Last Thursday, I attended the first Dialogue for Action organized by the Cecilia Attias Foundation for Women. The founder of the conference, Cecilia Attias, is the former first lady of France, and widely known for her intervention in successfully resolving the case against five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor facing death row in Libya.
Global Goods Partners (GGP) colleague Sakena Yacoobi—Founder and Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning, a nongovernmental organization touching the lives of over 7 million afghan women and families—invited me to attend the full day conference. Sakena was a featured panelist along with other women leaders and activists from around the world. The Dialogue for Action brought together mostly female (a few male) activists, journalists, filmmakers and nonprofit leaders, all fighting for women’s rights and the empowerment of women.
The format of the conference was a tad unconventional; it included grassroots and nongovernmental leaders on one side of the panel, then a group of “experts” on the other side, with a journalist moderating each session. However, I never really figured out the need for the “experts” when all of the NGO leaders are already experts in their field. Nevertheless, the panelists each provided a unique perspective to the topic at hand.
The first session focused on Africa and included my former colleague and friend, Molly Melching, Founder and Executive Director of Tostan, a pioneering human rights education NGO based in Senegal. Through human rights education and community organizing, Tostan has successfully led thousands of communities in Senegal, and 8 neighboring countries, to stop the harmful practice of female genital cutting (FGC).
The Americas session included women talking about domestic violence in the U.S., micro-credit in Bolivia, and discrimination faced by Muslim women primarily in the U.S. Cindi Leive, Editor-in-Chief of Glamour Magazine did an excellent job moderating and expertly pulled together all the wide-ranging topics of the session. However, I was surprised that no one on the panel, neither the NGO leaders nor the experts or the moderator, brought up the situation of women in Haiti, a country that is ranked the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, even before the devastating earthquake in January.
The Europe session addressed the devastating topic of human trafficking. I recommend that everyone see the film, RedLight, a documentary by film director Guy Jacobson, which exposes the brothels of Cambodia where young girls are being forced into sexual slavery. The film director took great personal risk to bring this horrific reality to larger audiences in a campaign to raise awareness and encourage people to take action.
Like most conferences, their greatest value is in learning about new women’s organizations, networking with attendees and catching up with former colleagues and friends. I met up with some friends and new colleagues from GGP partner organizations including Partners in Health, Women for Afghan Women and BPeace. I also met women who had recently produced a film about obstetric fistulas. Next year’s conference is scheduled to take place in Europe and I have lots of inspiring women leaders from GGP partnerships to recommend as potential speakers!
Check out highlights from the conference at http://www.ceciliaattiasfoundation.org/DialogueforAction/videos.php