Thousands gathered in Washington D.C. earlier this month for The United State of Women Summit, the first large-scale event of its kind, to celebrate gender equality achievements and to discuss solutions for the societal challenges that still exist. Presenters included First Lady Michelle Obama, Representative Nancy Pelosi, Oprah Winfrey, Amy Poehler, and our very own Executive Director, Jessica Sager. The Summit rallied professionals from across sectors to focus on six overarching topics, many of which All Our Kin supports through its mission. The topics of focus were: economic empowerment, health and wellness, educational opportunity, violence against women, entrepreneurship and innovation, and leadership and civic engagement.
Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, and Tina Tchen, Executive Director of the White House Council of Women and Girls and Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, gave a welcome address, calling for a celebration of the triumphs women have made around the world. Higher graduation rates and lower unplanned, teen pregnancy rates, they noted, are amazing strides, but the fight for equality and justice continues. Jarrett and Tchen embraced the Summit motto, “Today, we’ll change tomorrow,” evoking a spirit of ingenuity, ambition, and possibility.
One of the highlights of the day was when Mikaila Ulmer, Founder and CEO of Me & The Bees Lemonade, introduced President Barack Obama. Ulmer is a social entrepreneur, bee ambassador, advocate and student; she is also eleven years old. “What makes great entrepreneurs,” she started out, “is what comes naturally for kids…. Entrepreneurs hold the American Dream. And the biggest dreamers are kids. We dream big. We dream about things that don’t even exist yet. We believe in our dreams.” Ulmer’s message reminds us that people of all ages have the power to transform their lives, communities, and the world, if they allow themselves to embrace creativity.
In addition to the inspirational keynote addresses, the Summit also included numerous panels of experts discussing pressing issues in gender equality. Jessica Sager’s session, “The Promise of Our Youngest Girls: Investing in Early Childhood Education,” was moderated by Rafael López, Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, and included Alison Gopnik, Marcy Whitebrook, Nicole Mason, Tonia McMillian, and Sherrie Westin. Dr. Gopnik began the discussion with a shortened version of her TED talk on how babies think. The panel went on to address such issues as: How do we increase wages and professional development for the women who care for and educate our youngest citizens? How do we ensure that working mothers have access to quality child care? And how do we provide equitable access to quality early learning environments for our youngest girls–and, indeed, all children?
The conversation about child care did not end with the panel, however. The final hour of the Summit featured a conversation between Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama. During this interview, Ms. Obama told a story of how she brought her daughter, Sasha, to an interview because she lacked another option. “I had been mothering-part time and working full time…because the thing I found out about working half-time is you only get paid for half-time,” she said with a laugh. But with this new position, Ms. Obama would only settle for a position and a schedule that would allow her to give her daughters the care they needed. The crowd celebrated as she told Ms. Winfrey, “I got that job because I did not compromise.” Ms. Obama reminds us that working parents in all job sectors struggle with finding appropriate, affordable care for their children. We are glad that the universality of the child care climate received the attention it did at the Summit. If we are going to transform child care in this country, we need to continue having honest conversations about the state of child care, no matter how personal or difficult they may be.
The Summit was hosted by The White House Council of Women and Girls in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor, the Aspen Institute, and Civic Nation. More information on the Summit, including video footage, can be found at the website: http://www.theunitedstateofwomen.org/