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Wednesday, February 13, 2013 by EMILY THIEL Special to The Press in Local News

Abigail Disney to speak March 14

As Cedar Crest College's William D. Reimert lecture speaker for 2013, documentary filmmaker and philanthropist, Abigail Disney, will be speaking on "Why Women Matter" 7 p.m. March 14 in Samuels Theatre.

Disney, the daughter of Roy E. Disney, will also be receiving an honorary degree from Cedar Crest College before hosting the lecture. Disney spoke to the Lehigh Valley Press preceding the event about topics she will be discussing.

Disney was a producer on the documentary "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" (2008), where a group of women rise up in Liberia to promote peace within the country.

"Women are the center of webs of relationships. If you go into neighborhoods that are stressed, you'll notice that the groups that are gathering, [and] organizing are run and populated by women," Disney said about something she was struck by on her travels in countries across the world. She said she has seen this in areas in the United States, but was especially taken aback by the strength of women in Morocco and Liberia, to take a stand for what they believe.

"It's pretty much a universal thing. [Women] do tend to dominate" in these situations, Disney observed. "There's work to be done all around the planet."

Here in the United States, Disney said levels of sexual violence are still very high and it is hard for women to get rape convictions against their offenders.

"We still have work to do in this country, and a lot of it," Disney said.

But how did Disney become so involved in these important and often times controversial global women's issues growing up in Los Angeles, where she says she was never exposed to issues like homelessness?

"I think my beginning was my dissertation at Columbia [University.] I was feeling lost, adrift, depressed and I made the decision I would go and do some volunteer work to break up my routine," she recalls.

Volunteering both gave Disney the "oxygen" she was suffering for, giving her meaningful relationships with human beings and allowed her to really engage with people who needed help. She gives the same advice to those looking for fulfillment now.

Disney borrows from one of her feminist idols, Gloria Steinem, while observing her present a speech to adolescent boys. Steinem told them to "think about the father they have, about the father they want to be and what they need to change to become that person."

Disney said this moment was significant to see young men discover that feminism is not only about women empowerment but also about "rearranging society." Feminists aren't here to "take stuff" from the men, as she says Steinem points out, which is a valuable part for both men and women to recognize.

Becoming involved and working for nonprofit organizations is a major tip Disney gives for those looking to get involved and wanting to make a change.

"Go be useful somewhere," she said.

Disney sees women in roles of political leadership to make a difference in society, but it isn't the only answer to the problems women face. Telling the stories of tribulations and triumphs women combat throughout the world is one of the leading ways to help the issues, even if the stories don't have happy endings.

"Use our capacity on Twitter, on Pinterest, to get the word out about what is going on in the world," Disney passionately said. "We need to gather, talk to each other and think about the power we have in groups."

Disney will be speaking to a group at Cedar Crest College, where she will encourage inspiration and discuss the topic "Why Women Matter." The lecture is a free event and is open to the public; to register to attend visit