Jet lagged and overwhelmed with gratitude for last week in Turkey, I come back to Jackson, Mississippi. Last week at the AWID Forum on Women’s Rights and Development was a time when women from around the world discussed the many obstacles they face in creating a more safe and just world for women. Fellowship, dialogue, story telling, brain storming, and great exposure to our sisters in the world was what I experienced in Istanbul, Turkey, but now its time to return to our corners of the world and get back to work. As I struggle to process this amazing experience into words, my new friends from the conference are putting their passions into action all over the world.
One day in the Young Feminist Corner I was introduced to a woman named Nicole: a sharp woman in her early 20s from Kenya whose passion and energy was infectious, and who works to empower girls who live in the slums of Nairobi through soccer. Growing up, she knew that the lack of open, safe space for her and her friends to commune lead to the detriment of some and the isolation of many. She has since become the Assistant Program Director for the Young Women’s Leadership Institute in Nairobi, Kenya. Five years ago she started the “Young Mother’s Initiative,” and as a young mother herself, she works to provide girls with comprehensive sex education. As Nicole was talking to me about the state of teen birth (very high) and lack of access to opportunity for the young women in her organization, I was struck by the similarities between Mississippi and Nairobi. Both have high teen birth rates, both groups of youth spread the same fallacies about sex that result in pregnancy (“You can’t get pregnant if you are standing up…” etc. [which by the way, you can]), and in both societies it seems that parents are not talking to their kids about sex.
As people living in the United States, sometimes it is easy to think of ourselves as very “other” to those in other parts of the world; that somehow, we are “done” with developing. But this interaction with Nicole proved that we ALL have much work to do. As I shared with her that my state is dealing with many of the same problems as she faces in Kenya, the solidarity and encouragement I found in her was humbling. Nicole and the Young Women’s Leadership Institute are growing a group of leaders in Kenya who are changing the world by embracing their potential and power!
Whether it is working towards reducing teen births with honest conversation and education, or empowering girls through community, we have so much to learn from one another. I hope we can realize our global sisters are much closer than we think they are.
“I hope to one day see a society where a man will not look at me because of the length of my skirt, my physical anatomy or my beauty but look at me because he can see the vibrancy, confidence and power that I hold as I walk past him. Young women and girls have so much power and potential to make a positive change but need the support and information to bring out their full potential. We are the change: here and now!”–
For more information on the teen birth prevention effort in Mississippi visit: http://www.womensfundms.org
and for more information on the teen birth prevention and sexuality education effort in Kenya visit: http://www.ywli.org