SMU-in-London 2008

This summer 48 SMU students are traveling to London to study communication courses, including international media, free speech, creative advertising, British cinema and the global civil society. Some students also are interning with international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Pants to Poverty, and Save the Children, to name a few.

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I’m a what?!

grace.jpgGrace, a senior art history and CCPA major, is working this summer at WOMANKIND Worldwide in the communications and fundraising department. WOMANKIND Worldwide’s Mission is “To enable women in developing countries to voice their concerns and claim their rights, and to work globally for policies and practices which promote gender equality.”

When I applied to work at Womankind Worldwide for the summer, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into. I knew from researching the organization that it is involved in making some powerful changes for women around the world. I could see very clearly that it is a women’s rights organization. But my perception of what lay ahead for me, or misperception, was very quickly changed the day I began working for Womankind.

For starters I assumed it would be all women; I was wrong. There are, in fact, four men. I also wondered whether or not my new co-workers would be akin to the traditional images of women’s rights activists of the ’70s. Isn’t that what a feminist is supposed to look like? And there I go; I have used the dirty word – feminist. Why is it that I was so prepared to meet and work with a stereotype? Honestly it was my own fault, but I have a sinking suspicion that an inarguably sexist society has taught me that this is what feminism means.

Well, perhaps by describing for you the amazing work that my feminist co-workers do and sharing with you some of the alarming statistics we are fighting against, you will have an enlightened view of what it means to be a feminist.

The organization is divided up into three departments, headed up by the executive director Sue. There is the Finance and Resources Department, Programmes and Policy (yes, they spell “program” differently) and Fundraising and Communications. I have been working in the Fundraising and Communications Department under the head of the department, Helen, and the senior communications manager, Mary.

My job for the past two weeks has been to read the hundreds of pages of information on the organization’s current programs and condense the information into one page per program. This assignment has allowed me to become intimately familiar with the various endeavours of Womankind and the progress thus far. Many of these programs have been going on for years and have seen substantial impact. The two programs that I have made myself familiar with are Afghanistan and Bolivia.

Earlier in this blog I made a promise to try to give you an enlightened view of what it means to be a feminist, so the first thing I would like to get straight is that feminists aren’t fighting for women’s rights, but human rights. Women’s rights are human rights, and it is essential to understand this key element. Now that you’ve got that straight, I will talk a little about the programs I am working with.

tamara-afghan-voting.jpgAt work in Afghanistan
The first program I looked at was one in Afghanistan and learned that 80 percent of the women are illiterate, 54 percent of girls under the age of 18 are married and 68 percent of girls ages 7-13 are not in school. The statistics demonstrate the Afghan women are being denied their rights to education and are being married against their will, often as forms of payment, before the age of 18.

Womankind works with local Afghan organizations to provide centers for women and girls that give access to literacy classes and create a safe environment for women to voice their concerns and learn about their rights.

And in Bolivia
In Bolivia, women are facing the same issues of illiteracy and exclusion from political and social arenas. Furthermore, seven out of ten Bolivians have been victims of violence. When reporting these crimes, women suffer severe discrimination and even abuse.

Womankind has been working with police officers and health care providers to help change the perception of violence against women and to educate them on how to respond. Additionally the organization provides access to literacy classes and basic health education so that women have the opportunity to take control of their lives.

tamara-ghana1.jpgAs you can hopefully see now, being a feminist is a good thing; it is not a dirty word. I can now say loud and proud to anyone who wants to hear it, I am a feminist, and I believe in human rights.

To learn more or support the work that Womankind Worldwide does, visit this website: www.womankind.org.uk. (Photos show Womankind workers on the job in Afghanistan and Ghana.)

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    One Response to I’m a what?!

    1. Nina says:

      Wow, what an interesting internship. It turned out to be a perfect spot for you this summer. So glad you’ve gained so much from this experience, especially the concept that feminists aren’t fighting for women’s rights, but human rights.

      Keep up the good work.

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