The closest my children ever came to understanding life in a refugee camp was the Thanksgiving we hosted a college student who had grown up in one. Senia was studying to become a doctor so she could someday bring much-needed medical skills back to her home – an isolated Sahrawi refugee camp in the harsh desert of North Africa.
I’ve been thinking about Senia a lot lately as we approach International Women’s Day on March 8, a day set aside annually to celebrate the achievements of women and to press for equal rights.
In the spirit of raising future global problem solvers (girls and boys alike), I want to offer four tips for making this time meaningful for us as parents, for our children, and for our sisters around the globe. Ultimately, all of our futures depend upon it!
1) Get interested
One of my favorite books about the plight of women and girls around the globe is Half the Sky by Pulitzer Prize-winning husband and wife team, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. In this extraordinarily inspiring book, you’ll meet women and girls who overcame the severest of adversity from sex trafficking to acid attacks. These women are heroes, not victims.
Now here’s the important part – after you read these stories, share them with your kids in your own words. My youngest child took an interest in the story of a Zimbabwean girl who went from being teased for going to school barefoot and in a torn dress with nothing underneath to eventually running an organization to help other impoverished girls become educated.
2) Get connected
It’s great to read and talk about the lives of women and girls internationally, but their plight becomes even more urgent when you meet them firsthand. Visiting a country that’s markedly different from our own might be a possibility for your family -- I recently did a back-of-the-napkin calculation for a friend who mistakenly believed that Disneyland would be cheaper than a family trip to Guatemala.
But if it’s not, there are ample opportunities to invite people into your own home. You might want to contact a local college or refugee resettlement agency like the International Rescue Committee to see if you could host a woman for dinner in honor of International Women’s Day. If you have more time, mentor a refugee family as they adjust to life in their new community.
3) Get creative
This International Women’s Day, women across the U.S. are using their talents to celebrate and to involve others. A congregation in Washington, DC will hold an evening of music to benefit women and girls in the Congo. And a collective of artists in Houston, Texas will exhibit their work and screen a film about birthing rituals around the world.
Whether your creative outlet is blogging, photography, playing an instrument or simply enjoying the work of others, think about how you and your children might participate on International Women’s Day.
4) Get active
This is where the rubber hits the road! Now that you've taken steps with your child to become aware, what will you do with that understanding?
Here are a just a few ideas you can explore with your child:
- Help a girl go to school. Educating girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty and disease. A girl with an education in Africa, for instance, is three times less likely to get HIV/AIDS. And yet, in many parts of Africa, 20 children must share a single textbook! Perhaps you and your child would like to support the SEGA girls school in Tanzania or the TARA Project.
- Look at the environment in a new light. In the U.S. we take everyday luxuries like electricity for granted. But consider this: In a country like India, where over 400 million people have no electricity, women often give birth in homes lit by kerosene lanterns that emit toxic fumes and cause accidental fires. Fortunately there are groups like the Acumen Fund that help support innovations such as d.light -- an $8 high-quality solar light that produces 8 hours of light on a single charge.
- Help muster political will. The U.S. is the only country in the Western Hemisphere and one of only six countries globally that have not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international treaty that affirms fundamental human rights and equality for women worldwide. Shame on us! On International Women's Day, show your child how our democracy works. Call upon your senators to take a stand and assert the U.S.'s leadership on women's rights by clicking here.