Alaa Al-Eryani: Courageous Self Love

“I started to believe that everything I was ever taught and told was wrong, and that my value as a woman is not less than a man. We are all human beings, we are all equals.” says Alaa Al-Eryani in this episode of The Power of Your Story Podcast. Alaa is a Yemeni Gender Equality advocate, a Women Deliver Young Leader, and the founder of The Yemeni Feminist Movement online platform. She shares her story of overcoming discriminatory gender norms, leaving an abusive marriage and her path to self love.

“I found confidence when I started to love myself. And when I started to love myself, that’s when I truly believed that everything I had thought about myself was not true.” 

Alaa Al-Eryani inspires us with her positive outlook on change. She shows tremendous courage and stands up for what she truly believes in. She tells us about how sharing her own story and talking to others has helped her to take steps towards healing and recovery.

“I think a lot of us underestimate what the support of others can do.”

The Power of Your Story Podcast is a production in partnership with SayItForward.org. We are so inspired by the many stories that women and girls share on the Say It Forward platform. Personal stories of overcoming fears, limiting beliefs, or circumstances that have held women and girls back. Sayitforward.org welcomes any woman, any girl from anywhere in the world to share her unique story and inspire others. We hope you are inspired to share your story too.

In this episode Alaa says, “It really helped me in my healing and recovery process when I shared my story. ” 

This is the 6th episode of The Power of Your Story Podcast. We hope you have enjoyed this new podcast series as much as we have! We still have several inspiring episodes left. Please consider leaving a rating in your podcast app and sharing this podcast with a friend. Thank you.

What the Word Feminism Means To Me

At one point last year, I felt in serious doubt of my feminism.

Maybe it was because I hated that the #MeToo movement seemed to mean nothing in South Africa, a country where rape is a serious epidemic. My brother also asked me what feminism meant. He told me that he believes men and women should be equal but does not identify as feminist. What he said at that particular moment had me wondering. Now I am wondering again, what does feminism mean to me?

I knew I was a feminist ever since I was a child, I just didn’t know the word or definition. I would take on any boy who treated me inadequately. Most of them would usually call me stuck up.

Just like my brother, I did not know what value the word feminism carries. The first time I heard it was in the song ***Flawless by Beyonce. I immediately thought, “Oh, I’m a feminist.”

In high school, my newly obtained feminist title inspired me to do speeches for assessment marks on the topic. After the second speech I made on gender issues, my Afrikaans teacher said she hoped that one day I was going to do something about it. Her words stuck with me.

The 2018 death of the mother of our nation, Winnie Mandela, revived my feminism. She kept the ideas of her husband alive while he and many other anti-Apartheid leaders were imprisoned and exiled. While our country was transitioning to democracy, she was painted as the unfaithful wife of Nelson Mandela, and as a murderer. White oppressors, along with black patriarchy, tried their best to keep her down. Her legacy is now told by us, the people.

I think we need history lessons on feminism. There are still too many untold stories, especially those of women of colour.

Violence against women and children is terrifyingly high in South Africa.
Since I was 13, I have always wondered, “Is it safe for me to walk around the corner alone?” I also wonder about the prospects of me being physically assaulted or abused by a partner. I’m not a woman who conforms to patriarchal standards. It is therefore not an impossible prospect in this country that I might be assaulted.

Police and government must do more to address the horrors women and girls in South Africa face on a daily basis.

To me, feminism means not allowing a man to have any kind of power over you. I still consider myself an unlearned feminist. I’ve learned about feminists like Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem and Kimberlé Crenshaw and I’m making it a priority to read more. I just wish I knew about more African feminist idols.

I also still consider myself an impractical feminist. At the moment I talk, write, post and like about it. Is it enough in this digital age? Is there more I could do?

Like this post? Read more on Girls’ Globe…

4 Ways to Create Opportunities for the Next Generation

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2019 at the inaugural Girls Festival – organized by Reach A Hand Uganda (RAHU), Global Livingston Institute, Women Deliver and partners – got me in my feelings. 

 The Festival theme was ‘Gains from Equality’. It had me thinking about all the women who came before me and the opportunities they created for me to succeed in school, as well as in my personal and professional life. It reminded me of my mother’s stories of a time when the world refused to see girls and women as anything other than wives and mothers.

Creating opportunities for the next generation at the 2019 Girls Fest organised by Reach a Hand Uganda. 3 young women hold up a sign and smile.
2019 Girls Festival

Let us toast the movements that paved the way for women to do powerful things. 

We must honour the women who marched for us to vote, to get into the workforce and the political space. And not forgetting the women who made it possible for us to eat chicken and eggs. Yes, shocking I know, but there are several tribes in Uganda where not too long ago women were forbidden from eating chicken or eggs.

Despite numerous obstacles, the contributions of women in the past have eased the path for girls and women today.

We owe it to ourselves to create equal opportunities for the next generation of men and women. We owe our children true equality. I love lists, so here are 4 ways to create opportunities for the next generation of women and men.

1)     Reinvent Feminism

There are numerous misconceptions about what feminism is. Some people are reluctant to label themselves as feminist. I am often asked if I am a feminist. It scares me to respond to this question, because I may be viewed as a ‘bitter man hater’.

We should remind girls and women that feminism is not a bad word. Girls and women should know that feminism is about having choices. Carly Fiorina, the first woman to head a fortune 500 company, described a feminist as a woman who lives the life she chooses. “A woman may choose to have 5 children and home school them, she may choose to be CEO or run for president.”

Let us rework feminism by getting more men involved. Feminism is for everyone. Working with men and boys is key to achieving equality. They should be encouraged to stand alongside women to support gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Men and boys need to abandon all toxic masculinity. Harmful stereotypes should be thrown out to embrace respectful, mutually beneficial and healthy relationships.

2)     Create Safe Spaces for Girls and Women

The Girls Festival was such a safe space for girls and women to receive sexual and reproductive health services. It was a space for girls to be girls. We need to create rooms full of role models for girls to aspire to be like. We need to create worlds where everyone can feel safe, accepted, loved, challenged and encouraged.

3)     Mentorship and Positive Role Models

My biggest struggle over the years has been to find a great female role model who is also a young adult. I look up to former Vice President Specioza Kazibwe, however, I wish I had a female young adult to look up to. I’d love to have someone like me who is doing powerful things. We need to introduce the next generation to remarkable role models who are powerhouses and forces to be reckoned with. I particularly loved how the Girls Festival 2019 introduced us to role models like self-taught makeup artist Monalisa Umutoni.

4)     Invest in Women

The inaugural Girls Festival was a satellite event leading up to the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver. Women Deliver’s mantra is that investing in women creates a ripple effect that yields multiple benefits, not only for individual women, but also for families and communities. Investments in women and girls are not mere acts of charity. They should be looked at as investments that can generate high returns for humanity.

These are just 4 ways we can create opportunities for the next generation. I know it won’t be easy, but every little action matter. Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, famously said that the way to progress is neither swift nor easy.

Let us do whatever is in our power to pave the way for future generations to enjoy the gains from equality. I look forward to the opportunities we can create for the next generation.

Doreen Kihembo is a Communications Officer at Reach A Hand Uganda.

This is What a Feminist Looks Like

An interview with Henry Sawyer. 

This Friday, I’m letting my sixth grader skip school. We’re making the long drive from Massachusetts to D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington, an event that has become, at least in this mom’s mind, an ethical parenting imperative in teaching about justice, kindness, and citizenship. With feminism at the core of my  mothering a son towards an inclusive concept of manhood, we’ll join the protest chorus with his tween voice and the fire that’s been in my throat since November 8.

In this two-part blog post, we’ll publish our pre-march interview on Henry’s thoughts about what it means to be a boy joining the March followed by our experience among hundreds of thousands of people descending on Washington.

The morning of Martin Luther King Day, we sat down on the couch, where this mom interviewed her 12-year-old son about the election, the March, and what it means to be a middle school feminist boy.

How would you describe yourself?

I don’t want to sound braggish.

It’s okay to be confident in what you think about yourself.

I think that I’m intelligent. And kind and friendly. I like the environment and I like animals a lot. I like all animals to be treated fairly, and I want to keep the environment good and not global-warmicized. And I’m 5 feet tall and I have blonde hair and blue eyes and I have to wait til 2 teeth fall out before I get braces.

What do you do for fun?

I read… I listen to audio books. I sled if there’s snow. I play with my cat. I run every day if I can help it.

What are you reading right now?

To Kill a Mockingbird.

That’s my favorite book.

I know.

14976868_10154069718299067_5726712885746974308_o.jpgWho inspires you?

My mom and Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama and Barack Obama and my dad.

We’re in good company.

Yep.

What inspires you about these people?

They stand up for what they believe in, and they believe the sort of things I think are right for the country.

Do you think Donald Trump stands up for what he believes in?

Yes…

So what makes the people on your list different from him?

Because the people on my list don’t stand up for what they believe in in a way that harms others. Donald Trump is constantly insulting people when he says what he means, and sometimes if the only things you have to say are bad, you shouldn’t say them at all.

What kinds of things do the people on your list stand up for that inspires you?

They stand up for equality, forgiveness, being the better person instead of insulting people when they are in an argument.

What kind of equality is important to you?

Having all types of people being able to have the same liberties and opportunities for jobs, school, health care.

How did you feel when I woke you up the day after the election and told you about the results?

Shocked. Because the polls during the election were looking like she would win. I was outraged because I didn’t think that Americans would actually vote him president. I feel like he’s going to do a lot of damage to our country. I feel like he’s going to be very reckless and he’s going to make wars a lot worse.

What made you want to protest the election?

Because maybe if he sees that people disagree with his views, it’s possible that he could change them to fit the country. I feel like we shouldn’t just let him into the presidency gladly, like we should put up some resistance. He seems like he’s a new kind of Republican, like he’s different from anyone else who could have been elected. I don’t think protesting would have been as important [if a different Republican won]. Not all Republicans are racist like he is. Also I feel like he doesn’t agree with free speech and he’s sexist. Like when he insults reporters who say things he doesn’t like, and the things he says about women are slanderous, cruel, and childish.

What does being a feminist mean to you?

Someone who stands up for equal rights between women and men.

Are you a feminist?

Yes.

14258073_10153910120199067_5097085528994122227_o-1
Kristina and her son

Your dad and I have always believed that it’s not just important to teach you that girls and women have a right to the same opportunities that you have but also that boys should not be judged for enjoying things that are typically associated with girls.

I used to like the color pink. I don’t think it makes sense for a certain color to be assigned to a certain gender. I had a pink toy lawn mower.

You specifically asked for a lawn mower that was pink. And I remember you desperately wanting pink shoes, and when you got your pink shoes, you loved them so much and didn’t care when another boy told you pink is for girls. Do you think it’s important for boys to be feminists, too?

Yes, it means they believe in equal rights. If there were no boys who were feminists, the genders would all be separated, and we should be together in unity. It means that everyone is treated as equals.

Why do you want to go to the Women’s March on Washington?

Because I support equal rights. Can I ask why is it called the Women’s March?

It was organized by a few feminist activists who were outraged by Donald Trump’s comments and history with women, and they wanted to organize a march to protest that, but they also made it a march for everyone because they believe, like you, that people are stronger in protest when they’re united. What do you expect to see there?

Hundreds of people marching. Men and women. Chanting. Signs. I think it’s going to be fun even if it does make your feet tired.

Why is it worth it to march even if your feet are tired?

Because I think we should stand up for equality.

Can I ask you to talk about what values you have?

I value independence and hard work and kindness and generosity. I think kindness and generosity are the most important ones of all of them. You teach me to be nice to people of all different backgrounds, to be nice to people. There was that time I fell off my bike and you just waited with me there until I felt like I could bike again. That was very nice.

If you could say anything to kids who support Donald Trump, what would you say to them?

Why?” And I would say kindness is important.

That’s a good response. What would you hope to see come out of the March this weekend?

I’d like to see Donald Trump release a statement of apology to all of the women he insulted.

That would be amazing. I can’t wait to march with you. How was this interview for you?

I think I need some recovery time.

How about four days?

And with that, he threw in a Hillary shimmy.

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Cover Photo Credit: Maarten van den Heuvel

Meet Felogene Anumo – Girls’ Globe Blogger from Kenya

Born and raised in Kenya, Felogene Anumo is a Pan Africanist and young feminist activist who is passionate about gender, racial and social justice with over eight years of experience in advancing gender equality through grassroots and online activism, research and capacity building of young feminists and women activists.

Felogene’s roots in the feminist movement were planted at the University of Nairobi where she served as the Women Students Chairperson across the 7 campuses. During her tenure, she launched the first Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Week and a pioneer magazine on young women’s and girls’ issues dubbed AlphaDiva. In 2011, she was awarded Young Woman Achiever by the students’ association.

With a passion for sexual and reproductive health and rights, youth leadership and combating violence against women and girls, Felogene advocates nationally, regionally and globally for recognition of women’s and girls’ human rights. Most importantly, Felogene believes that key contributions, lived experiences, perspectives, politics, needs and voices of young women and girls need to be heard and reflected in policies, programs and debates affecting them.

Felogene’s experience includes assessing gender and youth issues in legislation, policy and programmes, monitoring and evaluation and has done impact assessments of donor funded projects and programmes. She has authored the “Feminist Leadership and Development Curriculum for Adolescent Girls” and co-authored the, “Report on the Status of Ratification on the Rights of women in Africa.” She is a blogger with Girls Globe’ and a member of the African Youth Task Force on Post 2015 Development. She is currently managing the Young Feminist Activism Program at the Association for Women Rights in Development (AWID).

Connect with Felogene on Twitter @felogene!

Featured image photo credit: Zayira Ray / Girls’ Globe.

Video credit: Creative Director // Kimberly Graf, Film Director // Tiffany Jackman, Director of Photography / Editing // Skyler Whitehead, Whirlwind Productions LLC

Using Storytelling to Create Social Change

Violence is the second leading cause of death among adolescent girls globally. Not malnutrition or accidents or cardiovascular disease or maternal conditions. Violence. In fact, among girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide, almost one quarter (around 70 million) have reported experiencing some form of physical violence since the age of 15. These shocking statistics can leave one feeling overwhelmed, confused, and angry. Luckily there are many out there working to change the lives of girls for the better.

Rebecca Barry wasn’t on the course to advocate for the health and rights of girls and women, but her life took a turn in 2009 while on holiday in Samoa. What happened inspired her to find a way to use her skills and resources to raise awareness and connect others looking to create change. Girls Globe recently sat down with the director and producer of I AM A GIRL to talk about what girls in the world are facing today, and how we can all work to make a difference.

Katie; c/o I AM A GIRL
Katie; c/o I AM A GIRL

How did the idea for I AM A GIRL come about? 

Barry: In 2009 I was lucky enough to survive a tsunami while on holiday in Samoa. This event was the most frightening and leveling experience of my life. With my brush with death came a realization that perhaps for the first time, I did not have control, in those moments, over my life and its outcomes. I came to understand that for many (if not most) girls in the world today, this is a feeling they live with everyday.

Soon after, I was reading a magazine article about the plight of girls and was moved to tears. Despite technological advances and the abundance of wealth, we live in a world that openly discriminates against girls. They are not religious or political activists … they are girls. It is from this basis alone from which the most incomprehensible violence, health issues and abuse transpires.

Knowing this information brought me to the point where I asked myself the question, what can I do about this? I decided to make I AM A GIRL, which could reach out to a broader audience to inform others and to give people the opportunity to connect and do something through partnerships.

The film is a fantastic example of blending social impact with storytelling. What did you hope for it?

Barry: I AM A GIRL was my first attempt at social impact storytelling and it is very addictive. I have since co-founded Media Stockade (http://mediastockade.com/) which is a production company whose primary focus is creating and distributing social impact films that can be used to facilitate debate, conversation and get people thinking, feeling and acting differently about social issues.

Can a film change the way we think? Or even change these grotesque statistics. I truly believe it can. My vision for I AM A GIRL is pure and simple – to weave a universal story through the voices of girls in various locations around the world, dealing with different challenges.

HABIBA_IMG_0993
Habiba; c/o I AM A GIRL

How has the film been received since its 2013 release?

Barry: The film has had extraordinary impact! It has screened at film festivals around the world and has been nominated for several awards, as well as been critically acclaimed. It has been picked up by individuals and organizations who have screened the film as a fundraiser and community builder. It has been incredible to hear these stories of impact and outreach! I AM A GIRL has helped raised funds to send two girls to University in Kabul, Afghanistan for a year, put 40 girls from low socio economic backgrounds through self esteem workshops, and to fund an art art therapy program for survivors of domestic violence. And that’s just a few of the amazing examples of impact that have occurred.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

Barry: The biggest challenge was finding the resources to make the film. We funded the film through philanthropy and assembled an incredible coalition of partners to help bring the film to the big screen. Another challenge was getting my head around filming in Afghanistan which was a war zone at the time. As small crew made up of two women certainly didn’t pick the easiest of countries to film in!

How did the film impact your life?

Barry: The film has had a huge impact on my life. I have met the most inspiring people through the film and it has given me so much hope having connected with the incredible work of individuals and organisations around the world. I have moved on from a place of despair to now thinking that we are heading in the right direction in regards to gender equality. Professionally, the film has given me a focus and I have started to say to myself that I need to do more in area of girl empowerment.

Breani; c/o I AM A GIRL
Breani; c/o I AM A GIRL

Do you have future plans for I AM A GIRL?

Barry: We are currently releasing the film in the United States through the Cinema on Demand Platform called Gathr. This platform means that anyone can request to bring the film to their local cinema no matter where they are. All you have to do is go to the website and type in your zip code to find a screening near you! If there isn’t one, you can request a screening. Gathr organizes everything – you just have to share the screening with your community, friends and family. It’s very simple and our hope is that everyone will become a part of the I AM A GIRL tribe and bring the film to their local communities.

Within global advocacy, we see the power of storytelling. What do you hope storytelling does for girls and women of the world?

Barry: Storytelling and testimony is a human right. Article 19 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” 

How wonderful it is to hear girls’ stories in their own voices talking about their hopes and dreams. The more stories we hear from women and girls the more powerful we become. Storytelling is a way to share these stories and empower change. If we see and hear their stories we cannot ignore them.

We couldn’t agree more! What’s next for you in the world of empowering change?

Barry: I am currently working on a few different projects as producer through Media Stockade. My next directing opportunity will be a drama set in Afghanistan.

Kimsey; c/o I AM A GIRL
Kimsey; c/o I AM A GIRL

You found a great way to use your skills and resources to create change. What advice would you give to the every day person looking to make an impact in the lives of girls?

Barry: Anyone can make an impact in the lives of girls. The thing to do is ask yourself, “what can I do?” Are you a teacher, a parent, an employer? Look for what you are good and apply a gender lense. Even by simply starting a conversation with your friends, colleagues, sons, and community you are making an impact. Even better you can organize a screening of I AM A GIRL at your local cinema!

For more information, visit I AM A GIRL.