Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Girl power and change around the world

I dream of helping girls and women find equality in education, society and family life, the opportunities that I take for granted. Even though we're far from true equality here in the U.S., I have seen and read much that makes me so thankful, and reminds me how far we have to go.

I've been following the story of Lubna Hussein, a Sudanese journalist who was arrested for wearing pants in public. In his NY Times blog, Nicholas Kristof calls Hussein the Rosa Parks of Khartoum for her work, her protests, and that her "concern all along has been less her own safety than the need to change the law for the sake of those who are less connected and less protected."

Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn co-authored Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, next on my must-read book list.

“If you have always wondered whether you can change the world, read this book. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have written a brilliant call to arms that describes one of the transcendent injustices in the world today–the brutal treatment of women. They take you to many countries, introduce you to extraordinary women, and tell you their moving tales. Throughout, the tone is practical not preachy and the book’s suggestions as to how you can make a difference are simple, sensible, and yet powerful. The authors vividly describe a terrible reality about the world we live in but they also provide light and hope that we can, in fact, change it.”
-Fareed Zakaria, author, The Post-American World

To learn more about the book, how to get involved and other resources, go to the website Half the Sky Movement.

As I continue to research ways to turn my dreams into reality, I've noticed the conversation picking up momentum lately. Is it just me being more aware? Today my friend forwarded an email making the rounds titled "Losing my Religion for Equality," from the powerful personal statement made to the The Observer by former President Jimmy Carter.

In the original piece titled "The words of God do not justify cruelty toward women," Carter explains the role religion and faith plays in his life, and his reasons behind ending his relationship with the church he was raised in.

"...my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. This was in conflict with my belief - confirmed in the holy scriptures - that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

"This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. It is widespread. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths.

"Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries. The male interpretations of religious texts and the way they interact with, and reinforce, traditional practices justify some of the most pervasive, persistent, flagrant and damaging examples of human rights abuses.

"At their most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities." (Read the full text here.)

Here are a few of the amazing girls I met when I traveled to the Mercato district of Addis Ababa in May.

Samrawit is part of the preventative program of Life In Abundance, which helps her mother with work so Samrawit does not have to stay home to earn money, but can stay in school. We met her before the tutoring program, where she informed us "I love mathematics." Samrawit plans to be a doctor who helps AIDS patients.

A little girl in the Mercato district. I don't know her story, but approximately 50,000 children sleep on the streets at night in Addis Ababa.

Waiting for tutoring

A girl who lived near the LIA compound in the Mercato district, always eager to shake hands and practice her English, asking your name and "how are you?"

(Samrawit photo by Justin Ahrens)

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