President Clinton expressed frustration that, in 2010, his forum needed to have special sessions on empowering women and girls, but then cited several practices that prompted the focus. Those include female genital mutilation and the stoning of women in countries like Iran.
"It makes me sick to hear about these women being stoned to death because 'it's just our law,'" he said. Clinton decried the existence of societies "where men define themselves by their ability to control someone else."
A few hours later, Ashley Judd, the actor and board member of Population Services International, talked about women in Congo "gang-raped repeatedly by armed militia," and Richard C. Holbrooke, the State Department's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that in Bosnia, where he was instrumental in brokering peace, there was "a calculated use of rape as an instrument of war."
Holbrooke agreed that men need to be the part of solution to improving the health and welfare of women in countries like Bosnia, or Afghanistan. "If you want to fix the problem of women in these areas, you have to address the men," he said. Speaking of U.S. policies overseas, he said: "This is the biggest single failure of our programs." He noted for example, that with the U.S. providing training of Afghan police, "nowhere was there anything about respecting women."
The gathering, conducted under extremely tight security, this year drew 1,300 participants from 90 countries, President Clinton noted in his opening remarks. Those gathered included 67 heads of state, 600 captains of corporations, and 500 leaders of non-governmental organizations. CGI, which in its six years has come to be viewed as the World Series of networking, is where, moments after appearing with Secretary Clinton to announce they would "change the way the world cooks," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson entered a ladies room with Chelsea Clinton's new mother-in-law, former Pennsylvania congresswoman Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, and immediately got buttonholed by a New Jersey entrepreneur interested in helping to reduce hydrocarbon emissions from stoves.
The ballrooms are where political power, brain power and passion come together -- and when the chemistry is right, yield new solutions to problems of poverty, pollution, paternalism, and the recent devastation of Pakistan. It's where progress is logged in the "commitments" to turn plans into action with time and money. It's where Muhtar Kent, the chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola, can share a stage with Jordan's Queen Rania Al Abdullah and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president of Liberia, and say with a big smile, "What a privilege it is to share a panel with a queen and a president. It's the first time," before returning to the subject of empowering girls and women.
It's where Abigail Disney, a philanthropist and producer of the film "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," which told the story about how average Liberian women brought an end to 14 years of civil war and helped install Sirleaf as their new president, can gather support for her latest project. The five-hour public television series, "Women, War & Peace: The Untold Story," focuses on the terrible toll women have suffered in conflicts that have raged in Colombia, Bosnia and Afghanistan, but also how they have been active in bringing about peace.
That sometimes elusive peace, along with the elimination of poverty, are the foundation of assuring women's health -- and global health.