Anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
In mid-June, a new network of thoughtful, committed and powerful women from around the world — a queen, a president, two Nobel peace laureates, seven first ladies, numerous cabinet members of governments from around the world, high-level officials from a variety of United Nations agencies, business, faith, educational, philanthropic and cultural leaders and young leaders across all races and faiths — gathered together to act to build a world safe and fit for children.
This unprecedented meeting of prominent women leaders gathered at the Dead Sea Conference Center under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan to launch the Global Women's Action Network for Children. They share Eleanor Roosevelt's belief that "only women in power" will "consider the needs of women without power," and that "a woman's will is the strongest thing in the world." The Jordan conference seeks to catalyze the powerful will of powerful women on behalf of the suffering, dying and illiterate powerless women and children around the world.
Although the needs of women and children are inextricably intertwined, advocates for women's rights and children's rights have too often operated separately. We came from near and far to Jordan to bundle our voices, talents, resources and wills together in passionate, persistent and irresistible advocacy that will not take "no," "maybe" or "later" for an answer to the urgent cries of mothers and motherless children dying this hour, minute and second today and every day.
The Global Women's Action Network for Children has selected two goals for focused and long-term advocacy and action: reducing maternal, newborn and child mortality and improving maternal and child health; and improving girls' access to education. It is intolerable that 11 million mothers and children die every year around the world, three-fourths from preventable causes, and that 100 million children, a majority of them girls, are denied education.
This annual holocaust is twice the population of Jordan. Both of our goals are included in the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the United Nations, targeted to be achieved by 2015. At the current rate of progress, the majority of nations won't meet that deadline. But this ground-breaking network of multinational, multigenerational, multiracial, multifaith, multisector women has pledged to help change that outcome.
The network will be an ongoing advocacy coalition housed at the Children's Defense Fund, which began quietly convening women leaders from around the nation and globe over five years ago in our effort to strengthen women's voices to build a world fit for children. The fund co-convened the gathering with four powerful women leaders: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; former President of Ireland and United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson; Melanne Verveer, CEO of Vital Voices; and Mahnaz Afkhami, founder and president of the Women's Learning Partnership. We partnered with the National Council of Family Affairs in Jordan, chaired by Her Majesty.
In this time of unbearable dissonance between promise and performance, between good politics and good policy, between professed and practiced human and family values, between racial and religious creed and racial and religious deed, between calls for community and rampant individualism and greed and between our capacity to prevent and alleviate human deprivation and disease and our political and spiritual will to do so, I believe our children — and their mothers — and all those with a mothering spirit can become the healing agents of our national and world transformation.
Every prophet, president, king, queen, leader and human being of every place, color, gender and faith entered life as a baby. The child is the present and the future and our Creator's universal messenger of hope and immortality.
Protecting today's children — tomorrow's leaders and parents — and their families is the moral and common sense litmus test of our humanity, and the overarching purpose of the Global Action Women's Network for Children and its coalition of women committed to change.
Marian Wright Edelman is President and Founder of the Children's Defense Fund.