A Joy-Filled Week at Our Nation's Capital for the NNEDV World Conference of Women's Shelters

Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Washington, D.C.

Earlier this month, we on Joyful Heart Foundation’s Healing & Wellness team had the pleasure of traveling to Washington, D.C. to attend the Second World Conference of Women’s Shelters. The historic gathering  brought approximately 1,500 advocates from 96 countries to the United States. The goal was to discuss strategies for helping the one in three women from around the globe that will be affected by gender based violence during their lifetimes. The week was filled with thought-provoking conversations and cross-cultural connections. It was a time of reconnecting with old colleagues and forging new partnerships with advocates from the U.S. to Australia to Africa who are all dedicated to ending violence against all women and girls.

The convening was host to Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark; Senior Adviser to President Barack Obama and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, Valerie Jarrett; Director of the United States Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women, Susan B. Carbon; United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, Ambassador Melanne Verveer and corporate leaders from The Allstate Foundation, Avon and the Avon Foundation for Women the Verizon Foundation; and thousands of advocates from across the world—all there for this one common purpose.

Day 1

The inspiring Lavon Morris-Grant took the stage to share her story of moving from victim to victor after being shot five times at the hands of her emotionally abusive husband. Lavon not only survived the shooting; she went on to raise three healthy children—all there during the shooting—and is now a national speaker and author. Morris-Grant advised advocates to keep survivors at the center of their work and to encourage women to use the talents they have inside of them to empower themselves. Lavon’s no-nonsense style struck a cord with conference goers and she was one of the few speakers that received a spontaneous standing ovation.

Actress and Avon Foundation Honorary Chairperson Reese Witherspoon also stopped by to present the Avon Communications Awards for Speaking Out about Violence Against Women to four organizations in the various categories:

  • The Storytelling Award went to Women’s Aid (UK) for its CUT film campaign. The film, starring Keira Knightley, depicts a woman suffering a brutal assault and asks viewers to help in ending domestic violence.
  • YWCA Canada won the Innovation Award for its "Safety Siren" app and campaign. The "Safety Siren" app promotes healthy dating and provides specific ways to help stop violence against women.
  • The Break the Silence Award was presented to the Rwanda Women Network for its domestic violence campaign poster, which shows a man physically abusing a woman with witnesses watching the assault.
  • Breakthrough, an organization in India, won the Global Award for Excellence in Communications for its Bell Bajao! (Ring the Bell!)" campaign, which is helping bring domestic violence to a halt with real-life scenarios of neighbors interrupting violence behind closed doors.

Longtime women’s advocate and White House Adviser on Violence Against Women, Lynn Rosenthal, spoke eloquently about President’s Obama’s dedication to ending gender based violence and informed the crowd of some of the historic strides the Obama administration is making to that end.

Day 2

Day two was a historic event for conference goers. We were told that a special guest was dropping in to speak with us but we were not told who it was. There was lots of high drama and intrigue surrounding the "special guest," and it was not long before secret service men were spotted hovering behind the stage. We began taking bets on who it might be. Joe Biden, Michelle Obama, President Obama?

After about 40 minutes the room erupted in applause as the signer of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) took the stage. President Bill Clinton talked about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s contribution to VAWA, the climate in the country when the act was put into place and the positive impact of educating women and girls. He reminded us that we are a part of a global struggle for peace and referred to our work as "noble and good." President Clinton also spoke about the root causes of domestic violence —disrespect and inequality—and how we must change these attitudes if we are end violence against all women and girls.

Day 3

On Thursday, we rose at the crack of dawn and headed over to Capital Hill. Our first stop was the Fourth Annual International Women’s Day Breakfast, From One in Three to None in Three: Women and Girls Living Free of Violence, which was hosted by Women Thrive Worldwide. Judy Woodruff, co-anchor of PBS Newshour gave opening remarks at the bi-partisan event and Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) spokeabout their ongoing commitment to end violence against women. Actress and activist Maria Bello, Female Genital Mutilation activist Edna Adan Ismali, Women Thrive Founder and President Ritu Sharma, Executive VP of Catholic Relief Services Sean Callahan and senior VP for World Vision U.S. Kent R. Hill, were among the panel of esteemed speakers.

Bello reported that of the billions of dollars that poured into Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, precious little was earmarked for women’s organizations. It was for that reason that she started WE ADVANCE, a movement to advance the health, safety and well-being of women throughout Haiti.

Former first lady of Somaliland and Founder of the Edna Adan University Hospital, Edna Adan spoke of her work in the violence against women movement. Adan, who donated her U.N. pension to address the serious health problems that endanger the lives of women and children in the Horn of Africa encouraged men to join the movement to end female genital mutilation. All speakers stressed the importance of collaboration, the resounding theme of the conference that we are stronger together than we are apart.

We headed to the Rayburn Building for The Policy Partnership on Communities of Color, where Joyful Heart staff member Zoe Flowers performed excerpts from her ChoreoDrama, From Ashes to Angel’s Dust: A Journey Through Womanhood in conjunction with Casa De Esperanza, the Women of Color Network, Black Women’s Roundtable and the National Council of Negro Women. Representatives John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Judy Chu (D-CA) and Charles Gonzalez (D-TX) hosted a special congressional briefing entitled Enhancing Culturally Specific Services in the Violence Against Women Act: Addressing the Gaps for Communities of Color.

Day 4

On March 1—at the conference's closing ceremony—we had the opportunity to sing "I Will Survive" with the queen herself—Gloria Gaynor! You have not heard "I Will Survive" until you have heard 1,500 people from across the globe singing it in perfect unison with Ms. Gaynor. After Ms. Gaynor left the stage, the conference attendees stayed to dance the evening away and even engaged in a transcontinental electric slide!

NNEDV Executive Director, Sue Else, promised a week filled with leading international experts in healthcare and public policy, dignitaries and others all engaged in the movement to end violence against women. The conference did not disappoint. It was truly inspiring to be surrounded spend an entire week with thousands of woman and men from all walks of life joining together in the name of ending gender-based violence against women around the world.

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