Wednesday, May 31, 2017

She-roes: Power. Wisdom. Compassion. Wonder.

In 1941 when female superheroes were rare, Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist who invented the lie-detecting polygraph machine. Conceived as an out-of-the-box superhero, She triumphed over evil with feminine virtues of wisdom and compassion. "Sired" by an Amazonian queen, imbued with powers from the gods, this "She-ro" brought Greek mythology and feminist values to fight for peace, justice, and equality.

The only female comic book character with stories continuously published for the past seventy-five years, Wonder Woman's longevity is a testament to her global appeal as an icon of woman power. Generations of girls resonated with her message of empowerment to become fearless women.

Wonder Woman speaks to a new generation of men and women who believe in the heroic power of women. American poet Maya Angelou speaks of celebrating "She-roes," women whose lives inspire others, who are role models, whose voices empower us to create positive change by harnessing our collective energy to be a force for good.

In Queen Elizabeth's era, a powerful woman was "a woman at her own commandment," like a queen answerable to no one. Today, feminist scholar Carolyn Heilbrun defines power as "the ability to take one's place in whatever discourse is essential to action and the right to have one's part matter."

Even as women activists march to make our voices heard on issues that matter, we cannot forget the millions of other women who don't enjoy our basic human rights.

It is a sad fact that women and girls are more likely to live in poverty and less likely to get an education. Women hold up half the sky, doing two third of the world's work, yet they receive only ten percent of the world's salaries. Seventy percent of people living in extreme poverty are women. Sixty-three percent of the world's illiterate youth are female.

Only one percent of the world's women own land. One hundred million girls in the developing world will become child brides, increasing the likelihood of a girl dying in childbirth by five times, increasing the odds of her dropping out of school, reducing her opportunities for employment and perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Every day, 800 women die in childbirth. In developing countries, women spend almost nine hours a day operating their households and families, leaving no time to do almost anything else, like get a paid job, run for office, or start a business.

Women and girls, along with their children, are the most severely affected population in times of war. Eighty percent of refugees around the world are women and children. Ninety percent of casualties of modern day wars are civilians, 75 percent of them are women and children.

Melinda Gates was right in saying that poverty is sexist. Investing in women as agents of change matters because "they invest the most in everyone else. Women tend to spend their resources on their family. They are the family gatekeepers on decisions that relate to health, food, education and wellbeing; so when we match their commitment with our own, great things are possible."

Unlocking the potential of the female majority of the global population has a multiplier effect on families, communities, villages and cities. Women's increased participation triggers economic productivity and increases national GDP's.

The Gates Foundation is betting on women to transform the global economy with strategic interventions that create long term impact:

investing in women's health results in healthier women living better lives, able to participate more fully in their communities, have healthier children who will survive and be more productive in the workforce (based on a study finding that every dollar invested in improving health returns at least nine US dollars to low- and middle-income countries).

  • Empowering women to have decision-making power over their own lives. Data shows that when women have a voice in their families’ budget decisions, they prioritize health care, nutrition and education - building blocks of prosperous societies. Women should also have the right to decide when to get married, deserve access to contraceptives and control when to get pregnant. 
  • Connecting women to economic opportunity. Women invest the majority of each dollar they make on their children. When we invest in women, we invest in the people who invest in everyone else. When a woman has the option of working outside the home — and access to financial services so she can participate in the economy – families can break the cycle of poverty.

There are "She-roes" out there who are tapping into the heroic potential of women. Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi-American whose father was Saddam Hussein's personal pilot, was a refugee whose experience moved her to respond to the plight of women in conflict zones. Zainab founded Women for Women International when she was 23.

She started a nonprofit with virtually no funding that has distributed over $ 100 million in aid to more than 400,000 women in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Kosovo, Nigeria, Colombia, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Congo, and Sudan. Many of these women are widows and heads of their families who survived endless years of war and can avail of microcredit loans, training to start small businesses and advocacy for human rights.

Zainab laments how women in times of war speak of the fear of "losing the "I" in me." Opportunities to earn a living offer hope, dignity, self-respect and inner strength, restoring the confidence and ambition that war has robbed them of. A woman who rebuilt her life said, “People respect me now for standing up for myself. I am a woman and not a number."

Women for Women International responded to the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time by expanding its social and economic empowerment programs to reach Iraqi, Syrian and Yezidi refugees, partnering with organizations on the ground to reach the most vulnerable suffering severe emotional trauma, threats of sexual violence, and early marriages in pursuit of safety.

Zainab believes women inspire change, and "only when women are included at the negotiating table can peace become attainable."

Another "She-Ro" is Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, who was targeted by the Taliban for pursuing an education.

After blogging anonymously for BBC, she was featured in a New York Times documentary, which led to her winning Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize in 2011. Her popularity and national prominence put her in the crosshairs of Taliban leaders who voted to kill her.

She was shot on the way home from school by a masked gunman who boarded her school bus, asking specifically for Malala. The Taliban's attempt to kill her caused worldwide condemnation and led to protests across Pakistan. Shortly after, over 2 million people signed a right to education petition, Pakistan's first Right To Free and Compulsory Education Bill, which the National Assembly swiftly ratified.

Malala believed that "one child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world." Over 130 million girls lose their fundamental right to education because they have to work, are married early, lack access to school facilities, or have to care for siblings. The Malala Fund provides girls with 12 years of education, working with local leaders and partners to increase safe, quality education for girls, create policy changes to ensure the prioritization of education for girls.

Malala's story inspires other girls to break gender barriers against great odds. A seven-year-old girl in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, who started The Orange Street News — “The ONLY newspaper devoted to Selinsgrove — her hometown, said her interview with Malala "changed her life.” She hopes to be like Malala and use her story to “inspire other girls to just stand up and be themselves.”

Investing in women and girls would shift the equation in the global sphere. This is our heroic moment to alter the fate of women and girls through our giving.

Women in America today control 60% of the private wealth. Over the next 30 years, American women are expected to inherit 70% of the $ 41 trillion inter-generational wealth transfers. That's a lot of philanthropic power! The power of women to make a difference, with our collective impact and voices, will shape the future of wealth and giving.

For anyone inspired to make a difference, the moral question: "Where will my love of humanity take me?" awakens a personal active response that animates the expression of who we want to be in the world. Philanthropy is the gift of who we are, the fullest expression of our humanity and values. We bring our whole being, our creativity, energy and passion to the task of transforming the world.

It is not enough to be passionate, we have to be action heroes, expressing who we want to be as human beings, what we stand for. Tapping into our power, wisdom and compassion, we can create a world of wonder for women everywhere!