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Theaters show women in global poverty fight

There is seldom an opportunity for Pinellas residents to participate in a local event spotlighting International Women's Day, much less do so in concert with thousands of others around the nation. That opportunity arrives at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, when an Oldsmar movie theater joins more than 400 other U.S. theaters in screening the documentary film, A Powerful Noise, followed by a live town hall meeting broadcast from New York City that features some well-known names from journalism, politics and the global fight against poverty.

If you don't know much about International Women's Day, which is March 8 every year, it is not surprising. International Women's Day gets more attention in some other parts of the world than it does around here. In some countries, it is even an official holiday and is celebrated in much the same way we observe Mother's Day, with events small and large that honor women, their hard work, their sacrifices for their families as well as their struggles to achieve freedom and equality.

As women have gained ground, International Women's Day has celebrated their progress while also emphasizing that much still needs to be achieved. Women around the world are still shackled by laws that do not recognize them as equals with men, by discrimination in the workplace and in pay for work, by cultural mores that support abuse and degradation of women, and by poverty. According to the United Nations, 70 percent of the world's poor are female.

For many years, the United Nations has recognized International Women's Day and has held conferences focusing on women. Last year, the European Union hosted a conference headlined by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and attended by presidents, prime ministers and other powerful leaders from around the world. Rice and others who spoke at the conference appealed for women to play a larger political role in important world affairs, including climate change, poverty and the fight against terrorism.

"In today's modern world," Rice told conference attendees, "no country can achieve lasting success and stability and security if half of its population is sitting on the sidelines."

The nationwide concurrent screening of the film A Powerful Noise this Thursday seeks to show women the power they possess to bring change. It tells the stories of three women: an HIV-positive widow in Vietnam who formed a self-help group for HIV victims in her country; a Bosnian mother who founded a women's group that is finding ways to reduce hostility between Serbs and Bosnians and helping war widows support themselves; and a woman who fights forced labor by girls in the slums of Mali.

The executive producer of A Powerful Noise was Sheila C. Johnson, a name Pinellas residents may recognize. Johnson is CEO of Salamander Hospitality, owner of the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Palm Harbor. She's also one of the founders of Black Entertainment Television, a promoter of the arts and a busy philanthropist. She works with CARE, a humanitarian organization that fights global poverty, to advance CARE's effort to empower girls and women to change their communities.

CARE is one of the sponsors of the nationwide screening and also one of its beneficiaries. A percentage of the proceeds from ticket sales will go to CARE. Tickets at the Oldsmar AMC Woodlands Square theater will cost $18 each and include the film and the broadcast of the town hall meeting.

The town hall discussion will focus on ways women can help their families and their communities escape poverty and division. The panel is scheduled to include former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; CARE president and CEO Dr. Helene Gayle; New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof; Christy Turlington Burns, contributing editor for Marie Claire magazine; and actress Natalie Portman.

To purchase an advance ticket to the screening, go to www. fathomevents.com. Or you may wait until showtime to purchase tickets at the theater, 3128 Tampa Road, Oldsmar.

The screening of the film and the town hall help kick off local events planned for Women's History Month. Churches, schools and libraries are among the institutions that will put a special focus on women during this month.

Also, the Clearwater branch of the American Association of University Women, which has its 60th anniversary in April, will mark Women's History Month with a March 21 luncheon at Kally-K's restaurant, 1600 Main St., Dunedin, beginning at 10:30 a.m. Attendees will pay for their lunch ordered from the restaurant's menu, and enjoy a program telling the story of four notable women: Sandra Day O'Connor, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sally Ride and Florence Seibert. The luncheon is open to the public.

Events like Women's History Month and International Women's Day remind us of how far we've come, even as they show us that in many parts of the world, women still have mountains to climb and need our help.

Diane Steinle's e-mail address is dsteinle@sptimes.com.

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Theaters show women in global poverty fight 03/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 3, 2009 5:49pm]

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