By Mercedes Moya, NYU Student
As a work-study student, I had the chance to work closely with the La Pietra Dialogues organizational staff that put
together the Vital Voices Global Working Session and International Town Hall on the Status
of Women and also served as a hostess at the events. But the best part of my job was that I was
able to sit in on some of the sessions – and I learned a lot! I am a firm supporter of the United
Nations and it was fascinating to attend a conference that discussed translating U.N. objectives
into reality. One of the highlights of the conference was when Mohammad Yunus described
how “social businesses” work. An individual can buy stocks in a company whose objective is
to forward a social aim. The risk is reduced as an incentive, because when the investor wants
to sell his or her portion, they receive exactly what they originally put in back. It was amazing
that during a break Dr. Yunus took time to explain to me in person more about how “social
businesses” work. It was one of the most gratifying experiences of my education so far to have the
theory explained to me directly by the man who thought of it. It is rare to have that opportunity.
The conference was a great success. There were many interesting and impressive speakers such as Tina Brown, Irshad Manji, Kakenya Ntaiya, Marylouise Oates, Robert Shrum and Amanda Ellis,
among others. It was also successful because of the presence of many women who are involved in
politics in their respective countries: Emma Bonino, Vice President of the Italian Senate; Ngozi
Okonjo Iweala, member of the Nigerian government; Melanne Verveer, from the U.S. Department of State and Laura Alonso, Congresswoman in Argentina. I am extremely interested in world politics and seeing all these women in a position of power gathered in the same room gave me hope and confidence, not only for my potential career but especially for the future.
By Alyse Nelson, President and CEO of the Vital Voices Global Partnership, Fall 2009
The year, 2010, marks the 15th anniversary of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China in September 1995. It was a milestone event that caught the world’s attention. For the community of 189 nations that convened and adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, it was a time of commitments to advance the status of women as a means towards “equality, development and peace.” For the 50,000 women who gathered there, and for millions of women and their organizations around the world, it was a transformative event. It signaled solidarity for a worldwide movement for women’s empowerment and gender equality. The women’s movement is strong and its goals are attainable, yet 15 years after the Beijing Conference, the world is not on track to realize women’s empowerment. In recognition of the accomplishments that have been made and the important work that has yet to be done, Vital Voices Global Partnership teamed up with New York University’s La Pietra Dialogues to convene Breakthrough: Overcoming the Obstacles to Equality, Development and Peace, a global gathering of international thought leaders and grassroots activists. From November 1-2, 2009, 50 international leaders from the public and private sector engaged in a dynamic working session to define the systemic challenges to women’s full and equal participation in society. To act on the discussion, Vital Voices, New York University Florence and the dedicated group of individuals present at the working session established the La Pietra Coalition to Advance Women and the World. To date the Coalition boasts the membership of a diverse set of committed leaders from all over the world who have a wide range knowledge and expertise to apply to these issues. To empower women and improve our world, it will take a societal shift from indifference, vague regret and outright opposition to a sense of urgency and commitment. Empowerment must not be seen as a matter of women versus men, but as a matter of better outcomes for all. With plans to gather at NYU’s Villa La Pietra again in the Fall of 2010, the coalition looks forward to taking action for equality in the months and years ahead.
Emma Bonino, the Vice President of the Italian Senate, spoke today at La Pietra Dialogues’ Progress and Imperatives: International Town Hall on the Status of Women at Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio:
Women’s rights is an important issue in Italy because after the big movements of the 1970s and 1980s we have been living a phase, in my opinion, of cultural regression, and therefore, substantial regression. All of the data show that women in our country – in their access to the labor market, careers, the quality of salaries, etc., are the last in Europe and I think it is important to start marching again because in the meantime we have experienced the kind of cultural regression in which women are no longer actors and people, but have been given preconceived roles: either the mother of a family or other activities, and then maybe she will find some time to work. I think this is an important step backwards and we need to react to it. That’s why I think we have to start again and I think the Italian case shows that any achievement in human rights and women’s rights is not forever, you have to fight every day to maintain what you have achieved. We got those rights and then we forgot them, but sooner or later we have to wake up and realize that they are not there anymore. And that is a big lesson we have to learn… If women’s rights and human rights are a value and they are not for free, then like every value, you have to care for them, to monitor them, to nourish them, to, let’s say, make them live, and not just take them for granted. I think that is a lesson that we have to keep in mind and I hope our young friends from everywhere in the world will keep that in mind: every achievement is not forever and will not stand alone unless you nourish it every single day.