Contributed by Lynn Rosenthal, vice president of strategic partnerships
Imagine 5,000 women and supportive men gathered in Washington, DC to celebrate the progress women have made and explore the challenges yet to come. That was the intense energy at last week’s United State of Women Summit convened by the White House Council on Women and Girls. Headlined by President Obama and Vice President Biden, the summit covered key gender equity issues including gender-based violence, women and the economy, entrepreneurship and innovation, and women’s leadership and civic engagement. Rob Valente, The Hotline’s chief officer of government affairs, and I represented The Hotline in both planning and presenting at the summit.
Vice President Biden opened the summit by speaking about the progress that has been made in reducing annual rates of domestic violence, but he warned that we have yet to change social norms and attitudes that allow the violence to happen in the first place. The vice president challenged men to get involved in cultural change. He said that his efforts would be a success when no victim blamed themselves for the violence they had experienced. President Obama gave an inspirational address about the progress that has been made towards gender equality on many fronts, but called for action on issues like equal pay, promoting the self-worth of girls of color, and utilizing the talents of all women. First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey shared a dialogue about women’s empowerment and self-esteem and issued a call for women to acknowledge and appreciate their gifts and talents.
That same day, I moderated a solutions seminar on changing the culture to end violence against women featuring Neil Irvin from Men Can Stop Rape, along with hip hop artist and innovator MC Lyte and leaders from anti-violence organizations. The panel focused on identifying forces in popular culture that could be activated to change norms about violence and working with men to become their authentic and non-violent selves. Panelists agreed that starting early in childhood was key to ending violence and that all sectors of society need to be engaged.
The first day also included a moving performance of “Sliver of a Full Moon” by American Indian and Alaska Native survivors and activists at the National Museum of the American Indian. The play dramatizes the high rates of abuse and violence against Native women on tribal lands and the federal and state governments’ failure to respond to this epidemic of violence until the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013, which restored tribal court jurisdiction over non-Native domestic violence offenders.
On the second day, the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women and Office of Victims of Crime collaborated with the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program at the Department of Health and Human Services to offer participants an opportunity to further dialogue on summit topics. The program, titled “Reimagining, Reinvigorating, and Moving Forward to End Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking,” brought together experts and activists from across the nation. Rob Valente was integrally involved in the planning of this day, working closely with federal agencies and the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. I joined Carrie Bettinger-Lopez, the current White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, for an armchair discussion about working in the White House and their efforts to make ending violence against women a priority for the country. We shared strategies for carrying forward the agenda beyond this administration and recognized the critical role of advocates working in communities every day.