Earlier this week, Women for Women International’s CEO Laurie Adams sat down with Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario and NBC’s “Nightly News” and “Dateline” Anchor Lester Holt for a conversation on the realities women face in conflict-affected countries. Moderating the conversation, Lester Holt emphasized the importance of investing in women and communities devastated by violent conflict.
“I am thrilled to be a part of this event for an incredible organization like Women for Women International,” said Holt.
Addario, whose hauntingly beautiful photos of soldiers and women in the midst of crisis and conflict captured the audience, made a powerful statement about the refugee crisis today. “They are not refugees. They are women. They are children. They are people exactly like us. They have the same goals, the same desires to provide their children with a safe life and education. They have the same dreams that we have. It just so happens that there is a war in their country and they have to flee. How can you turn your back on them? As a photographer, I want to show that,” she said.
At Women for Women International, we don’t turn our backs on refugees and women in conflict-affected countries. We strive for women to access their rights as well as opportunities to reach their full potential, because women’s rights are human rights and women’s participation is the key to sustainable change. As our Board Member Lynn Shanahan explained, “Women for Women International was founded on the belief that women are not victims of violence and war but agents of change.”
This work is more important than ever now when 2 billion people live in fragile and conflict-affected regions. The violence that forces the women we serve to flee is no longer fought on a battle field in a distant war. “Today, conflict and war are in our communities, in our homes, and women’s very bodies are being used as battlegrounds. We’ve seen this in Bosnia where 20,000 women were put in rape camps, and the Bosnian people were torn apart by attempting to divide through rape. We saw it in Rwanda where 500,000 women were raped in 100 days. This was a deliberate attempt to wipe out a people,” Women for Women International CEO Laurie Adams said.
Holt asked the panelists tough questions including some from Women for Women International’s social media. One viewer asked: “Some would argue that with all the human rights issues we are facing here in the United States, we should prioritize our own problems. How would you respond to that?”
Laurie Adams, who has spent more than 25 years working in international development and human rights and cares deeply about equality in the United States as well, said: “We don’t have to make a choice, there is no reason we can’t be active here locally and internationally. We’re part of one humanity. It’s often the same people who argue against international aid and development who wouldn’t necessarily believe in investing in social services here either and I think when that is happening it’s up to people like us to stand up and reach out and invest.”
Conflict is embroiling our world but is sometimes lost in our news cycle. Women for Women International knows that the solution lies in women’s hands. As Jan Rock Zubrow, Women for Women International’s Global Board Chair proclaimed at the event, “We’re living in a world torn apart by conflict and violence that rips apart families and rips apart communities. What is the key rebuilding communities where poverty and despair are all-consuming? It’s the women. Courageous women.”