Thursday, March 17, 2016
Sustaining Hope in an Unequal World
I had the privilege of serving on a panel of an incredible group of young feminist leaders at our event, titled "Girls’ Empowerment and Sustainable Development: A Global Dialogue," at the US Mission to the UN. I was honored just to be sitting among them. From young Muslim advocates for peace and tolerance in NYC, to a high schooler who pioneered STEM tutoring for under-resourced girls, it was a powerhouse panel to say the least. I shared my perspectives of being a woman in college in America, and what the Sustainable Development Goals can teach us about the importance of engaging young women in leadership positions.
One of the most incredible experiences of today was listening to the perspectives of Representative Cathy Russell and my personal feminist hero, Eleanor Smeal, founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation (and a fellow Duke grad!). Representative Russell implored us to keep the struggles of women in the most vulnerable situations in the world at the forefront of our feminist activism. She described some of her incredible diplomatic work, including her time working alongside Secretary of State John Kerry to bring the International Violence Against Women Act to congress, even though they have experienced many barriers in getting it to succeed. One the most powerful moments of her opening speech was describing her recent trip to Afghanistan, and visiting a girls boarding school. She described how the girls were as vibrant as any young woman who is empowered in receiving in her education should be, despite the dangers and risk they take in attending school everyday.
Eleanor Smeal also called the audience to action, advocating for those whose voices are silenced by patriarchal violence. She described the courage she sees in women on the front lines fighting for gender equality. She described how women fighting for freedom from deadly gender oppression in Afghanistan enter into these activist roles with the knowledge that they are putting their lives on the line. Imagine fighting for gender equality in a world where you predecessors, your mentors, family, and friends, have been assassinated for fighting for their fundamental rights they know they deserve as women, as human beings.
Having the knowledge that so many women are making vibrant, sustained, and confident strides into the realm of alleviating gender inequity is a powerful feeling. There is so much left to us to accomplish for our generation of leaders, to ensure that women and girls in all sectors and corners of the world are lifted up, and not left behind. But despite the depth and immediacy of these issues, standing alongside these unchangeably devoted women today was enough of a glimpse of hope for me to believe in a changed future.