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Small Groups Still Changing the World

Thu, Jul 13, 2006

Press

Chicago Defender / By Edelman, Marian Wright

Anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” In mid-June, a new network of thoughtful committed and powerful women from around the world: a queen, president, two Nobel Peace laureates, seven First Ladies, numerous cabinet members of governments from around the world, high-level officials from a variety of United Nations agencies, nonprofit, business, faith, educational, philanthropic, and cultural leaders, and young leaders across race and faith gathered together to act to build a world safe and fit for children.

This unprecedented meeting of prominent women leaders who gathered at the Dead Sea Conference Center under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan to launch the Global Women’s Action Network for Children share Eleanor Roosevelt’s belief that “only women in power” will “consider the needs of women without power” and that “a woman’s will is the strongest thing in the world.” The Jordan conference seeks to catalyze the powerful will of powerful women on behalf of the suffering, dying, and illiterate powerless women and children around the world.

The Global Women’s Action Network for Children has selected two goals for focused and long-term advocacy and action: reducing maternal, newborn and child mortality and improving maternal and child health, and improving girls’ access to education. It is morally intolerable that 11 million mothers and children up to age five die every year around the world largely invisibly, three-fourths from preventable causes, and that 100 million children, a majority girls, are denied education. This annual holocaust is twice the population of Jordan. Both of our goals are included in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the United Nations, targeted to be achieved by 2015. At the current rate of progress, the majority of nations won’t meet that deadline.

The conference confirmed for us the hope we can bring, the dreams we can salvage, the knowledge we can share, the successful policies and practices we can scale up, the power we can multiply, and the strong wills we can build by uniting our demands for justice for the voiceless through collaborative action steps and a strategic, long-term action plan.

The Global Women’s Action Network for Children will be an ongoing advocacy coalition housed at the Children’s Defense Fund, which began quietly convening women leaders from around the nation and globe over five years ago in our effort to strengthen women’s voices to build a world fit for children. CDF co-convened the Jordan gathering with four powerful women leaders: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; former President of Ireland and United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson; Melanne Verveer, CEO of Vital Voices; and Mahnaz Afkhami, Founder and President of the Women’s Learning Partnership. We partnered with the National Council of Family Affairs in Jordan chaired by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah. At the end of the Jordan conference, the 200 women were united in our commitment, drive, and willingness to use our power and resources to save the lives of mothers and children and invest in the potential of all of our children.

In this time of unbearable dissonance between promise and performance, between good politics and good policy, between professed and practiced human and family values, between racial and religious creed and racial and religious deed, between calls for community and rampant individualism and greed, and between our capacity to prevent and alleviate human deprivation and disease and our political and spiritual will to do so, I believe our children and their mothers, women and all those with a mothering spirit can become the healing agents of our national and world transformation. Every prophet, president, king, queen, leader and human being of every place, color, gender and faith entered life as a baby. The child is the present and the future and our Creator’s universal messenger of hope and immortality. Protecting today’s children and tomorrow’s leaders and parents and their mothers and families is the moral and common sense litmus test of our humanity, and the overarching purpose of the Global Action Women’s Network for Children and its coalition of women committed to change.

Marian Wright Edelman is president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund and its Action Council whose Leave No Child Behind mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

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About Mahnaz Afkhami

A lifetime advocate for the rights of women, Mahnaz Afkhami works with activists across the world, especially in Muslim majority societies, to help women become leaders. She is Founder and President of Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace (WLP), Executive Director of Foundation for Iranian Studies...more