Mentoring Our Way to Progress for Girls & Women Worldwide

By Alyse Nelson, president and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership

This year holds special significance for the global women’s movement. Twenty years ago in Beijing, China, the UN Fourth World Conference on Women sparked a new era of activism around women’s rights. I had traveled to Beijing to be part of this unprecedented gathering, where representatives from every nation in the world came together, united by a vision for the future, and galvanized the global movement that continues today. No one among us walked away the same.

Data recently released on NoCeilings.org, a project of the Clinton and Gates Foundations, finds that, while we’ve come a long way since that moment, gaps in progress persist. When it comes to gender equality, the difference between rhetoric and reality remains stark. We’re just not there yet.

“When it comes to gender equality, the difference between rhetoric and reality remains stark. We’re just not there yet.”

Today, 71 percent of girls have safe access to primary education, but that number drops to 32 percent for girls’ secondary education. And 1 in 3 women alive today will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. Education and safety are the building blocks for leadership, where women’s progress has also stagnated; the workforce gender gap, for example, hasn’t changed in the last 20 years.

As we think about the future we want to create — and how we’re going to get there — we need to look to strategies that are practical, sustainable and resonate universally.

At Vital Voices, we believe that mentoring is one of the most effective ways to accelerate women’s collective progress. An exchange of talent, wisdom and power, it sparks collaboration and creativity, and makes space for solutions. With the benefit of insights, skills and connections that mentorship provides, women are better positioned to realize breakthrough change and thrive in leadership positions.

“With the benefit of insights, skills and connections that mentorship provides, women are better positioned to realize breakthrough change and thrive in leadership positions.”

This year was the biggest yet for our Global Mentoring Walk — with 51 countries hosting 72 mentoring walks that connect 7,000 women.

For more than 18 years, it’s been my privilege to partner with women leaders who find real solutions to real challenges. Their example has shaped my understanding of leadership and its power to change lives. From rural villages to wired cities, they’ve shown me that mentorship is one of the greatest acts of leadership. It’s leadership in practice. And there’s one thing I know for certain — we won’t achieve the progress we seek for the girls and women of the world without the dedication, generosity and vision of women who mentor women.

Twenty years after the UN Fourth World Conference on Women, it’s important to celebrate the gains women have made since Beijing while also keeping our sights set on the unfinished business that remains. I know I can’t pay back the mentors I’ve had, so I choose to pay it forward—alongside the millions of women around the world who mentor to spark tangible progress and affect real change for the next generation.


About the Author

Alyse Nelson is president and chief executive officer of Vital Voices Global Partnership. A cofounder of Vital Voices, Alyse has worked for the organization for 17 years, serving as vice president and senior director of programs before assuming her current role in 2009. Alyse has worked with women leaders to develop training programs and international forums in over 140 countries and has interviewed more than 200 international leaders, including Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former presidents Mary Robinson and Bill Clinton, as well as Nobel Peace Prize laureates Aung San Suu Kyi, Wangari Maathai, and Muhammad Yunus. Under her leadership, Vital Voices has tripled in size and expanded its global reach to serve a network of over 14,000 women leaders in 144 countries.

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