From the moment my mom and I stepped off the plane in Turkey, I felt the conference had started. We took a shuttle with half a dozen other AWID participants to our respective hotels, and in the course of that trek through mind numbing Istanbul traffic, I knew through the conversations already happening that this forum would be world changing. On that one shuttle was the program director for the Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute, two women from the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (among many other accomplishments, they started the protest and march on Craigslist when the site would not take down ads for sexually trafficked persons), an Amnesty International Secretariat, and the executive for social justice at United Methodist Women. Wow. What a crowd!
When my mom and I went to the center to register, I became drunk with all of the conversations I was overhearing that were full of hope and change, from women literally from all over the world! We sat outside next to the beautiful Bosporus River over looking the crowded and colorful hillside covered in little houses, talking about the days ahead and wondering what lay in store when a beautiful group of incredibly diverse women drew our attention. All name tags that the participants have to wear identify their country of origin, and these women were from Bolivia, Brazil, Kenya, South Africa, India, and many more. Mom, Nancy, immediately reached out to them and we all became fast friends. I discovered that this group was a coalition of different grass roots female organizers and “game changers” from all over the world, who were coming to AWID to have their voices heard. GROOTS (Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood) is speaking several times during the conference. A woman from Kenya named Petronilla Busieka, and I talked for a long time… as she lovingly held my hands she said to me, “The women of Kenya need the right to own property. They need the right to keep their children after a husband’s death or divorce.” In addition to being a grassroots organizer, Petronilla is running for national governmental office for the next elections… which are soon. She and I share the sentiment that if more women were in power in government we probably would have better lives. I would definitely vote her in, and told her I would pass along her story with all of you. Please keep her and the other women opposing powerful men for legislative seats in Kenya, in your thoughts and prayers!
Walking back to our hotel, we ran across an inspiring professor from Sarah Lawrence College, and then a few Egyptian women. Their reaction to the question “what do you do in Egypt?” did not elicit an expected response, but the one liner given is instead a wonderful encapsulation of what I know this conference is going to encourage and revel in: girl power.