Empowering young women - International Women's Day 2017: #BeBoldForChange

International Women’s Day 2017: #BeBoldForChange

Happy International Women’s Day (IWD)!

Pictured above: My host sister Asmae in Asilah

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International Women’s Day, Melbourne, Australia, 1970s

Every March 8th since the early 1900s, people across the globe have come together to celebrate the many achievements of women, and to accelerate gender parity among all races, religions, and sexual orientations. Much has changed since IWD’s inauguration in 1908, but the battle is far from over. The World Economic Forum predicts that at its current trajectory, the global gender gap won’t close until 2186.

2186.

169 years?! That’s way too far away. I hope to see my own daughters and granddaughters live in a world where they will be judged for their work ethic and character, not something as trivial as two X chromosomes. Today, the grievous truth is that women are still paid significantly less than men, and are not nearly as present in business or politics as they have the right to be. However, a glimmer of hope does shine! Through grassroots work, millions of women have inserted themselves as vehement agents of change; each year, we feel as if we’re inching closer to the even playing field we so desire. Though the political climate of my homeland seems bleak, I remind myself that the American spirit is still very much alive, and those who advocate for an equal, healthy world, won’t stand down. That’s why this year’s theme, “Be Bold For Change,” seems like the ideal motto not just for IWD, but for 2017 and beyond. #BeBoldForChange evokes women and men to do their part in forging a better world–

For all of us.

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How I will #BeBoldForChange:

In the summer of 2016, First Lady Michelle Obama, actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto, and CNN’s Isha Sesay journeyed to Morocco and Liberia, where they met dozens of young women who overcome innumerable odds for their educations. This tour was part of a plan to provide nearly $100 million in funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation to create a new model for secondary education. This money will fund mentoring programs, internships, after-school clubs, upgraded bathrooms for girls, and gender-responsive training for teachers. The First Lady also used this tour to publicize the plan to make Morocco the 36th country under Peace Corps’ Let Girls Learn initiative.

In the following months, CNN Films advertised a new documentary titled We Will Rise that would give television viewers a chance to experience the First Lady’s trip. The Girl Rising film team created the documentary, and it officially premiered in October on the International Day of the Girl Child. Many of the Moroccan and Liberian girls featured in the film, plus a Peace Corps Volunteer, were invited to the White House for an official screening of the film. It was the first time most of the girls had ever left their home countries, and the first time many of them had truly experienced a different culture and point of view.

Seeing as how I can’t easily take my students to the United States, I can do my best to recreate some of the magic for them. The majority of my students are high schoolers–around 16 and 17. Many of them want to be English teachers, and all of them want to go to college. On numerous occasions, I have been moved to tears by the passion for learning these students seem to project. Never in my life have I seen a group of young people so hungry to learn. I live in a small town, and attitudes toward women are generally traditional; their parents want them married and starting families right out of high school. However, they want more. When I tell them tales of intelligent, formidable Moroccan women, they beam. When we discuss our hopes and dreams, we hold back tears. Ok, fine. I’m the only one on the verge of crying most times, but if you knew these kids, you’d probably do it, too.

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Two of my favorite dreamers, Asmae and Ikram

The Girl Rising website offers a toolkit for conducting discussions about We Will Rise with students, and if you’re at all curious about utilizing this toolkit, I highly recommend it. The We Will Rise documentary can be purchased from iTunes for $5, and from Amazon Video for $3. At this current time, the film is only available with English subtitles, but I’m confident that my advanced class has the English skills necessary to follow along.

The available PDF files for this toolkit include:

Viewing & Discussion Guide
Background Guide – Liberia and Morocco
Girls’ Education Fact Sheet
Take Action Guide

These fierce young women are more than just my students; they are my colleagues and friends. I absolutely adore them and hope they know just how much they mean to me.

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Watching Moroccan architect and ecologist Aziza Chaouni’s TED talk during our unit on powerful Moroccan women

How you can #BeBoldForChange:

Challenge bias and inequality:

  • query all-male speaking panels
  • pull people up on exclusive language
  • challenge stereotypes
  • call it out when women are excluded
  • monitor the gender pay gap
  • point out bias and highlight alternatives
  • call for diverse candidate shortlists
  • embrace inclusive leadership
  • redefine the status quo

Campaign against violence:

  • educate youth about positive relationships
  • challenge those who justify perpetrators and blame victims
  • donate to groups fighting abuse
  • speak out against the silence of violence
  • be vigilant and report violence
  • campaign for the prevention of violence
  • abstain from all violence, physical and otherwise
  • volunteer your help at a local charity
  • recognize coercive control and redress it

Forge women’s advancement:

  • decide to buy from companies that support women
  • choose to work for a progressive employer for women
  • support or back a woman-owned business
  • take a junior female colleague to a major meeting or event
  • build conducive, flexible work environments
  • appoint a woman to the board
  • mentor a woman and sponsor her goals
  • invite women into situations where they’re not already present or contributing
  • measure and report on gender parity gaps and keep gender on the agenda
  • create new opportunities for women

Celebrate women’s achievement:

  • raise women’s visibility as spokespeople in the media
  • drive fairer recognition and credit for women’s contributions
  • launch even more awards showcasing women’s success
  • hail the success of women leaders
  • applaud social, economic, cultural and political women role models
  • celebrate women’s journeys and the barriers overcome
  • reinforce and support women’s triumphs

Champion women’s education:

  • launch or fund a women-focused scholarship
  • encourage more girls into STEM education and careers
  • value diversity for greater educational outcomes
  • support women inventors of new products and services
  • celebrate women researchers discovering new knowledge
  • learn to code

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