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News: Changes in the World that Impact Women

April 2017:  A Vision Comes to Life

This story reveals the power of Vision and Intention.  It is a story about the gifts of leadership that women bring to our global community.    Like Tam’s story, it reveals a different way of prompting collective action, a different set of beliefs about how communities of people create the reality they desire.

In March, 2016, a group of five women came together in Seattle, WA, USA.     Sad and troubled by the daily news of conflict and violence around the world, they knew different ways of BEING together and working together across cultural boundaries were both necessary – and possible.  Seattle is a very diverse community, and they knew women could lead the way in creating an experience based on appreciation of differences, rather than fear of differences.

A powerful vision of a Celebration of International Women’s Day for the following year emerged from their conversations – a Celebration where women from different cultural backgrounds, different life experience, different faith traditions, and different language groups could join in an environment of appreciation and respect – and joy!

In March, 2017, that Vision became a reality as over 130 women gathered to celebrate feminine spirit, the value women bring to their communities, and the beauty of weaving together our differences, and our commonalities, to create a stronger global community.

This Celebration of International Women’s Day ~ 2017 in Seattle was created on the basis of women’s leadership gifts – quite different from the typical Western models of Conferences.

There was no structured hierarchy.  There were no “Speakers.”  The assumption was that “the Wisdom was in the Room.”  The women at this event did not need “experts” to tell them what to do or how to do it.  They knew that.  Many women held the microphone during the day, sharing their thoughts, their experience, their insight and their wisdom.

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Even more important than the microphone – was the conversation around the tables.

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Though the gathered women spoke many different languages, many knew “some” English, and a smile, a hug, or an outstretched hand required no translation.

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Collaborative creativity thrived!


Storytelling was probably the most precious experience of the day. 

Originally conceived as Facilitated groups of 20 women sharing stories, planners were advised that many women would be intimidated and would not speak up.  SO, participants were invited to form groups of three, each person would have 5 minutes to share a story in response to a specific question.   Then the group of three could discuss what they had heard, and shared.  Powerful, powerful face-to face sharing about, “an important experience I had in my childhood or young adulthood” unfolded. A second round focused on stories related to current goals or dreams each of us are pursuing.

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These personal stories were shared across cultural boundaries, generational boundaries, faith tradition boundaries - - - - not by design, but because by this time in the day women had co-created a safe and trusting environment.  And because those designing the day had listened to the wisdom of a young woman who knew that storytelling needed to be with one or two other persons – not a group of 20.

The “magic” of this event illustrates some important principles:

  • The Intention of the Celebration never changed.  The vision the “group of five” didn’t change.  As they shared their personal images of the day they wanted to create, it was always about a welcoming space where a diverse group of women would connect with one another and deepen their appreciation for both their commonalities and their differences.
  • The particulars changed rather significantly:
    • The “time of day” of the event would clearly be 9:00 – 3:00, in the minds of some of the planning Team.  Listening to the wisdom of others on the Team, gradually – over several months time – there was agreement that the “time” would be 10:30 – 4:30.
    • A related and very significant decision, was to use the time from 10:30 – 11:00 to specifically welcome women as they arrived, walk them on the red carpet into the meeting space, introduce them to various “stations” around the room where they could engage in collaborative art projects or post on the “Project Wall” projects in which they were involved, help they needed, or strengths they could contribute.  This half-hour, prior to the formal Welcome, had a huge impact on helping participants feel safe, respected, and empowered to fully engage and co-create the day.
    • The location of the event would be Seattle Center – in the minds of some on the planning Team.  Listening to the advice of a member of the Vietnamese community, the Team realized that many of the women they envisioned participating in the event felt Seattle Center to be quite outside their comfort area.  As planning unfolded, the opportunity to hold the Celebration at South Seattle College became possible.
    • And, as mentioned above, the “Facilitated Conversations” originally envisioned, shifted into Storytelling in groups of three.

Both Tam’s story and this News story about the Celebration of International Women Women’s Day in Seattle illustrate the importance of holding steady to one’s vision, while flexing and adapting in terms of how to achieve that vision.  

Tam describes “listening to what country leaders were thinking, paying attention to how they wanted to approach reform . . .”  AND  keeping clearly in mind her Intention “” . . to work in public administration reform.”   The planning Team for the Celebration of International Women’s Day ~ 2017, while keeping clearly focused on their Intention, listened to the wisdom of community members and the voice of young leaders and adapted the Design to even more effectively create the experience they envisioned.

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Some of the more than 130 women who enjoyed this Celebration together.

 

 

February 2016: Y-WE - Young Women Empowered

Y-WE

Imagine young women like these  - meeting one Saturday a month, developing deep friendships, making art together, developing skills of speaking, writing, and leading, engaging in projects and activities where they test out those skills, meeting with mentors on a regular basis, developing the confidence to go on to college, to move into careers they chose, and, often coming back to organizational events or activities as alums, to “give back” because they are so grateful for the experience that was available for them.   Y-WE (Young Women Empowered) creates the opportunity for this to happen. 

 

Girls, between 13 and 18, who come once or twice, continue to come for years. The organization has an 86% retention rate.

As we focus on young leaders, and the gifts they bring to our world, the responsibility for nurturing these young people immediately flashes into our awareness.  How do we help our youth see themselves as leaders?   How do we create an environment that is empowering for young women?  Where do they feel secure enough to learn new skills?

The organization, Y-WE, is a great example of how this can be accomplished!  One way we empower young women is that we step into our own leadership, creating opportunities for young women to develop attitudes and skills needed for leading, AND, providing role models for them. Y-WE exists because Jamie Rose, the Co-Founder and Co-Director, inspired by the birth of her own daughter, initiated a pilot project in 2010 that evolved into Y-WE. 

Valuing diversity, and believing that we don’t learn to appreciate differences by learning “about” various cultures or generations, rather by working, and playing, “with” those who are different from ourselves, Y-WE is intentional in selecting Staff, Mentors and Board members that reflect the diverse population of girls they seek to serve.

Three foundational principles seem to fuel the strategy and activities of Y-WE:

  • honoring the interests and expressed needs of the girls they serve,
  • creating organizational structure and strategy that puts into practice the values on which the organization is based, and
  • engaging the girls as leaders, responsible for creating healthy community both within this organization and within the larger communities of which they are a part.

Listening to what the girls want to learn about, to the needs they express, is not hit-or-miss.  It is built into the organizational processes and culture.  Feedback is invited in a variety of ways – from casual conversation to comment sheets at the conclusion of every meeting or training session.  This feedback provides the basis for further conversation.  Engagement and on-going dialogue enable ideas to flourish, informed by a variety of perspectives.

Girls currently engaged in Y-WE, for example, have expressed strong interest in travel and opportunities for learning in other countries.  Staff members did not take that information and develop such opportunities for them.   Instead, this is the beginning of the conversation.  Girls are involved with staff and mentors in exploring this interest, determining together what this might look like and how such opportunities might be initiated.   The respect for the girls is clear as the girls are included as partners in taking responsibility for creating the results they want.  The message is, “You are leaders already.  You are smart.  You have good ideas.  You respect the ideas and needs of others.  Together we can create what we desire.”

This young organization is not only a great model for empowering young women - - - it is a model that could change the way “Development” is perceived around the globe and enrich our global community in profound ways. 

Our current perception seems to be that there are “haves” and “have nots” in the world – whether we are talking about power, money, or other resources.  Y-WE is founded on a different belief.   They believe that EVERYONE and EVERY GROUP are “haves!”  They believe each of us have gifts – and that all of our gifts are needed.

It is also true that we do not all “HAVE” the same resources, so Y-WE is attentive to specific needs.  This shows up in a variety of ways.  Transportation is provided to their monthly Saturday meetings for those who need it.  At the Program level, training is provided for those who want to become better writers, for those who want to become better at public speaking or drama for those who want to become more influential leaders.

Suppose we looked at others – individuals, or countries – that may be characterized as “have nots” in terms of their strengths, rather than their limitations?  Suppose we recognized that every “helping” experience is an opportunity for learning - for BOTH giver and receiver.  How would that change our world?

 

February 2016: Tam Nguyen: Enhancing My Knowledge and Skills

In our second NEWS update of February, 2016, we acknowledge Tam Nguyen who has stepped up to seek a Ph.D.,  Enhancing my Knowledge and Skills


Tam working with representatives of the Vietnamese Women’s
Associations in their local communities

Tam Nguyen, is a young woman on a mission. She is a leader. She has been aware of that for sometime – and – has taken responsibility for continually enhancing her leadership competence. She seeks out opportunities -- both to utilize her leadership skills in volunteer projects and employment that benefits others, and, in taking advantage of training and personal and professional development programs that challenge and enrich her knowledge and skills.

Tam's country, Vietnam, is, like many countries, engaged in creating a future that strategically blends so-called "modern" technologies and ways of thinking with traditional culture and attitudes. Like individuals – as we change, we are constantly "holding on" to beliefs and ways of being that seem to add to our future, and "letting go" of those that do not. It is not easy, for individuals, and certainly not for a country.



Tam shares with pride stories of the history and culture of her country, Vietnam.

As Tam has gained experience and deepened insight into her own culture, and greater knowledge of the economic, political, environmental, social, and spiritual dynamics of the larger world, she has become aware, and has feedback from others, that her perspective, creativity and strategic thinking makes her a valuable asset to serve her government.  She is particularly drawn to work at the local government level, believing that improvement in effectiveness at this “root level” will have key impact throughout the administrative system.

Professor Dr. Vo-Tong Xuan, Rector of Nam Can Tho University, acknowledges Tam’s work in terms of  “...contributing her knowledge and skills into the national effort  in reforming the administrative management system of Vietnam.”   Because he was impressed with her work with him in research on administrative reform and public policy, Dr. Xuan  has recommended her for a scholarship  through the Australian Government  to pursue her Ph.D. at a University in their country. 

Others who have recommended her for this scholarship, note her initiative, innovative approach and ability to work effectively with diverse agencies and organizations.  They also confirm her insight that addressing political and cultural issues are key to significant and lasting change in any governmental reform.

Tam, we congratulate you on stepping up to enhance your leadership impact, and wish you the best in pursuit of this scholarship!   

Editorial comment:  One of the gifts women often bring to leadership in any capacity is the skill of building relationships and the awareness of the importance of addressing the more subtle dynamics of power and deeply ingrained cultural patterns in any change effort.

 

 

September 2015: Women are Creating Change ~ All Around the Globe

In our May, 2015 update you saw a picture of Claudine Zongo at the site of the Community Center she is having built in Ouagadougou, the Capital of her country, Burkina Faso.

ClaudineDespite her many responsibilities, Claudine continues to press on toward her vision. In late May we learned that she and another Humphrey Fellow won a grant of $1000 USD from the local US Embassy!

This grant will boost the development of the Center. This Community Center will be a place where women and young girls can "find and lead their way," explains Claudine. zongoc@who.int

 

Betty Kagoro is celebrating the completion of her book, Common Questions and Answers about Menstruation: True Answers with Advice for Teenage Girls.

ClaudineWith gorgeous illustrations of African girls, accurate information, and Betty's amazing empathy, this book fills a huge need for information and guidance! "I want every girl in Uganda to have a copy!" Betty exclaims. The full color, 36 page book helps girls learn to appreciate and care for their bodies as they learn to manage their periods. Betty is working to get the book published through Amazon. Stay tuned - soon you will be able to order your own copy. And - donations to Betty will help her meet her dream for every girl to have a copy. bettykagoro24@gmail.com

In related news, check out this link to discover how social enterprise in India has produced new sanitary products that are low cost, compostable and biodegradable and a special incinerator that has been created to dispose of the pads. http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/09/01/ menstruation-innovation-lessons-from-india/?_r=1

Author of this essay, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, vice president for development for the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, writing on Nicholas Kristof's Blog, makes the point that this is an area where the United States needs to learn from other countries. She points out that the strategies that have led to success include leadership characteristics common to women – collaboration, sharing, inclusion, and care for the greater good.

 

Frankline Nadembega recently returned to her home in Burkina Faso at the completion of her Mandela Washington Fellowship experience.  In the summer of 2015, the US government brought 500 young African leaders to the United States for six weeks of study at a university leadership institute in one of three areas:  business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership, or public management.

ClaudineFrankline was one of 25 of these young leaders who were able to study Civic Leadership at Rutgers University.  If you are curious about what these courses were like you may check out one of the online courses such as Inspiring Community Participation at https://youngafricanleaders.state.gov/
courses/community-org-2/
. These are good strategies for anyone interested in community development!  And the courses are free.

Frankline believes that “the power to lead comes with a deep commitment to give back to her community.” Her experience at the Mandela Washington Fellowship was very enriching. Asked about what have been the most memorable values learned at the fellowship, she said “I have learned to appreciate whatever I have in life and take whatever opportunity that comes to me as a gift.” Shortly after she returned home, Frankline was invited to The Vital Voices Global Partnership  Peer-To–Peer Exchange Program in New Delhi, India at the end of this month. Frankline was selected this year as a Vital Voices VVlead Fellow on her because of her significant accomplishments and outstanding potential to promote positive change through leadership in her community”.

In other global news – in keeping with Alene’s call to us, ~ “We are Engaged in a Revolution!” ~  two recent stories confirm both that we ARE in engaged in a revolution AND that women ARE taking leadership!

The on-going violence in Syria is hard to comprehend, its devastating impact on women and children unbelievable. YET, women are stepping up to leadership, not only through protests, but also by developing specific, sustainable recommendations for a transition that can create a healthy and sane and inclusive reality in their country. 
http://www.inclusivesecurity.org/publication/recommendations-sustainable-just-peace-syria/   

The proposed recommendations were generated by networks of women meeting in diverse sections of the country, and thus represent the needs and vision of the whole society.   Click on this link to read the Statement of their Recommendations:
http://www.inclusivesecurity.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/UNGA-2014-Syria-Recommendations-FINAL.pdf

 

Meanwhile in New York City in the US, a social service organization founded and led by Nepalese women provides assistance to the Nepali diaspora.  The April earthquake highlighted the value of the service they provide as they facilitated a variety of responses from the Nepalese community in the US. 

Their work, their organization, while appreciated, has nevertheless experienced resistance because it  very existence challenges male dominated cultural norms.

“We have kept Adhikaar’s leadership, especially at the board level, all women because it is our way of addressing the patriarchy,” Ms. Ranjit, the group’s executive director, said in her office in Jackson Heights. “We are women, but we are working for social justice. We are women, but we are representing the entire community.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/05/nyregion/nepali-women-in-queens-challenge-tradition-and-take-lead-in-earthquake-response.html?emc=eta1&_r=0


May 2015: Talking Out-loud About Menstruation

Yes, at the Australian Open Tennis Tournament, Britain’s top female tennis player’s unexpected loss, her response to that - - - and the reaction to her response is both amazing  and, perhaps, hopeful.

In many countries nudity and sexual activity literally “screams” at us from magazines, billboards, and movies.  At the same time, actual normal physical and sexual development remains cloaked in mystery and ignorance.

The United Nations and many country governments are recognizing the economic and social impact of attitudes around menstruation.  When girls have no place to take care of themselves at school when they are having their period, and spend four or five days a month out of school, the impact is not only severe for the individual girl, but her falling behind in school, or eventually dropping out means she will not have the knowledge and skills to contribute to the economic activity in her country, or to contribute to her family and community in ways that she could if she had completed her schooling.

If Watson’s comment has cracked open just a bit, the taboo about  acknowledging and speaking about menstruation, it is a hopeful sign that the needs of girls and women are significant to the global community – as well as to the individual girls and women themselves.

This link to articles in The Independent, a British Newspaper, explores the significance of Watson’s comment:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/heather-watson-has-got-us-talking-about-periods-but-many-women-around-the-world-cant-9998568.html

 

 

January 2012 News

2011 Nobel Peace Prize goes to Three Women

While most of the Nobel Peace Prize awards have gone to men, the winners this year are three activist women in Liberia and Yemen for their non-violent work to promote peace, democracy and gender equality.

Emphasizing that the awarding of this prize is an important signal to women all over the world, Thorbjorn Jagland, former prime minister of Norway and head of the Nobel committee, reinforced the idea that the intention was give impetus to the fight for women’s rights globally.

“We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.”
—from the formal Nobel Peace Prize citation

Who are these women?

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Africa’s first democratically elected female president.  Since her inauguration in 2006, she has contributed to securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development, and to strengthening the position of women. 

In November, 2011 Sirleaf won re-election as President.  Violence on the day  before the elections required local and UN security forces to ensure voters’ safety.  External elections commissions judged that the elections were free and transparent.

Johnson Sirleaf comments, following the elections, that now Liberia must get back to the basic work of educating the children and young people, providing health services, building infrastructure and bringing clean water and electricity to more homes. Poverty and high unemployment are big issues.

Leymah Gbowee was only 17 when the Second Liberian Civil War erupted.  As a young mother, whose dreams had been destroyed by the war, and who was  trapped in domestic abuse, she nevertheless discovered the courage to step into her own leadership and rally other women to join her.  Knowing that women working together can create an unstoppable force inspired her to organize the Women of Liberian Mass Action for Peace.  This group was composed of women from different religions and different cultural backgrounds.  Their solidarity in praying for peace, non-violent protests and a sex strike was a major force in bringing an end to the civil war in 2003. She has since worked to enhance the influence of women in West Africa during and after war. 

In the most trying circumstances, both before and during the “Arab spring”, Tawakkul Karman  played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen. Ms. Karman, 32, a mother of three, took to the streets of the capital along with about 50 other university students in January, demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Sitting inside her blue tent at the antigovernment sit-in where she has lived since late February, Ms. Karman, the Yemeni human rights activist, said “I didn’t expect it,” her eyes growing wide, a red flowered veil around her head. “It came as a total surprise.”    

Nadia Mostafa, a professor of international relations at Cairo University, said awarding the prize to Ms. Karman was endowed with “political significance.”

“Islam has always been associated with radical terrorism, intolerance and more,” she said. “Giving it to a woman and an Islamist? That means a sort of re-evaluation. It means Islam is not against peace, it’s not against women, and Islamists can be women activists, and they can fight for human rights, freedom and democracy.”

The Nobel Prize this year is a huge indicator of two forces at work in the world today!

  • First, these strong, courageous women saw a need and stepped up to lead.  Through their leadership, they created opportunities for others to contribute as well. 
  • Secondly, Nobel Committee, by recognizing the importance of this leadership, have reinforced the importance of not only these specific leaders, but for non-violence, democracy and gender equality.

This is a huge affirmation of the work to value the contributions of all people in this world, women and men.  And, I would say, it is also a challenge to each of us to continually be alert to our own opportunities to step into our leadership, to see a need and step up to help.

Much of the information about these three Nobel winners came from The New York Times, October 7, 2011.

 

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