Lloyd Blankfein receives an award from Gupta

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WOMENSENEWS)–When titans of New York’s finance industry are asked to come to Washington, D.C., these days, it’s usually not to accept an award for outstanding service to the global community.

But that is what brought Lloyd Blankfein, chair and chief executive officer of the Goldman Sachs Group, an investment banking company that was on the receiving end of the federal government’s $700 billion bailout plan late last year, to the nation’s capital on the evening of March 4.

At a gala timed to mark International Women’s Day, which falls on Sunday this year, Blankfein was feted by the International Center for Research on Women, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that advocates for investments in girls in women as antidotes to world poverty.

The group honored Goldman Sachs for its program to assist 10,000 female entrepreneurs around the world with formal entrepreneurial and management education.

Women are hit earliest and hardest by economic downturns, Geeta Rao Gupta, the center’s president, said. In nations around the world, they are less likely to be educated, and earn less than men. They also have less control over property and resources and are more likely to be unemployed or work without pay.

But investing in women makes smart economic sense because they tend to spend their money in ways that help their families, communities and nations, Blankfein said during his acceptance speech.

"If we are smart, we will recognize women’s value as economic agents and leaders and invest, particularly in these hard times, to unleash the full force of their potential," Gupta said. "That is the true stimulus package we need."

High Holiday for Women’s Activism

The center’s gala was one of a number of events in Washington, D.C., and around the world held in honor of International Women’s Day, a holiday that likely dates to 1908, when women marched through New York City demanding better pay, better working conditions and voting rights.

The March 8 holiday has grown in scope ever since, becoming the seed for a resolution in 1981 in the U.S. Congress that declared the week around March 8 Women’s History Week. In 1987, Congress went one step further, making March Women’s History Month. The resolution has been approved by Congress every year since.

Although still often undetected by many in the United States and around the globe, International Women’s Day and the days around it have morphed into a kind of high holiday for activists fighting for gender equality. Activist women frequently use the second week of March to celebrate the accomplishments of the past and lay out an agenda for the future.

That was the goal of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, a bipartisan group of female lawmakers in the House of Representatives that held its annual gala on March 3.

Speakers paid tribute to women in the audience who paved the way for future advances for political women–such as Patricia Schroeder, a former representative from Colorado who mounted a historic presidential bid in 1988–and outlined legislative goals for the upcoming congressional cycle.

Formal Call to End Discrimination

The caucus’ first order of business is a resolution commemorating International Women’s Day, said Illinois Democrat Rep. Jan Schakowsky, the new co-chair of the women’s caucus. It is similar to a resolution passed in previous years that has recognized progress women have made around the world and called attention to the need to end persistent forms of discrimination and violence against women.

"We truly do see ourselves as part of an international community," Schakowsky said at the gala, held in the East Hall of Washington, D.C.’s historic Union Station.

Also on the women’s agenda are initiatives to combat violence against women around the world; end sex trafficking and attacks on women in hot spots such as Eastern Congo and Darfur; address issues of concern for women in the military; and shine a light on women’s health–particularly the effects of heart disease, the leading killer of women–as the Congress prepares to overhaul the nation’s health insurance system.

The group also plans to hold a summit to examine the effects of the rapidly deteriorating economy on women and to discuss ways to promote female entrepreneurs.

Finally, the caucus will push to clear the way for a national women’s history museum, said co-chair Mary Fallin, a Republican from Oklahoma.

"There’s a lot on our plate, but if anyone can get it done, it’s a woman," Fallin said.

From Celebration to Solemnity

The week’s events ranged from celebratory fundraising galas and awards dinners to the more sober proceedings of activists announcing efforts to lobby for increased money for family planning programs around the world.

In the coming days, activists will discuss family planning programs at a luncheon sponsored by a group of female foreign policy leaders. They will hold a vigil in honor of the women of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where sexual violence and rape have rapidly spread in conflict zones. And the role of women as peacemakers will be the subject of a panel discussion held March 12 by female peace groups.

In New York, political observers will discuss the effect of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s turn as secretary of state, while Women’s eNews will lead a women’s history walking tour in lower Manhattan on March 8, around the blocks surrounding its new office, stopping at such sites as Sojourner Truth’s church.

Meanwhile, thousands of women around the world are participating in a wide range of events this week and next, ranging from a campaign in Australia to push for paid maternity leave to book readings in India encouraging women to view dark skin as beautiful to a charity dinner in Indonesia for girls’ education.

Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief for Women’s eNews.