Hope and Determination: A Report Back from the State of Women Summit

Last month Alliance attorney Allison Newcombe attended the first ever State of Women Summit in Washington, DC, convened by the White House Council on Women and Girls. Newcombe works with trafficking victims in The Alliance’s CSEC Program (Commercially Sexually Exploited Children).

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Allison and our partners at the National Center for Youth Law’s Child Trafficking Team chat with Kamala Harris during their recent trip to Washington, D.C.

The summit included a series of plenary presentations as well as breakout panel discussions. Speakers included President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet, Nancy Pelosi, and many more. The State of Women Summit was convened to bring together advocates to address issues facing women and girls. The purpose of the summit was to “highlight what we’ve achieved, identify the challenges that remain, and chart the course for addressing them.” The summit focused on six topic areas: economic empowerment, health and wellness, educational opportunity, violence against women, entrepreneurship and innovation as well as leadership and civic engagement.

Newcombe attended sessions focused on anti-trafficking and ending violence against women. She said, “a common theme was the importance of not only ending these cycles of abuse, but also on what we do after the fact –and the importance of creating more opportunities and reconnecting women and girls to education and employment with livable wages.”

Read on below for the full report back from Newcombe on one session in particular, titled Girls at the Center: Understanding Obstacles and Exploring Solutions.

The session was kicked off by Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. She started her remarks by recalling her visit to the LA County STAR Court last September. She described it as a day that would be “forever burned into her memory.” She recalled that one of the youth told her that as a teenager, you can’t walk down the street in Compton for more than 2 blocks without being picked up by a pimp – Valerie noted the stark inequity in childhood experiences and opportunity and the importance of continuing to fight for a world where all girls can pursue their dreams.

The Girls at the Center session featured a panel of young women who had been affected by issues such as child welfare and juvenile justice system involvement, teen pregnancy and school pushout. Youth spoke of the importance of having access to specialized programs, mentors, and adults who took the time to listen. There was a common frustration that youth felt like they were “just a number.” They spoke about the value of having people who believed in them and treated them “like full people.” One youth recalled a judge who cared about and listened to her. I later learned that the youth was from Los Angeles, and the judge she was referring to was Judge Pratt, presiding Judge of the STAR Court.

The entire experience at the Summit was incredible. It was energizing to be surrounded by 5,000 people who are passionate about women and girls and to learn more about issues affecting them on a larger scale. It is easy to get stuck in the silo of child trafficking and it’s important to step back and assess issues affecting marginalized communities through a broader lens.

Partners from the collaborative “STAR Court” team gather for dinner after the Summit. The Alliance’s CSEC attorney, Allison works closely with the STAR Court to support youth in Los Angeles who are victims of sex trafficking.

The wide range of experience of the speakers was as interesting as were the topics. We heard from business leaders, entrepreneurs, elected officials, athletes, entertainers, activists, and nonprofit leaders – all with a common thread of wanting to fight for a world where women are empowered and treated equally. The conference re-instilled in me a sense of determination and hope, knowing that there are so many who are fighting for the rights of abused, marginalized and discounted populations.