Seventy percent of the world?s poorest and vulnerable are women and seven out of 10 hungry people worldwide are also women, according to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. A summit to invest in women and girls as a key to ending global poverty was held Sunday in Washington. 

The conference was organized by the Women, Faith, and Development Alliance (WFDA) in collaboration with the Washington National Cathedral. In her keynote speech, former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright said poverty should not be accepted as an inevitable part of the human condition and should therefore be eradicated.

?Poverty is not a force of nature. Poverty is a choice that society makes, and let?s be clear: What we have the ability to choose, we have the ability to change. Ending or drastically reducing poverty can be done. We know it because we?ve already started,? she said

Secretary Albright says ending poverty requires empowering women, educating girls, and developing more equitable rules for labor, investment and trade.

In a video message, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, one of the co-chairs of the summit praised the Women, Faith, and Development Alliance for its goal to increase resources for women and girls. She said Liberia under her leadership is an example of how increasing resources for women and girls can have transformative results.

?Female life expectancy is increasing in response to our preventive health care, and more girls are going to school and attending university in record numbers. We are training our people to understand the vitality of girls education because we know that when educate a girl, you educate a nation. Today in our country, more women are in the paid work force, and our administration is enforcing the country?s first-ever rape law,? Sirleaf said.

Also addressing the conference by video was Anglican Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa. He challenged the faith community to do more in championing the rights of women and girls.

?Despite its global leadership on human rights and humanitarian aid, the faith community has failed to champion gender justice and the cause of women and girls. Religion has too often been used as a tool to oppress women. And we must bear responsibility for contributing to the unjust burden born by women,? he said.

Archbishop Tutu said the faith community has too often failed to condemn culturally and traditionally rooted discriminatory practices such as child marriages, genital mutilation, and violence against women and children.

In her written message to the gathering, U.S. first lady Laura Bush said she has seen remarkable improvement in health care and education during her travel around the world. In Africa, Mrs. Bush said countless girls have received textbooks and academic scholarships as a result of President Bush?s Africa education initiative.

Denmark?s minister for development cooperation presented a global call to action torch to generate stronger political and financial support for the third Millennium Development Goal, which is gender equality and women?s empowerment. Recipients are called upon to do something extra in support of gender equality and women?s empowerment.

Jacqueline Ogega, women?s program director for Religious for Peace received the torch on behalf of the Women, Faith, and Development Alliance.

?We committed ourselves to convene this summit to challenge and inspire organizations to expand what they are doing for women and girls around the world. We have gathered a significant amount of commitments from our partner organizations, which amounts to one billion US dollars. We devote ourselves to ensuring that all these commitments are carried out. This summit is just the beginning of our work,? Ogega said.

At least 100 of the Danish global call to action torch are expected to travel the world between now and September. The final torch and all the commitments are expected to be presented to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in September when world leaders meet to review the third Millennium Development Goal which is gender equality and women?s empowerment.