We Don’t Need Saving: Advocating for Women’s Empowerment
The Desmond Tutu Center’s inaugural Biennial Conference kicked off with an empowering session titled “We Don’t Need Saving: Advocating for Women’s Empowerment” which featured two dynamic speakers with plenty of experience breaking through glass ceilings and empowering women through their work and personal experiences.
The first of these two empowering speakers, Rabbi Sandy Sasso, began her address by saying, “When I was planning what I was going to say during this session a week ago, I believed this was going to be a very different context in which I was speaking in.” Sasso’s somber opening remarks were clearly in reference to the outcome of the recent 2016 presidential election in which the American people chose Donald Trump as our new President-elect. Sasso continued, “When I was preparing what I was going to say on a panel entitled ‘We Don’t Need Saving: Advocating for Women’s Empowerment,’ I thought I was actually going to have to make hard arguments that women still needed empowering after we had elected our first female president. Clearly, though, that is not what happened, and I think I need not explain that our society needs to fight harder for the empowerment of women now more than ever.”
There seemed to be a collective nod from the audience in agreement with that statement. As the first ever to be ordained from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the first female to ever serve a Conservative congregation – Sasso currently serves as the Senior Rabbi Emerita of the Congregation Beth El-Zedeck here in Indianapolis – Sasso knows a thing or two about the difficulty of breaking the glass ceiling. As a self-proclaimed feminist, Sasso was not shy about sharing her feelings regarding the election outcome and her disappointment in Trump’s victory; however, her message was one of optimism on the future of gender equality in this country. As was implied in her opening remarks, it is hard to deny that misogyny is alive, thriving, and playing a significant role in America’s current political climate, and this was brought to the forefront of the minds of many as a result of Hillary Clinton’s defeat.
The second speaker of this panel, Cynthia Prime, echoed many of Sasso’s initial sentiments. As a co-founder and current CEO of Saving Orphans through Healthcare and Outreach (SOHO), Cynthia Prime has been fighting for years as a champion for women and girls; however, as her address to conference attendees demonstrated, her career did not start there. Prime shared an incredibly engaging, not to mention humorous, story of her earlier career and what it was like to be a black woman in corporate America. Though Prime’s story had a happy ending, where she was promoted over a misogynistic boss, her experience was poignant and familiar for many women in the audience. At one point, Prime interrupted her own story to ask the female members of the audience, “Have any of you ever been passed up on a job or promotion for a male with less experience?” Ironically, one audience member pointed out that had, “just happened last Tuesday,” in clear reference to the outcome of the election; however, Prime’s message was one of hope, as well.
Now more than ever, both women concluded, the public should be concerned with the issue of women’s empowerment, and this opportunity to have a public conversation about issues of gender equality cannot be lost. And as Hillary Clinton observed in her concession speech that, “We have yet to break that highest and hardest glass ceiling,” this session demonstrated there are strong women everywhere, like Sandy Sasso and Cynthia Prime, who are breaking their own glass ceilings and working towards a society where a woman can one day become President.
By: Caroline Whang
Partners: Saving Orphans Through Healthcare and Outreach