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Seattle takes it personally – women and girls

Yvonne Mutoni Musiime, Rwanda Girls Initiative

Editor’s Note: I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in the journalistic pretense of objectivity today, which is why I am calling this post an analysis. It’s not really going to be very analytical, but that’s the word journalists use when they actually say what they think.

Yvonne Mutoni Musiime, Rwanda Girls Initiative
Yvonne Mutoni Musiime, Rwanda Girls Initiative


Here at Humanosphere, the world’s leading news resource for global health and the fight against poverty (okay, that’s not true), we frequently pretend to be objective.

Journalistic objectivity is, of course, more an ideal than a practice any individual can achieve in reality. But we do try to be fair and accurate and not engage in too much personal opinion. We strive to give people the whole picture, as we see it.

I don’t have the time and inclination for all that objectivity head-faking today.

I don’t have the time because of two powerful gatherings that took place in Seattle this week, one by Global Washington and the other by the Seattle International Foundation (or SIF, which I need to disclose is one of Humanosphere’s leading financial benefactors). Both of these yearly confabs truly exemplify what’s so special about the local humanitarian scene. And by happening on the same week every year (WTF?) they also annually consume what little free time I have for that week.

I also don’t have the inclination – to engage in the pretense of objectivivity, in case I lost you – because, well, we were all blubbering this morning over our breakfast. It’s hard to report objectively when you’ve got tears in your eyes.

So what was the blubber fest? It was SIF’s annual Women in the World breakfast.

Paula Clapp
Paula Clapp

“The voices of women are often ignored … or punished for speaking out,” said Paula Clapp, co-founder of SIF and one of the region’s leading philanthropists. Clapp has been devoted to empowering (and protecting) women for a long time, but she still choked up speaking this simple truth. So did many in the auditorium at the Four Seasons Hotel. But they were mostly women. I was a guy and damn if I was going to start crying.

Then an 18-year-old young woman from Rwanda, Yvonne Mutoni Musiime, got up to speak. Musiime thanked her Seattle benefactors for offering her a comprehensive education through the project known as the Rwanda Girls Initiative, which operates a school in the southern part of this poor and previously war-torn nation.

“I want to become a pediatric oncologist,” said Musiime, who despite her age was perhaps one of the most eloquent speakers at the event. Thanks to the quality of her education, she has applied to Stanford University. Musiime seemed very happy, but even that made people weep. For joy, I guess. Women.

Then came Gloria Cruz Pantoja, a woman from Peru who works as a community organizer and environmental activist with Seattle-based EarthCorps. Pantoja smiled broadly and spoke of growing up poor – and in a family that held to the traditional view that a woman’s role is in the home, cooking and caring for the family.

“It was difficult to understand why life was so hard,” Pantoja said. It was difficult for her to see any future of opportunity, she said, because her mother aggressively believed in and argued for the subservient ideal of womanhood. She wiped her eyes. Uh-oh. Now she couldn’t talk, so Paula Clapp went up and hugged her until she could start speaking again. That pretty much wiped us all out. Everyone was lacrimating all over the damn place.

I could go on. There was a lot of crying at Women in the World. And this was somehow, for me anyway, the most newsworthy aspect of the whole event. The fight against poverty, against injustice and suffering, is very personal – here in this gray and soggy city full of emotionally challenged geeks and gloomy Scandinavians. The personal element clearly informs and inspires what we do.

And we do a lot, much of it increasingly focused on girls and women. At the end of the event, SIF honored just a few of the many organizations in this region devoted to empowering girls and women – 18 of them, including the two already mentioned and others like the Mona Foundation, Ayni Education, iLeap and more than a dozen others.

Again, I have multiple conflicts of interest here. SIF is a big supporter of Humanosphere (even though they sometimes get mad at me) and I acknowledge crying myself. I take this stuff personally, too. You can read more about the many others who take these issues personally at the SIF website, or just take a look at their representatives gathered up on the stage during a break from all the blubbering.

Women in the World, in Seattle
Women in the World, in Seattle

About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.