Call to Arms

04.04.13

Lean On: When Leaning In Isn’t Enough

Some women can ‘lean in.’ Others need to ‘lean on.’ As the fourth annual Women in the World Summit kicks off, Tina Brown offers a new mantra for demanding equal rights.

We’ve heard a lot in recent polemic about how to win the fight for the corner office. But pushing up against a glass ceiling is practically a luxury when you consider the millions of women who can feel the floor dropping beneath their feet.

At the Women in the World Summit, currently in progress at Lincoln Center, extraordinarily courageous women bring their stories from 16 countries about what it means to struggle against cultural repression, economic exclusion, and systemic violence. 

They remind us what it feels like to be a woman in Pakistan, where girls are gunned down for the simple act of boarding a school bus. 

To be a woman in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it's estimated over 1,000 women are raped every day. 

To be a woman in Brazil, where a report in 2010 found that 10 Brazilian women lose their lives to domestic violence every day.

To be a woman in Somalia, where 95 percent of girls face genital mutilation. 

To be a woman in Indonesia, where every hour one woman dies in childbirth. 

To be a woman in Afghanistan, where nearly 90 percent are condemned to illiteracy. 

And here in the United States, let’s remember that women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. An enormous number of mothers in the U.S. are working double time, graveyard shifts, and more than one job just to put food on the table for their kids. Just last week, we saw the most restrictive anti-abortion bill in the country signed into law in North Dakota.  It’s incredible, isn’t it, that tens of thousands of rape kits sit untested in police storage facilities across the country because the authorities—our authorities—just don’t get around to it.

In recent weeks, in public debate, we’ve been exhorted to “lean in.” There can hardly be a woman in America who hasn't followed that important conversation. And thank you, Sheryl Sandberg, for starting it. 

But “leaning in” can only be a partial strategy. Leaning in works only in places where women are close enough to reach for their rightful goals.  

But there are vast numbers of places where women are at the wrong end of a chasm. Where you lean in and you're scorned, or worse, flogged, stoned, vilified, or denied entry.

Our mission at the fourth Women in the World Summit is not just to lean in, but to lean ON. 

Lean on corporations to change the pitiful representation of women in boardrooms. 

Lean on the prosecutors of India to end rampant sexual violence. 

Lean on the courts in Latin America to put an end to impunity for violence against women. 

Lean on the pimps who sell girls for sex and the johns who buy them. 

Lean on clerics from all religions who condone or turn a blind eye to the abuse of women and deny their fundamental rights. 

Lean on brothers who would murder their sisters in so-called honor killings! 

Lean on entire governments to safeguard the rights and well-being, and to free up the economic potential, of a full half of all their citizens! 

Join us on the livestream of the Women in the World Summit and meet all the extraordinary women, many celebrated, but just as many you will never have heard of until now, leaning ON.

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