WASHINGTON, D.C. – Girls can run the world. That was the message at the The White House Summit on the United State of Women which brought together 5,000 girls and women across all disciplines and from around the country and the world to hear speakers talk about the education and empowerment of girls and women.
President and Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, actress Kerry Washington, kid entrepreneur Mikaila Ulmer of Me and The Bees Lemonade, 11-year-old reading advocate Marley Dias, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Shonda Rhimes, Kevin Durant’s mother Wanda Durant and more came together at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. to talk about the problems that face women globally and some of the solutions to help overcome them.
The day-long event featured other speakers and presenters including Vice-President Joe Biden, who vowed to help end sexual assault, his wife Dr. Jill Biden, and entrepreneurs including Detroit’s Carla Walker Miller who founded Walker Miller Energy Services to provide opportunities for native Detroiters in the city’s revitalization process.
No bigger fan of women’s rights is President Obama, who spoke about his daughter Malia’s recent graduation and how she was coming of age at an extraordinary time for women.
“I may be a little grayer than I was eight years ago,” he said. “But this is what a feminist looks like. Of course, in my house, there’s no choice.”
President Obama acknowledged that some strides had been made for women during his administration, including his signing of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which helped counteract the pay disparity that impacts women and the Affordable Care Act, which eliminated the co-pay for birth control.
But he said more needs to be done, including changing the negative perception of girls and women of color and acknowledging that despite the enormous changes in American life in the past 50 years, workplace policies have not kept up.
“We know the solutions. We need to retool our policies so that women and families can thrive, accounting for the realities of how people live today,” he said.
Panels, billed “Solutions,” included ones on early childhood education, economic empowerment, human trafficking, growing opportunities for women and girls of color, and media disparities.
In one of the best attended panels of the day, Rhimes, feminist icon Gloria Steinem, blogger/author Luvvie Ajayi and others including Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, founder and editor of Muslimgirl.net spoke on the panel “Real” Change: Advancing Equity and Opportunity In The Media.”
“I hate the word diversity,” Rhimes said when asked about how she would define the term. “Its not about diversity. It’s about creating shows that look like the world around us.”
The day’s marquee event was a conversation between Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama. The First Lady said that she gained the confidence that helped her through some of the criticism she faced as First Lady through her parents support. She urged young women to find mentors if they didn’t have parents who could provide that kind of reinforcement. She also said that having it all is a ‘ridiculous aspiration’ and that young women shouldn’t pressure themselves to do so.
“I don’t want young women out there to have the expectation that if they’re not having it all that somehow they’re failing.”
Michelle Obama said some of her favorite moments as First Lady were seeing Prince and Stevie Wonder do a private concert in the East Room of The White House, and having lunch with the Queen of England. She drew applause when she said another highlight was seeing her husband walk from Marine One to the Oval Office and when Oprah asked if the President always had swagger, Michelle said “He was always swaggalicious.”
Asked for what advice she had for men, Michelle said “Be better” – better fathers, better husbands and better at providing women with love and support.
Despite her accomplishments as First Lady in bringing awareness to the needs of military families and advocating healthy eating, Michelle said what she’s most proud of was raising Sasha and Malia, now 15 and 18, in the White House fishbowl.
“I remember sending them off the first day. They were so little and that bulletproof glass was so thick,” she said, referring to their first day at school while living in the White House. “Like every mother, I just cross my fingers that I’ve given them everything they need to be great people,” she said.
As far as what she wants to do after leaving the White House, she said it’s to return to some of the simple things she missed while serving as First Lady.
“I want to open my door, go outside and take a walk without having to have a discussion about it,” she said. “And I want to go to Target!”