By Meredith Smith
Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee, executive director of the Women, Peace and Security Program (WPS) at Columbia University, was a featured speaker at the Gates Goalkeepers conference on Wednesday. The inaugural event, hosted by Bill and Melinda Gates, focused on accelerating world progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is a set of 17 “Global Goals,” each with targets set for 2030. Other speakers included Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Former President Barack Obama, Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, Her Majesty and UN Secretary-General Special Advocate Queen Máxima of the Netherlands and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai.
Gbowee’s message at the event was clear: she urged the audience to recognize grassroots women as experts about peace and sustainable development and to partner with grassroots women around the world to help drive the agenda.
Prime Minster Trudeau backed up Gbowee’s sentiment. “The SDGs are as ambitious as they are essential. It’s up to all of us to stand up for women’s rights, make sure women’s voices are heard, and break down stereotypes that hold women back,” he said. “The best way to achieve equality is to directly support women around the world. The further we push ourselves toward gender equality, the faster we will achieve the SDGs. It’s that simple. A fairer, more sustainable world is within our reach – but only if women play a leading role.”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation joined together with the Governments of Canada and the Netherlands, the EdelGive Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, leading U.S. travel website The Points Guy, and Glamour to announce new financial commitments and support for local grassroots women’s organizations and women’s movements, which are leading gender equality campaigns around the world, yet remain largely unrecognized and underfunded. Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, stressed the significance of this new funding announcement and noted that “an equal world is a greater world, and because we believe in women’s power to get us there.”
Gbowee, a Sustainable Development Goals Advocate for the U.N., spoke onstage of the innovative new WPS program she is spearheading at Columbia. The program centers on grassroots women’s expertise and global partnerships. Associate Program Director of the WPS program, Mikaela Luttrell-Rowland, who was in attendance at the event, noted how energizing and hopeful the messages were from both the speakers and the attendees for the day. “Highlighting the role of women’s mobilizing and expertise in terms of the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals of ending extreme poverty and inequality and combating climate change by 2030 is a critical message for this moment in time.”
Former President Obama offered encouragement in his remarks, saying that, “we have to reject the notion that we are suddenly gripped by forces that we cannot control. We’ve got to embrace the longer and more optimistic view of history and the role we play in it.”