High-level conference focuses on how to make women’s equality a reality

Date: Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Jewel performing at an evening gala on 17 May 2016. Photo: UN Women/Beatrice Frey
Multiple Grammy-nominated performer, Jewel, delivered a keynote speech followed by a special performance. Jewel went public about her own history of domestic abuse in her 2015 memoir, Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story. At the gala, she spoke about her life, her music and her commitment to empowering women. Photo: UN Women/Beatrice Frey

At the “A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment” conference at UN Headquarters in New York on 17 May, experts and advocates highlighted solutions to address the existing barriers in advancing equality for women and girls, followed by an evening gala with a performance by Jewel.

In her opening remarks, UN Women Deputy Director Lakshmi Puri appealed to donors and urged stronger leadership: “I appeal to the special responsibility of the United States, including high net worth individuals, and those in finance, to support and lead this cause in the United States and around the world.”

The all-day conference focused on ending violence against women, including women with disabilities, bringing men into the conversation on gender equality, and increasing women’s presence in science and technology industries and other professional fields.

No one stayed seated at "A Call to Action" event, as UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri asked #Planet5050 champions to stand up. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
No one stayed seated at "A Call to Action" event, as UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri asked #Planet5050 champions to stand up. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

During the first panel “Exposing the Silence—Ending Violence against Women,” 60 Minutes Correspondent Lara Logan opened the session by recounting her brutal beating and sexual assault during the Arab Spring in 2011 by a mob of men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. “In those moments when I was fighting for my life, the Egyptian police wouldn’t touch me because I was naked. It wasn’t until someone brought traditional robes for me and covered my body that they would pick me up and take me away from that mob,” Ms. Logan said. “I knew then that I was always going to talk about it because it wasn’t my dirty secret to carry in shame for the rest of my life.”

Keynote speaker Loreen Arbus, President of the Loreen Arbus Foundation: Violence against Females with Disabilities spoke of how women with disabilities are abused at a higher rate than women and men without disabilities, and how this abuse is often repetitive, tends to stem from early childhood, and continues when these women find intimate partners. “For a long time women with disabilities have been invisible and voiceless in the women’s movement,” she said. “No one mentions the largest minority in this country, in the world­—people with disability.”

Another panel focused on increasing the presence of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industries—a field expected to see 62 per cent job growth, but where few women are studying these subjects. In analyzing 45 years of women’s degrees in the United States, Valerie Barr, Professor of Computer Science at Union College, noted that only one per cent of women’s degrees were obtained in computer science. “We have a very longstanding serious problem,” she said.

Echoing the need to see more professional women in fields typically dominated by men, Abby Wambach, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion, discussed her own experiences in building the confidence to become a professional athlete, despite hardly seeing female professional athletes growing up: “Nowadays little girls can look up to female athletes specifically in their sport of choice.”

Two-time Academy Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award-Winning journalist and film-maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, will give the conference’s closing keynote. She won her first Academy Award for her documentary Saving Face (2012), which addressed acid attacks on Pakistani women. She recently won an Academy Award for her documentary A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness (2015). Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
Two-time Academy Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award-Winning journalist and film-maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Academy-Award-Winning Film Director closed the conference by discussing her journey to becoming a film director and exploring issues in Pakistan, where “women can literally take on the system if they want to,” she said. "Never take no for an answer and if a door does not open for you it is because you have not kicked it hard enough.”

The conference was followed by an evening gala and fundraiser, with Emmy-nominated singer and violence survivor Jewel performing as a headliner.