04 Mar 2015
From the Principal
On Sunday 8 March we celebrate International Women’s Day, a day when people around the world come together across physical and cultural divides to celebrate the rights of women and girls.
The UN has held four international conferences on women, the last being in 1995. The 1995 World Conference on Women was a ground breaking moment. Held in Beijing, the conference placed women's rights at the centre of the global agenda.
At the Beijing conference, it was Hilary Clinton’s spoken list of atrocities committed against women and girls that held the audience in thrall. It wasn't that the audience hadn't heard the list before, since the listeners were all advocates for women's rights in countries around the world. It was because such a prominent political woman gave voice to them that the items on the list took on a special significance and the audience knew those words would carry beyond the room. She emphasised human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.
In 2015 we commemorate the importance of the 1995 World Conference on Women through Beijing + 20, a global campaign celebrating progress towards gender equality since the landmark Beijing Platform for Action was signed by 189 countries.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day I can’t help but remember April 14 2014. It was on this day in a tiny town in north eastern Nigeria that over 250 teenage girls were kidnapped by the fundamentalist group Boko Haram. It is the greatest disappointment that only a small handful of the girls have returned home, nearly 12 months later. These girls were young and ambitious and full of potential, just like our girls. They were pursuing an education that could change their lives. All girls and boys have a right to education and in many third world countries it is only by educating girls that we are able to move communities out of poverty. Girls should not have to risk their lives to pursue their ambitions. It is important that these girls and what they have suffered are not forgotten.
In 2011 the Nobel Peace Prize was jointly awarded to three female political activists. One of these was Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee. Gbowee led a women's movement that was pivotal in ending the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. She helped organise an inter-religious coalition of Christian and Muslim women, called the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement. Dressed in white, these thousands of women staged pray-ins and non-violent protests, demanding reconciliation and the resuscitation of high-level peace talks. The pressure pushed Charles Taylor into exile, and Africa’s first female head of state was elected, Leymah's fellow 2011 Nobel Peace laureate, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Gbowee is a powerful example of a great female leader focused on promoting positive global change for women. In a moving TED talk in 2012 she talked about the need to bridge the disconnect between her own generation and the generation of young women. It's not enough to say you have two Nobel laureates from the Republic of Liberia, when there is seemingly no hope for young girls. This is a country where teen pregnancy affects three out of ten girls. Girls as young as 12 are prostituted for less than a dollar a night. The question asked time and time again in Liberia is ‘Where is the hope for young women?’
Gbowee created hope through a space called the Young Girls Transformative Project. The project centres on leadership-capacity-building for young women. Gbowee and her team go into rural communities and work with young girls to unlock intelligence, passion, commitment and focus. Ultimately they unlock great female leaders.
Some of these girls who walked into the room as very shy young mothers have taken bold steps, to go out and advocate for the rights of other young women. They are living the dream of the young African girl: to believe in and realise their potential. To be educated. This is a dream that girls in Liberia, Nigeria and every other country in the world should be able to pursue safely.
Gloria Steinem, American feminist, journalist and activist said, ‘The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.’
Let us never forget our responsibility to help and care for others and to work for equality.
Let us not forget the lost Nigerian girls.
Ms Linda Douglas
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