“Success without democracy is improbable; democracy without women is impossible,”
~Madeleine K. Albright
What has become more than just a signature event for NDI, the annual Madeleine K. Albright Luncheon brings together women of diverse backgrounds to recognize the strides women have made in politics and to support women empowerment. This year, the Madeleine Albright Award recipient was activist and founder of the #MeToo Movement, Tarana J. Burke, who exemplifies what it means to be a risk-taker.
NDI welcomed Members of the U.S Congress, NDI’s Board of Directors, foreign dignitaries, media and civil society partners to the event. The theme was “Celebrating Risk-Takers for Women’s Empowerment,” which focused on encouraging women to be fearless risk takers.
The event opened with welcome remarks from NDI’s Vice President, Shari Bryant. She reflected on NDI’s work in the field over the last 35 years, including the training of women who want to work in politics or are in politics, and the creation of a network of support for women around the world. “Whether it’s in countries like Ukraine, Kenya, Venezuela or even here in the United States, we see that women are willing to put aside partisan differences, focus on the real issues, and find solutions to create a better life for everyone,” stated Bryant.
At a time where the United States Congress is experiencing its most diverse freshman class in history, women still face challenges that hinder their full participation. To tackle this issue, the Hill panel discussion, which was moderated by journalist Jill Filipovic, featured two newly elected female members of Congress, Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-VA). Each panelist shared their unique experiences of being a woman in politics. Representative Spanberger’s win in her district was the first for her party in 50 years, and Representative Haaland is one of the two first female Native American members ever elected to Congress.
“I felt I could speak up for people who had never had somebody speak up for them before. In over 200 years, there had never been a Native American woman in Congress. To me that was significant,” Representative Haaland explained. For Representative Spanberger, running for office provided an opportunity to dispel “stereotypes.” “There is a level of realness, when you break the mold of what people think a Member of Congress is. I would have people come up to me and not want to talk about policy, but instead they say ‘you’re a mom, you get it,” she said.
NDI understands that civic empowerment for adolescent girls and young women plays a critical role in the development of future leaders. During the luncheon, youth leader Tarina Ahuja was proud to announce the partnership between her organization Running Start, NDI, Population Council, and Women Win on the DISRUPTHER program, which aims to build the political confidence of young women and provide opportunities for civic leadership early in their career. Tarina’s riveting speech even had NDI’s President, Derek Mitchell, projecting her future bid for President of the United States.
During his remarks, President Mitchell stressed the importance of both women and men to be risk-takers for women’s empowerment. “Strong women bring a fresh, vital and results-oriented sensibility to the profound challenges we face as a country and a democracy. I am inspired by the future they represent.”
The event continued with special remarks from Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. In Ukraine, NDI provides technical support to democratic political leaders and activists to help establish effective and representative parties with national support. The Deputy Prime Minister stressed that it is a critical period in Ukraine’s history. Since the landmark Euromaiden Revolution of Dignity of 2014 the people of Ukraine have protected their independence from Russia by consistently choosing democracy in overwhelming numbers, while fighting a war against Russian aggression that has seized Ukrainian territory.
In addition to her broad diplomatic portfolio, the Deputy Prime Minister is also in charge and a leading voice for gender equality in Ukraine.“To make the political representation of women at all levels meet the expectations of society, we need consolidated efforts not only of political elites, that have to ensure opportunities for all, but women themselves, as there are still a lot of barriers in their minds.” This is a task she is determined to complete.
Before presenting the special award for the day, Secretary Albright shared a few of her own risk taking memorable moments. As a result of her bold risk-taking decisions during the Balkan Wars in the 1990ds, she stated, “Kosovo today remains a place of testing for democracy, and that is why I am proud that NDI is there on the ground, as we are in more than 50 countries, helping to support peace, democracy and women’s empowerment.”
At the end of the luncheon, the Madeleine K. Albright Award was formally presented to Tarana Burke for her courageousness dedication to women’s empowerment. Tarana is an activist and advocate determined to help young women and girls overcome trauma from sexual violence and to move on to live self-determined lives. The #MeToo hashtag she created ten years ago has become a global campaign — creating mass awareness about sexual violence and the need for survivor-centered solutions for women. During her acceptance speech, Tarana explained that while risk must be celebrated, we should not forget that “individual risk must be met with collective courage.” Her unscripted remarks were unforgettable, encouraging everyone in the room to play their part in the fight to end sexual violence and promote gender equality.