I had a father that valued me.”
“The best revenge is success and good work,” said Obama. “You just wake up every morning and be the best you can be.”
When asked if she had a message for men in the audience, Obama said simply, “Be better.”
“Be better fathers. Good lord, just being good fathers who love your daughters and are providing a solid example of what it means to be a good man in the world, showing them what it feels like to be loved. That is the greatest gift that the men in my life gave to me,” said Obama.
“I never experienced abuse at the hands of any man in my life. And that’s sad to say that that’s a rare reality. So men can be better at that,” said Obama.
“Remember, it’s not what people say about you, it’s what you do,” said Obama. “How are you going to empower yourself with the knowledge that you need to know what work needs to be done?”
“We can’t afford to be ignorant. We can’t afford to be complacent. So we have to continue the work,” she concluded.