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Actress and Muslim philanthropist promote women

Actress and Muslim philanthropist promote women

Edith M. Lederer / Associated Press Writer

February 23, 2010

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — What do actress Geena Davis, Britain’s Duchess of York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the head of the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists have in common?

They’re all committed to empowering women.

At a U.N. event Monday promoting gender equality, they were joined by heads of foundations, corporate leaders, academics, diplomats, representatives of voluntary organizations and several other celebrities, including Miss USA Kristen Dalton and Sweden’s Princess Madeleine.

The U.N. Economic and Social Council chose International Corporate Philanthropy Day to focus on women’s rights and generate support for one of the U.N.’s Millennium Development goals – promoting equality between women and men.

Ban told several hundred participants that “full empowerment requires more progress in two key areas: expanding economic opportunity and ending violence against women.”

“Our goal must be clear,” the U.N. chief said. “No tolerance of the use of rape as a weapon of war. No excuses for domestic violence. No looking the other way when it comes to sex trafficking, so-called `honor killings’ or female genital mutilation.”

The secretary-general also urged the private sector to promote women at all levels of corporate responsibility and the philanthropic community to “make sure that female beneficiaries are treated equally.”

Davis, who won a best supporting actress Oscar for “The Accidental Tourist” in 1989 and starred in “Thelma & Louise” and the ABC television series “Commander in Chief” where she played the first female U.S. president, called for a radical change in the way women and girls are portrayed in the media.

“At the dawn of a new millennium – in a world that is over 50 percent female – the message the media sends is that women and girls have far less value than men and boys,” she said.

Davis said research shows that there are three male characters for every female character across all film ratings and that the vast majority of female characters “are stereotyped and hyper-sexualized.”

“What message are we sending both boys and girls about women’s role in society?,” she asked.

Davis said that’s why she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and its programming arm, See Jane.

Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, who is divorced from Britain’s Prince Andrew, said the key to equality is “good mothering” because mothers promote education.

She announced a new initiative called “the Mother’s Army” to “harness the collective power of mothers” to enable women and girls to “dare to dream.”

Mary Quinn, senior manager of the Avon Foundation for Women which has already given $1 million to the U.N. Trust Fund to combat violence against women, announced an additional $250,000 pledge to the fund for a project to tackle gender-based violence in Mexican communities.

Maria Borelius, CEO of the nonprofit organization Hand in Hand International, pledged to create 10 million additional jobs among the world’s poorest women. Francine LeFrak of Fair Sky, a company that promotes women artisans in Rwanda, announced that she would start a similar program for women in Haiti.

And Tariq Cheema, founder and chair of the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists, announced the launch of a global initiative called “Empowerment Through Enlightenment.”

“This initiative will raise awareness among the male population as well as offering skill-building opportunities to females to enhance their competitiveness in the society,” he said to loud applause.

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