Tedx Women – A Call to Action

This post first appeared on Technorati Women 

Shamila Kohestani was trapped in her house for years. She couldn’t read a book or study for fear of angering the Taliban. Jennifer Siebel Newsom was told to take her Stanford MBA off of her resume and lie about her age when she sought jobs in Hollywood. Ivy Navarette was born to cocaine addicted parents in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights, and by the age of 13 she was an addict herself and in a gang.

These women told their incredible stories at the TedxWomen Conference held in both New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 1. I attended the Los Angeles sessions at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills that included a surprise appearance by Barbara Streisand.

>Kohestani and Navarette were part of an impressive session called ReImagine hosted by Journalist Lisa Ling. The session also included the three-first place winners of the Google Science Fair and the Founder and CEO of TeachAIDS. Together they prompted attendees to imagine a life outside normal bounds and customs.

Kohestani was just 9-years old when the Taliban took over in Afghanistan. She couldn’t go to school, read books, or study. “I never thought I would want school over any gifts,” she said. When she discovered soccer she was ridiculed and humiliated over and over again. It just made her stronger. So strong she went on to become the captain of the first Afghanistan women’s national soccer team. Now she’s a college student in New Jersey speaking out for girls around the world. She asked the audience to think about what our freedom means to us and challenged us to go out and help someone attain their freedom.

For Navarette, help came for her in the form of a job and a sense of hope. After years of drug use and abusive relationships she hit rock bottom and ended up in prison. In rehab she met someone who told her about Father Greg Boyle and Homeboy Industries. Boyle has the largest gang intervention program in the country. Today, Navarette has custody of her young son and has been clean for nearly a year. She works at Homegirl Café, where former gang members are trained as chefs, waitstaff, hostesses, and management. Former Homegirl employee Shayne Welcher, also part of the panel, summed it up best when she said “It’s life-changing to know there is a second chance out there.”

The Session ReBirth was about transitions, or rather, third acts. Being a woman of 40, I was really moved by the session moderated by Jane Fonda in New York. Fonda talked about how she dreaded turning 50 and thought she was going to be a crotchedy old lady. Now that she’s well into her third act of life, she’s happier than she’s ever been. “I have such a powerful feeling of well being,” she said. “When you’re inside oldness as opposed looking at it from the outside, fear subsides. You realize you’re still yourself, maybe even more so. Picasso once said ‘It takes a long time to become young.’”

Feeling young and being healthy means taking care of oneself. In the session Relationships hosted by Trevor Neilson of Global Philanthropy Group, Barbara Streisand and Dr. Noel Bairey Mertz talked about how women need to help educate and fight against heart disease, the number one killer of women in America. Heart disease is an epidemic and has long been researched as a man’s disease. But women and men have different symptoms to the disease and different bodies. Gender inequality is a problem in medical research and it matters when researching diseases.

And it’s gender inequality that Newsom has been fighting against. She spoke in the same session about how media is feeding our children images that are “killing our daughters’ ambition and destroying empathy in our sons.” According to Newsom, we need to stand up and demand a media that represents us all. As consumers we need to try to change a culture that says “If you can make a sex tape and get it online you can be a celebrity overnight.”

And that is so true. In a culture like ours I find it’s easy to be flooded with meaningless fluff about how much money Kim Kardashian made from her short lived marriage or the latest Housewives show. But sadly, the truly important things get lost, like hearing about Dr. Piya Sorcaris who changed the face of HIV prevention education around the world.

By the end of the Tedx Women I was overwhelmed by what I had learned and felt. Lisa Ling said something that really hit home. She said that after covering conflicts all over the world including women being raped in the Congo, child soldiers in Afghanistan, and children being trafficked for sex. She asked herself if there was a God how can he allow these horrible things to happen.

Her husband answered her by reading a poem called, “Why,” where a little girl asks God how he can let bad things happen and why doesn’t he do something to stop them.

After a while God said “I certainly did do something about it. I made you. I made all of you. I made all of you who are watching in so many countries around the world.” As Ling told the story to the audience she said, “That’s when I reimagined my purpose.”

I think that many of the women that listened to TedxWomen will too.

Our America With Lisa Ling

In preparation for lunch with Lisa Ling, a group of us were given access to three episodes of Our America with Lisa Ling. There was one called “Modern Polygamy,” the next “Amateur Porn,” which airs tonight, and the third was about veterans with post traumatic stress syndrome called “Invisible Wounds of War.”

Not surprisingly for me, I watched the polygamy episode of the documentary-style show first. I find that lifestyle fascinating, not just because these men have multiple wives, but I find religious fundamentalists so interesting. How can they believe in something so completely?

And how can a mother let a young girl get into a marriage with an older man who has another wife? I was ready to be outraged. I’ve read “Under the Banner of Heaven,” by Jon Krakauer about two brothers who kill their sister in law and her baby in the name of God and “Escape” by Carolyn Jessop about a woman who escapes her polygamist husband. And I watched every episode of “Big Love” on HBO.

But what was so intriguing about the episode was that I wasn’t outraged. The town that they profiled, Centennial Park, Utah, wasn’t scary and oppressive and it wasn’t a town ruled by men. The women there appear to have a choice and a voice. In fact, according to the show, the women there choose their husbands not the other way around.

Some of the community leaders have even partnered with a Gay rights activist to help them keep the government out of their bedrooms.

Before the show, I had a very definite opinion on polygamy. Now, while I don’t approve of that lifestyle, I can see another point of view.

And that’s what I love about “Our America” on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. Ling and her team do such a great job of telling intimate, well documented stories. She said that they spend weeks with the subjects they chronicle on the show and she gets to know them. And the audience gets to know them as well.

The show isn’t loud and it’s not yelling at you, Ling said. “It’s not sensational.” Ling’s goal is to take the audience along on a journey and then at the end the hope is that they leave with more understanding and maybe more compassion.

I didn’t feel the same level of compassion to the subjects of the “Amateur Porn” episode that airs tonight. It seemed like a bunch of people making really bad decisions that you know won’t end well. But it was definitely compelling to watch. The second season of “Lisa Ling’s Our America” starts tonight. I would highly recommend checking it out.