V-Day 2016 

 
For many years I have been a supporter of the V-Day Movement and of Eve Ensler’s incredible work bringing the voices and stories of women around the world to the world stage. 

In 1998, Eve launched V-Day, a global non-profit movement that has raised over $100 million for groups working to end violence against women and girls anti-violence through benefits of  performances of The Vagina Monologues.

Eve Ensler wrote The Vagina Monologues following interviews with 200 women about their views on sex, relationships, and violence against women. The interviews began as casual conversations with her friends, who then brought up anecdotes they themselves had been told by other friends; this began a continuing chain of referrals.  She wanted their stories to be heard and for the world to sit up and take note that, even in these enlightened, modern times, the women of this world still suffer a disproportionate amount more than their male counterparts….and most often at the hands of the men. 

The Vagina Monologues is the cornerstone of the V-Day movement, whose participants stage benefit performances of the show and host other related events in their communities. Such events take place worldwide each year between February 1 and April 30. The performances generally benefit rape crisis centers and shelters for women, as well as similar resource centers for women.

This year, I am immensely proud to be performing in such an event. On Friday 12th February I will be performing in The Vagina Monologues, raising money for the Network Against Female Genital Mutilation (NAFGEM). On Saturday 13th February I will be performing in another Eve Ensler play, A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant And A Prayer with proceeds benefitting Arusha Women Legal Aid And Human Right Organization (AWLAHURIO). 

My own personal experiences of violence against women not only makes me want to connect with others on this topic – it makes me vehemently passionate about this cause. I believe in Eve Ensler’s approach – once you give consciousness to something, then people will talk about it. 

 
Being a part of this production is a huge personal step in my own healing and reconciliation on this topic. Some of the monologues are so heart-wrenching that even speaking them out loud feels like a healing exercise in itself. The power of the words is beautiful, heartbreaking and, ultimately, motivating and empowering. 

 
I could not be prouder to be a part of this. 

The Rise of the Smart Girl

Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly aware of a positive shift in how women are perceived within pop culture, on social networking and within society as a whole. Every day I can see more and more positive role models for young women within the media and on newsreels and on the covers of magazines on the shelves.

Now, before you switch off reading, this is not going to be a feminist rant on the decades of oppression that women have been subjected to, or the never ending double standards that women are held to on a daily basis. Don’t worry! There are plenty of blogs of that ilk out there already which you can easily find with just a quick google search.

Instead, I’d like to look at the rise of the smart girl and some of the empowering websites I have come across that celebrate this. There has been a phase shift from the ‘girls-gone-wild-pretty-but-dumb’ female that seemed to be the norm during my formative years. Instead, we are increasingly being presented with positive images of women whose worth lies in much more than their looks and ability to smile sexily from the pages of a magazine. Don’t get me wrong – that image still exists out there. But I’m happy to see a lot less of them, and a lot more of the ‘smart girl’.

A few months ago I came across the wonderful website Smart Girls At The Party which was founded by, amongst others, the fantastic Amy Poehler.

Meredith Walker, Amy Miles, and Amy Poehler created the web series “Smart Girls at the Party” which has won a Webby Award and has been recognized by SXSWEducation and Common Sense Media for its inspiring content. However, Poehler and Walker were not content with merely creating empowering shows for young women, they wanted to create a community as well. And so, Smart Girls At The Party was born. It’s an informative, empowering, inspiring and fun place that I wish had existed when I was a teenage girl.

Another fantastic website that encourages, empowers and also brings a laugh is the Hellogiggles community. HelloGiggles is a positive online community for women (although men are always welcome!) covering a wide and varied range of subjects and all meant to inspire a smile. Again, this was founded by three women who have been within the media for a number of years – Zooey Deschanel, Molly McAleer and Sophia Rossi.

These are just two of my favourites, and there are thankfully many more out there, encouraging the smarter side of women rather than the ‘pretty and sexy’ side.

In our daily lives, we can see inspiring women (Smart Girls) active in using their voice for positive action, from becoming ambassadors and advocates for charities and humanitarian causes to building their own businesses. Just a quick browse through TED and you will be met with a host these fantastic women.

I want to share some of my favourite Smart Girls…

Jessica Jackley (Kiva and ProFounder)

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Jackley was the co-founder and CEO of ProFounder and co-founder of Kiva, the world’s first p2p microlending website. As if that wasn’t enough, Jessica is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a 2011 World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader, and serves as an active board member on several organizations championing women, microfinance, tech, and the arts, including Opportunity International, the International Museum of Women, and Allowance for Good. She is a fantastic example of dedication, perseverance and using your knowledge and skills to bring about positive change for people around the world.

Eve Ensler
The writer of The Vagina Monologues and founder of the V-Day movement, Eve Ensler’s brutal honesty and storytelling makes you sit up and take notice. She is a champion for girls and works tirelessly to ensure girls voices are heard. Just watch the video…

Kakenya Ntaiya (TED Talk – A girl who demanded school)
The founder of the Kakenya Center for Excellence, Kakenya Ntaiya is an incredible example of the potential for change that is held within one person. Kakenya Ntaiya made a deal with her father: She would undergo the traditional Maasai rite of passage of female circumcision if he would let her go to high school. Kakenya fearlessly continued on to college, and then went on to work with her village elders to build a school for girls in her community. It’s the educational journey of one that altered the destiny of many more young women.

Leymah Gbowee

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Liberian peace and women’s rights activist Leymah Gbowee was one if the recipients of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. As war ravaged Liberia, Leymah Gbowee realized it is women who bear the greatest burden in prolonged conflicts. She began organizing Christian and Muslim women to demonstrate together, founding Liberian Mass Action for Peace and launching protests and a sex strike. Gbowee’s part in helping to oust Charles Taylor was featured in the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. I have just started reading Leymah’s memoir, ‘Mighty Be Our Powers’, and she writes as charismatically and beautifully and powerfully as she speaks. She is a truly inspirational woman.

Who inspires you?

#BringBackOurGirls – Why Girls Education Matters…

Four weeks ago Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram abducted more than 200 girls from a boarding school in the northern town of Chibok on 14 April. An estimated 200 heavily armed militants arrived at night in 20 vehicles to steal supplies and kidnap the students.

Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language. The group condemns those who have been educated in the “Western” system, and is against the education of women. Just yesterday video footage of the girls has come to light – however the search continues and pressure is piling on the government from both within and outside it’s borders for the safe return of the girls.

Across the world there are corners where there is an almost unending war on the right to education for young girls and every day there are women and girls who risk their lives everyday to gain an education. So why is the education of girls so important? Why should it matter to these extremists? Why would they kidnap 200 girls from a school?

Why?

Because the potential effect of educating these millions of girls could completely change the world.  

I have written extensively about the power of educating girls in the past which can be read at the following links:

International Women’s Day – Why Girls?

The Power of One Girl 

However, it comes down to these facts.

When a girl is educated through secondary school, she will bring 25% more income into her family. When a girl in the developing world receives seven years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children.

When she is healthy, her family and community’s health improves, maternal mortality and child malnutrition drops, and HIV prevalence declines.

  • Kenya would gain $27 billion in potential income per generation if its female secondary school dropouts continued their education.
  • In Nigeria, if women had the same employment rate as young men, the country would add $13.9 billion to it’s economy annually.
  • India sacrifices a potential of $100 billion over a lifetime due to adolescent pregnancy while early school dropouts costs the Indian economy $10 billion in potential income over a lifetime.

These are just the possibilities in three countries. Multiply this by the 250 million adolescent girls living in poverty today and you get the most powerful force for positive change on the planet.

“To educate girls is to reduce poverty. Study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls.”—Kofi Annan, U.N. Secretary General  (Annan, 2003)

For those extremists who are opposed to freedom, development and equality, these facts must have them shaken if they believe they need to attack young women fighting for their education.

But it is a fight the extremists will not win.

The revolution will be led by a 12 year old girl.