It all started my sophomore year of high school, after I read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. A riveting call to arms against the injustices that women face, Half the Sky not only underscores the alarming dimensions of discrimination that women experience, but also highlights the urgent need for us to tackle these problems and turn the tides against gender inequality.
After reading Half the Sky, it became self-evident that education is not only a catalyst for positive social change, but also a crucial springboard for gender equality and women’s empowerment. The compelling stories of women whose voices had been silenced inspired me to advocate for women’s and girls’ education. I wanted to help women escape the myriad poverty traps in which they found themselves, desired to move them one step closer to being adequately equipped to contribute to the fabric of society, independent of any hurdles that worked against them.
The first step I took after I finished Half the Sky was to apply for a volunteer position at Givology, an online giving marketplace that leverages dollar donations to grassroots education projects in the developing world, making my first foray into the world of nonprofit management. Givology’s enlivening mission of giving every child access to a quality education and its phenomenal network of volunteers, giving teams, grassroots partners, and donors resonated with me deeply, ultimately motivating me to start a Givology chapter in Hong Kong in support of Givology’s women’s education-focused partners.
I have had the time of my life so far leading local advocacy campaigns and fundraising initiatives with Givology’s Hong Kong chapter, which is currently raising funds for family violence intervention training and vocal empowerment programs for women in Guatemala, for Starfish One by One. Through education and mentorship, Starfish One by One harnesses female momentum to accelerate change, achieving this in Guatemala, the Western Hemisphere’s worst context for women.
In Guatemala, Mayan women and girls live on the fringes of society, trapped on the bottom rung of the Guatemalan social ladder. Only 5% of rural Mayan girls complete their elementary school education, 70% of women are illiterate, and an estimated 9 in 10 women have been a victim of domestic violence. These foreboding figures should propel us to act, to give in a sustainable way that transforms these girls’ families and communities into more healthy and equitable entities.
Equally close to my heart is my work with Women LEAD Nepal. An incredible nonprofit with the mission of empowering adolescent girls to become leaders, Women LEAD Nepal values the voices and opinions of young women, expediting women’s access to the same educational, professional and leadership opportunities as their male counterparts.
In societies that are patriarchal and male-dominated, women form an under-served population and for the most part find it difficult to stand their ground. Having kickstarted a Women LEAD chapter in Hong Kong as a junior in high school, I witness the manifold returns of investing in women’s education and leadership training, namely bolstered confidence, the ability to self-identify as a leader, amplified voices in acts of advocacy, and clearer work-life goals. We see Women LEAD’s students pursuing tertiary study and professional paths in avenues of their choice, see a rise in sustainable family units and further inter-generational transmission of literacy.
One component of women’s empowerment that Women LEAD also stresses is solidarity. It’s not about individual success or personal development, but advancing together as an empowered, enlightened community of women. Women LEAD’s Leadership Institute provides hands-on leadership training that adequately equips girls for career success; it simultaneously redefines traditional masculine roles and foregrounds sisterhood, underlining the potency of women’s alliances. A crucial synergy of friendship and mentorship is at the crux of Women LEAD’s vision of effecting real and sustained change for women; it is this synthesis that can, with education, break cycles of poverty and set girls on the path to prosperity.
My acquaintance with these two remarkable organizations began only after I read Half the Sky, a true testament to the fact that a little help can transform the lives of women and girls around the world. I can only imagine how many millions of others were spurred into action after reading Kristof and WuDunn’s stories of resilience and courage. Such is the immense power of Half the Sky, which strikes chords within us and imbues us with the confidence that we can – as part of the movement to improve the lives of women and girls – make a difference.
The Half the Sky Movement is dedicated to ending the oppression of women worldwide. Through inspiring stories of extraordinary women, this movement hopes to not only raise awareness of women’s issues, but also provide concrete ways to empower women.
Givology is a 100% volunteer-run social enterprise that connects donors and volunteers to grassroots education projects and student scholarships around the world. From school supplies to library construction to empowerment workshops, it emphasizes transparency and maximizing the impact per dollar given.
Women LEAD is the first and only leadership development organization for young women in Nepal. Having empowered more than 200 young women to become leaders in their schools and communities, Women LEAD’s programs women with intensive yearlong leadership training, skills building, mentoring, and a peer-support network.