Women can help change the world one step at a time

By Maria Saporta

What a day for women.

At lunch Thursday, the Atlanta Women’s Foundation held its 13th annual Numbers Too Big to Ignore event at the Georgia World Congress Center with Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist and author, as the keynote speaker.

Kristof was the first man to serve as keynote speak for the event.

And then, Thursday evening, state Rep. Kathy Ashe hosted a cocktail conversation with Lilly Ledbetter, a heroine for women across the country and beyond. She was the inspiration for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, the first bill President Barack Obama signed into law.

A common theme at both events was that each one of us can make a difference.

Kristof recounted several stories of girls and women across the world who were able to overcome tremendous odds to reach their potential. Kristof has just published a book: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

At one moment, Kristof asked the crowd of hundreds whether they believed there were more men or women in the world. Most answered incorrectly. There are up to 100 million more men in the world than women, and that’s including all the men who have lost their lives to war or violence.

Kristof explained that in many countries, boys are taken better care of than girls, which contributes to that imbalance.

“It’s not an equitable world when you’ve got 60 million to 100 million women missing from the planet,” Kristof said.

At one point, Kristof said that women and girls are part of the solution and not part of the problem, a line which received loud applause.

Kristof also added that the Atlanta Women’s Foundation must draft men to join in to broaden its base. Whites were involved in the civil rights movement and straight people support gay rights issues. There’s no reason why men can’t be part of the women’s movement.

But most importantly, Kristof advocated for grassroots change. “Often things can be done on an incremental basis,” he said.

Perhaps there’s no better grassroots leader than Lilly Ledbetter.

Ledbetter is a disarming, Southern woman who was a production manager at a Goodyear tire plant in Alabama. Thanks to an anonymous note and an anonymous letter showing the pay discrepancies between Ledbetter and other male managers, Ledbetter ended up spending 11 years of her life working on equal pay for equal work.

“I could never let it go,” Ledbetter said, adding that her husband always encouraged her despite suffering through four bouts with cancer before he passed away. Ultimately, she received $300,000 from Goodyear (instead of a lower court ruling that said she should be compensated by $3.8 million).

Ledbetter said much work still needs to be done — offering protection for employees who feel that they’ve been mistreated — and not be subject to retaliation from employers.

“This is a worldwide problem,” she said. “It is not just in the South , in Alabama or Georgia or the country. It’s all over the world. Women are struggling.”

And then Ledbetter urged the women in Rep. Ashe’s living room to continue doing what they can to get women in politics, in business, on boards and in positions of power.

“To me, it was never about the money,” Ledbetter said. “It was always about what was right.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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