Thursday, November 13, 2014

Katie Starr's Speech at 11/9 WomenNC Event

Carry it with you

Good afternoon, I am pleased to stand in front of you today to represent the legacy of one of the Triangle’s most significant and innovative NGOs, WomenNC. Thank you to Beth Dehghan for inviting me today and thank you all for your attention. My name is Katie Starr, I was a 2011 recipient of the WomenNC Fellowship, one of four students in WomenNC’s second year of Fellowship offerings.

I can remember my introduction to WomenNC when in 2010 I attended a panel discussion of four remarkable women’s research findings on various gender equality-related topics – CEDAW, Domestic Violence, Women’s Health. These students were preparing to present their research at the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women in New York at a rehearsal event at Interact Raleigh near NC State University where I was completing my undergraduate degree at the time. And I remember being so intrigued at this WomenNC event, not only by the topics the panel discussed but also by the opportunity the WomenNC Fellowship provided for them.

I thought, ‘A funded research opportunity in the field of women’s studies?!’ that is truly unheard of, ‘and a chance to attend a UN women’s conference?!’ I thought this opportunity for students couldn’t be real. But to my surprise and pleasure, I found out in chatting with WomenNC members after this event in 2010 that the new WomenNC fellowship opportunity hoped to stick around, that WomenNC hoped to make it an annual opportunity, achievable only by the grace and generosity of its donors.

From that day, I knew that I had stumbled upon a truly unique organization. One that I wanted to become a part of. And I am so happy to be addressing the sixth group of WomenNC Fellows today.
To this year’s fellows, Congratulations on this achievement and I look forward to seeing the research you come up with over these next few months.

My experience with WomenNC as a Fellow in 2011 and a member every year since has brought me nothing but enrichment, enlightenment, and hope for the future of global equality. It is something I have carried with me since being accepted as a fellow some four years ago. The topic I researched, which was human trafficking in North Carolina, the people I met at the Commission on the Status of Women Conference and the issues I learned about have resonated in every step of my journey since then, being a WomenNC Fellow is something substantial enough to carry with you throughout life, and so, to my new fellow WomenNC Fellows I would like to say – Carry it with you.

And I am going to expand on how I have carried it with me.

In July of this year, I returned from 27 months of the Peace Corps in Indonesia where I taught English in an Islamic high school and ran girls’ leadership and empowerment camps in my rural Javanese regency. While in Peace Corps, I learned new languages, collaborated with my host country partners, and tested my resiliency. And while Peace Corps was the toughest job I’ll ever love, what I most enjoyed was working with the women in my community. Now Java, where I was assigned, has a culture where extra-marital interactions between men and women are rare. So it was only natural that I allied closely almost exclusively with women in my community and luckily, as a foreigner, my peers were generally interested in an outsider’s perspective and ideas.

I was able to connect with a dynamic group of women who wanted to explore the topic of women in society. We worked together to create a comprehensive girls’ leadership curriculum, which culminated into regional girls’ leadership camps – called Indonesian Girls Leading Our World, which we affectionately referred to as IGLOW. My new peers and I realized how important it was to educate girls about their rights and worth in society. Through the IGLOW curriculum, high school students learned about leadership, teamwork, gender roles, nutrition, reproductive health, human trafficking, and self-esteem.

Because I was teaching at a high school, IGLOW camps were tailored for teenage girls of the high school age. Girls have a right to secondary education throughout Indonesia, but their rights do fall short in other areas. I lost a number of female students to early marriage and pregnancy. It angered and frustrated me when last spring I lost my star 10th-grader to early marriage. She came from a poor family, her parents owed a debt, and she, a young pure daughter, was offered as a wife to settle the debt.
Also, Pregnancy is an offense that results in expulsion from school. During my first year of teaching in 2012, three students were kicked out on account of being pregnant. And while I like to think that there is always the chance that these girls could return to finish school, I know it is unlikely that they will do so. Women are largely confined to specific gender roles in rural Indonesia. But I saw in my students a sea of dreamers. I often would ask my students what they wanted to do in life. Consistently my girls would respond ‘doctor’, ‘teacher’, ‘accountant’. Not one of them said ‘married at 16’ or ‘pregnant by 17’.

What my peers and I accomplished through IGLOW was to reinforce students’ dreams and give them skills to pursue them. My peers who helped plan IGLOWs and who worked as its facilitators and trainers were adult women who had grown up in the same circumstances as our students. They were married with children and with many domestic responsibilities and as we worked together to put on Camp IGLOW, these women were learning about things like gender roles, goal setting, and prejudice for the first time  - the material was just as new to them as it would be to our students. It was truly remarkable how these women learned the topics and were able to turn around and teach them to our students. I had a team of trainers who were new to the material they were teaching, but they grabbed ahold of the content and disseminated the knowledge to our young students, who became motivated and inspired. The camp was successfully carried out three times during my Peace Corps service, and I am proud to share that IGLOWs are being planned and executed this very minute by a horde of current Peace Corps Volunteers in Indonesia.

And I would like to note that we did not forget about the importance of male involvement. Our first IBRO Camp – Indonesian Boys Respecting Others – debuted this past spring where we trained our pilot group of boys in gender equality.

I share this little story because I see in IGLOW a microcosm of the WomenNC Fellowship. I carried my experience as a Fellow with me to Indonesia when I gave students an opportunity to explore new knowledge and apply it accordingly. What I learned as a Fellow allowed me to serve my Peace Corps community as best as I could. I carried it with me. And again, to the new Fellows, I hope that, after you publish your papers on your research and give your last post-CSW community presentations, that you carry your experience with you, wherever you may end up.

Please take to heart how significant this opportunity is for North Carolina’s future leaders of gender equality. I thank you all for you kindness and generosity through your donations that allow WomenNC to keep offering this opportunity. Thank you for your time and attention. And with that I will turn the program back over to…

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