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The Women’s Conference: Big Dreams, Big Results

I think there should be a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women. ~Madeleine Albright


Madeleine Albright on the screen--view of the conference from my seat in the arena

ARE THERE ANY VAGINAS IN THE HOUSE?! This is how Eve Ensler opened her presentation at The Women’s Conference hosted by Maria Shriver in Long Beach, California this week.  I love her.  She grabbed our attention and kept us mesmerized as she shared the story of a 14 year old Massai girl who fled her father’s home and traveled on foot for two days to reach a safe house.  Her motivation?  She was about to be married off to a senior citizen for the price of a few cows and, as is a common pre-matrimony practice among her people, that meant she was about to have her genitals mutilated.  She stayed at the safe house for a year, where she was supported, loved and educated.  She reconciled with her father after that year and, as Ensler recounts (she was present for this reconciliation), she was so fierce, so beautiful, and so strong that her father had no choice but to accept her back, because he understood that if she is educated and if she is supported, then one day she can come back and support the entire family.  Not only did he accept her back into his home, but, as a result of their teary and heartfelt reunion, he also gave his word to never cut any of her sisters.

No one is in charge except the people who pretend to be. ~Eve Ensler

One girl in one village directly impacted the lives of several women—her sisters–because of her courage and strength to stand up for her own truth, to honor herself.  What other women and men will change their hearts and minds because of her inspired action?  Over 14, 000 people heard this story at the conference (and more via a live webcast). I can tell you that I still feel the impact of this story—it reminds me that by standing in my own truth, I create another example of what that looks like and that has the potential to inspire others to stand in their own truth and power.  Maybe reading this Massai girl’s story has inspired you, too.  That’s how powerful one woman’s choice is.

Put yourself in position to make things happen. ~Robin Roberts

This wasn’t the only story that left me feeling inspired and on fire. Oh no. I had two full days and one night of this sort of thing and it was extraordinary.  It is my intent for all women everywhere to feel how I felt sharing space with some of the most powerful and accomplished women in the world. What these women achieved is amazing.  Another one of my favorite success stories was that of Larree Renda. Renda started out at 16 years old as a bagger at an Iowa Safeway supermarket and is now Safeway’s Executive Vice President, Chief Strategist and Administrative Officer—and she got it done without going to college.  Another great story: Madam Secretary Madeleine Albright sat through a commencement speech at her 1959 graduation from Wellesley College in which the speaker congratulated her class on a job well-done and then informed them that their major responsibility now is to raise smart children, mainly boys.

I had many heart to heart conversations with myself: ‘you’ve been successful before,’ I told me, ‘you’re really good at your job, you have something to offer and who in the hell do these people think they are?‘ ~Katie Couric on how she handled negative media criticism

Perhaps the most courageous and encouraging stories I heard belonged to Somaly Mam. Somaly was sold into a Cambodian brothel as a sex slave when she was about 11 years old (she’s not sure how old she was, what her real name is or who sold her into slavery) and raped so many times she lost count after a short while. Mam estimates that some girls as young as 5 years old are raped  as many as 20 to 30 times a day.  After witnessing the brutal murder of her best friend, she risked her own life by escaping the brothel, found help through a kind stranger and began her mission of rescuing other girls and providing them shelter, rehabilitation and an education.  Because of her bravery and passion for helping children, the Somaly Mam Foundation was born to aid victims of human trafficking and sex slavery. This year six of her charges were accepted into universities in the United States.  This was truly the most moving presentation of the two days I attended the conference, and every presentation was moving, so that is really saying something.

Women and children are not toys you can play with when you want—we have heart and we need it. ~Somaly Mam

As incredible and profound as these accomplishments are, what really rocks my world about these women is their passionate belief that they are bigger than anyone ever gave them permission to be—they knew they had an obligation to themselves to find out how big they really are and they did it and  they keep doing it.  The world is a better place because they refuse to play small. When each of us fulfills our own destiny we are that much more powerful when we come together and that is a very good thing.

The fastest way to change society is to mobilize the women of the world. ~Geena Davis quoting Charles Malik

If you’re ready for inspiration, encouragement and support to be who you really are, watch the recorded webcasts of every presenter I mentioned and of those I didn’t mention–they are all amazing. You come equipped with everything you need to discover that you really are the heroine of your own life. That’s how powerful you are.

Find out who you are and be that person.  ~Sheila Bair

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