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From October 31 through November 2, 2009, Vital Voices will host “Breakthrough: Overcoming the Obstacles to Equality, Development and Peace,” which will convene an extraordinary group of 50 individuals at New York University’s Villa La Pietra campus in Florence, Italy to engage in an interactive working session on the status of women worldwide. Made possible with the support from the Paul E. Singer Family Foundation, New York University and Starwood & The Westin Excelsior, this gathering aims to commemorate the upcoming 15th anniversary of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China in September 1995, and furthermore, to chart a better course forward to advance the status of women worldwide. Participants represent members of Vital Voices’ Global Leadership Network in addition to global thought leaders from government, civil society, academia and the private sector. The meeting will culminate in a report of findings and recommendations that will be released to coincide with the UN’s 15-year review of the Beijing conference, scheduled in March 2010.

Through two days of open-ended, roundtable discussions, this diverse and dynamic group will recognize gains made, consider the current status of women, and, most importantly, address the remaining, and at times worsening, challenges that women continue to face globally.

The gathering will open with a review of past challenges faced by women and strides made to confront them over the past 15 years, with the goals of Beijing and the areas of progress, stalemate or retreat as a starting point. The remainder of the meeting will focus on strategies to address the most pressing challenges facing women across the globe. Participants at the meeting in Florence will ask: Why does inequality endure? What underlies all of these emerging problems? What is needed to turn this around? What has been missing? What will it take? How do we do it? In short, how does a much larger community of institutions and individuals see themselves as stakeholders so that this larger community will act as much out of self-interest as out of any abstract sense of justice?

Vital Voices traces its roots to the Beijing Conference of 1995. In 1997, it began as a foreign policy initiative at the US Department of State as one means to implement the policies adopted by the world community at Beijing. Since 2000, Vital Voices has acted as a US-based, bipartisan non-governmental organization that identifies, invests in and brings visibility to extraordinary women leaders by unleashing their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities-all in the spirit of the principles adopted at Beijing and devoted to the same goals. The gathering has been designed to bring together men and women, both thinkers and activists, who represent a deliberate mix of individuals whose focus has been on the movement for women’s equality with individuals from a much broader base whose primary focus has not been on the status of women.

Among those participating will be: Emma Bonino, Vice President, Italian Senate; Jimmie Briggs, Founder & Executive Director, ManUp Initiative; Beth Brooke, Global Vice Chair, Ernst & Young; Tina Brown, Founder & Editor-in-Chief, The Daily Beast; Rola Dashti, Member of Parliament, Kuwait; Sheila Johnson, President, Managing Partner & Governor, WNBA’s Washington Mystics; Zainab Salbi, Founder & CEO, Women for Women International; Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Womens’ Issues, US Department of State; and Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Founder, Grameen Bank.

Vital Voices Global Partnership views this 15th anniversary as an opportune moment and critical opportunity. In facilitating “Breakthrough: Overcoming the Obstacles to Equality, Development and Peace” Vital Voices seeks to galvanize thought and discussion in order to bring new leaders and fresh thinking to women’s empowerment efforts in preparation for the 15 year anniversary of Beijing, and the broader movement to advance the status of women.