Think BIG. Be BOLD.

We kicked off our IVLP Denver experience by celebrating International Women’s Day – March 8th – with several events where we the guest of honour alongside with the highly regarded Deedee Corradini, President of International Women’s Forum. You may be more familiar with her name as the woman who was recently in the headlines for her un-ending media, negotiations and law suit all in order to secure Women’s Ski Jumping as a Olympic event in Sochi Russia in 2014.

“It was the hardest and most rewarding endeavor”, Deedee told the crowd of 300+ women from WorldDenver and the Denver Eclectics  during her talk at the historic Denver Country Club.  Deedee is no stranger to the Olympic Organizing Committee as she was mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah (the first and only female mayor) and was instrumental in winning the bid to host the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.  She was obviously proud of this undertaking too as her smile lit up the room as she recalled the story about ‘the split second energy level went from silence to ear numbing roar as soon as the President of the Olympic Committee said the word ‘Salt….’ as Salt Lake City was announced as the winning city.  “Olympics is about world peace.  It brings the youth together for a few weeks and breaks down international barriers.”

Neither Olympic size challenges were no small feat, Deedee stressed the importance of International Women’s Day to recognize how far we have come in a short time in achieving. “Women rights are  human rights…all around the world”.

Left group – Kelly, Stephanie, Amina & Jennifer (in pink). Right group – Marcy Grossman (Canadian Consulate General), Nancy, Deedee Corradini (far right), Fiona & me (back)

We can do so much when more of us are engaged…

Did you know that there are countries such as Russia where the entire country celebrates International Women’s Day as a national holiday? “We can do so much more when more of us are engaged.” Deedee explains, “When women are provided access to education and training, it has a large impact.  Women flourish, families flourish and countries flourish.” The audience representing women from 30 to 80+ years old nodded in agreement. This was a remarkable moment for me to see from my front row seat.  And these active women were not just from Denver either.  There was a IVLP delegation – just like ours – who were visiting Denver from various African countries, focused on learning about US women in politics.

Deedee challenged all of us to get actively engaged in our community especially by participating as a Board of Director to a growing business.  She cites that research has found when a board has 3 women members, it is directly linked to a positive bottom line. The IMF even has launched a program specifically to train, prepare and secure board level positions for women.  Switching to politics, Deedee noted that Congress is lacking female governors and representatives.  In response to that, Deedee has initiated ‘Real Women Run’ to train women to run for political office. Her messages were repeated during the lunch and evening cocktail reception, where we along with the African delegation were guests of honour. All combined, it was certainly an inspiring day reminding us of all of the opportunities, support and resources that are available to women. “We have become global.  This has only been in the last 20 years. The internet has made us –at all ages – connected. We have to be actively engaged,” were Deedee’s parting words before she left for the airport to return home to her family.

The incredible power of education for girls

These words echoed when we were invited to attend Women+Film VOICES Film Festival the first screening in any US city of the film Girl Rising.  While we have been parachuting into cities for the past 2 weeks, it was comforting to see some familiar faces at the theatre who we had also attended Deedee’s talks the day before.

I highly recommend that everyone see this documentary – men, women and teenagers too. Here is the trailer. Girl Rising showcases 6 pre-teen girls from developing countries – Thailand, Sierra Leon, Cambodia, Nepal, Haiti, Peru, India.  The thread that weaves these girls together is their common life story that highlights the power of education to change a girl, not only personally, but also their education makes an impact on their families and  today’s world.  It is not an ‘all good news’ film.  There were moments in the film when tears streamed down my face.

This film intimately exposes the hardships and mind numbing stats & facts about girls all around the world whose life would be dramatically different if they were able to go and stay in school.  An education system exists in the featured counties, so that is not the issue.  For various reasons school was unreachable for these girls and countless others too.

Some reasons are cultural, political & were hard for me to wrap my head around:

– boys get the priority to go to school while the girls in the family stay home and work

– it is common place in some countries for girls to be married by age 13 years old bear children soon after

– there are more girls working as slaves (yes slaves!) than girls at school

– only those with money can go to school (even if it only costs a little)

– girls are told that they can’t go to school and don’t question why not.

By making ways for girls to go to school can be the first step in solving poverty, the spread of HIV Aids, and promoting cultural change and ultimately women in business.  It is easy to see that enormous problems in the world could be on their way to be solved if girls are in school.  This message was repeatedly driven home with narration of A-list actors including Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchette and Selena Gomez amongst others. This is certainly gets my 2 thumbs up for its powerful messages.

During the movie, we were reminded that:

– $1 in the hands of a woman is, on average, worth $10 in the hands of a man

– Research consistently proves that educating and empowering girls breaks the cycle of generational poverty

– Educated mothers are 50% more likely to immunize their children. And when more girls are educated, a country’s malnutrition and HIV rates decline. (UNGEI, the Council on Foreign Relations)

– When girls receive 7 years of schooling, they marry 4 years later and have 2.2 fewer children. (United Nations Population Fund)

– When women are educated and empowered, democracy is more likely to flourish and the conditions that promote extremism are reduced. (World Politics)

My little way to help girls with school

Provoked by the film, we naturally gathered to share our impressions and personal stories.  She doesn’t know this yet, but I decided that as a birthday gift to Amina (Amina Gerba is one of the participants in the IVLP tour with me) each year, I will make a donation to her Gerba Foundation that assists in building schools for girls and boys in Cameroon, Africa. This is my little way to celebrate Amina’s efforts and help girls stay in school too – the powerful message of Girl Rising.


IVLP delegation of African Women in Politics visiting Denver for International Women’s Day. Deedee in centre
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