Highlights from United State of Women: Inspiring, Connecting, and Building a Better World for Women

On June 14, 2016, over 5,000 women from across the U.S. came together in Washington DC for the first ever United State of Women. I was lucky enough to be nominated to attend, and I spent two incredible days learning, celebrating, and preparing for what's to come.  At first, I wanted to share a blog about how much experience impacted me, but, even 2 months later, I'm still struggling to fully process the genius that was in that room for those couple days.  Instead,  I'm sharing some of my favorite moments from the summit. Hope you find as much value in these quotes and ideas as I have!

TOPIC: SEXUAL VIOLENCE *trigger warning*

As a rape survivor, it was exceptionally moving to start off the day with Vice President Joe Biden speaking about the It's On Us campaign to end sexual violence.  You can watch the full video here (I recommend it!), and I've pulled out some of my favorite quotes below.

"While I was powerless against the man who raped me, I am not powerless against ending rape culture." - Meghan Yap

"The single most important thing is-- that it's NOT HER FAULT. Violence against women is a crime-- plain and simple." - Vice President Joe Biden

"No man has a right to touch her.  Period. Period." - Vice President Joe Biden

"Violence again girls ages 14-24 are the highest in this country, and in the last 20 years, these violence rates haven't gone down.  Not at all." - Vice President Joe Biden

"If you let it pass because you want to be one of the guys- you become an accomplice to assault." - Vice President Joe Biden

"There is never a cultural justification to dehumanize another human being, to abuse a woman. Never, never, never, never." - Vice President Joe Biden

"You have the responsibility to believe her, to listen to her, but also to make sure she gets the help she needs." - Vice President Joe Biden on the responsibility of anyone who is told about another's assault/abuse.

"We will know we have succeeded when not one woman who has been violated asks herself "What did I do wrong?"' - Vice President Joe Biden

"No girl should have to choose between controlling her body or controlling her destiny." - Vice President Joe Biden on victims speaking out about their abuse

"They force girls to marry early so they don't exhibit the same promiscuity that's expected in boys and men. Our only display of pride should not be sewed vaginas and shut legs." - Jaha Dukureh

"A right isn't worth much if you can't access it." - Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood

"We need to rewrite stories of shame into messages of power." - Grecia Magdaleho

One of the most powerful moments for me was in a breakout session on violence against women.  Here, I learned that 84% of Native women experience violence against women.  We took a moment, fists in the air, to stand with our Native sisters-- hundreds of us, from every background, the most amazingly diverse group-- ready to stand up for a women's right to her own body.  In the same session, one speaker shared, for the first time outloud, her experience with rape. She was met by a standing ovation for her courage, an incredible display of support.  If only every woman who experienced violence could be surrounded by such support. 

TOPIC: WOMEN'S LEADERSHIP & ENTREPRENEURSHIP

As a woman who has been playing in the "boy's club" of entrepreneurship for a while now, a lot of these messages were exactly what I needed to hear.  I am SO ready to see women in more positions of leadership, and so are the 5,000 other women cheering alongside me!

"It's time that ambition in a woman is as attractive as a quality as it is in a man." - Tory Burch

"We know women can lead, so let's put them in positions of leadership." - Tory Burch

"Any business with delighted customers is a successful business." - Warren Buffet

"When building a company culture, every person matters. Be careful and intentional with your hiring process." - Melanie Whelan

"You can't boil the ocean, but you should want to.  Go bigger! Then do your homework." - Alexa Von Tobel

"It is much easier to potentially live with failure than to live with 'what if.'" - Lisa Price

"Women rock the cradle with their right hand, and they rock the world with their left." - Syrian saying

TOPIC: ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT

Running a fair trade organization that's all about economic empowerment for women, these talks really hit home.  I was most impressed that Kerry Washington spoke so eloquently (and brilliantly!) on the topic of financial insecurity and how that relates to violence against women.  She's been one of my favorite actresses for a while now (Scandal!), but this made me become a #fangirl even more!

"We build power for ourselves and our communities through economic empowerment." - Kerry Washington

"We can no longer allow economic disempowerment to keep women trapped." - Kerry Washington on abusive relationships

"Talent is universal. Opportunity is not." - Julie Hanna

"We have to support economic empowerment for women.  If women have the tools to leave, they can leave." - Kerry Washington

"When you educate a woman, you create a nation." 

TOPIC: GENERAL WOMEN'S RIGHTS

A highlight of the trip (of my life?) was hearing President Barack Obama speak on women's rights.  As women's rights advocates, we are constantly told that we're "too progressive," "crazy," or "it's never going to happen." To know that (arguably) the most powerful man in the world is on our side, to know that he accepts these things as facts, well, it brought every single one of us to tears (seriously, not a dry eye in there!).  We are moving in the right direction.  Together, we will build a world that respects women and girls. 

I couldn't possibly draw out quotes from this talk (mainly because I was crying through the whole thing), so I recommend you just watch the entire thing here

"Let us draw inspiration from how far we have come together." - President Barack Obama

"They think discrimination is for losers." - President Barack Obama regarding his daughters

"Our country is not just about the Benjamins, it's about the Tubmans too!" - President Barack Obama

"I may be 8 years grayer, but this is what a feminist looks like!" - President Barack Obama

TOPIC: SELF-ESTEEM

In one of the most authentic displays of her leadership, First Lady Michelle Obama was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. I think we were all impressed by how Michelle remains so true to herself.  She didn't appear like she was acting the part of First Lady, but rather has learned how to be a strong, confident black woman-- something she's certainly not ashamed of.  She's someone to admire, for sure!

"You alone are enough." - Oprah

"If you're surrounded by a ton of low life people who don't support you, you don't have room to welcome in those who will love you." - First Lady Michelle Obama

"Let me wake up every day and do something of value, and do it well, and that will speak for itself." - First Lady Michelle Obama on shutting down haters

"Not everyone can be famous, but everyone can be great." - Oprah quoting Dr. King

"Be better." - Michelle's advice to men. (haha!)

"Don't think about what the world thinks about you-- think about what you think about the world." - Shonda Rimes

While these quotes are from the famous women (and some men) in attendance, one of the most valuable parts of this event was connecting with like-minded women who are fighting every day for a better world. 

To call these few days "powerful," "enlightening," or "inspirational" is a serious understatement. I am so unbelievably grateful to have been able to attend, and I appreciate you all for your support in this work!  Together, we can!

You can watch the full summit here.