Author: Megan Foo

Celebrating 100 Interviews with Inspirational Women

My interview with Women LEAD Co-Founder and Former Executive Director Claire Charamnac, published on March 7, 2017, marks my hundredth Inspirational Woman interview. The realization that my hundredth interview coincided almost exactly with International Women’s Day 2017 surprised me and made me think deeply about how far Inspirational Women Series has come. Back in September 2013, I started interviewing women leaders weekly for Women LEAD, and since then, I’ve had the unbelievable opportunity to launch Inspirational Women Series, which is dedicated to showcasing the experiences of women leaders in social impact, international development, and historically underrepresented fields for women. The theme for International Women’s Day 2017 was “Be Bold for Change”. This intrigued me, because all of the women I’ve interviewed boldly use their actions and words to effect change in their everyday work. And nowhere does their boldness shine more clearly than in challenging situations. In my recent interviews, I started asking questions about the biggest obstacles my interviewees have faced –  whether professional, sector-related, or personal. For some women, their biggest challenge was scaling a …

More Than Me: Combating Ebola in Liberia

As the Hong Kong Chapter President and Chief Content Officer of Givology, I have had the chance to collaborate with Givology’s partner organizations on an exciting mélange of awareness-building and fundraising initiatives related to girls’ education. One organization in particular, More than Me, has recently had to shift its focus from directly supporting girls’ education in Liberia to fighting the Ebola outbreak. To reduce the spread of Ebola and its devastating impacts, More Than Me started the Ebola-Free West Point Coalition. This Coalition was meant to fill the gaps in the response to the Ebola outbreak by partnering with NGOs, government, and community leaders to make sure a coordinated effort is maintained to end Ebola as quickly as possible. More Than Me provides ambulance services to make sure that individuals who demonstrate symptoms of Ebola are speedily brought to Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs). Additionally, More Than Me and the Ministry of Health (MOH) have brought together Home Healthcare Teams comprising licensed, responsive nurses who triage sick individuals. These teams not only ensure that people suffering …

How Ebola Impedes Women’s Empowerment in West Africa

Originally published on Huffington Post. On November 17, 2014, at a women’s health event called “Better by Half”, Barbara Bush and Melinda Gates voiced concerns about women’s health in Ebola-affected countries. Arguing that “women’s health is becoming a casualty of the Ebola outbreak,” Bush and Gates reignited calls to take concerted action to address the Ebola crisis. As I read Lucy Westcott’s Newsweek piece “Barbara Bush on the Impact of Ebola on Women’s Health”, I couldn’t agree more with Bush’s remark on the conversation about Ebola. Speaking to Newsweek, Bush remarked: “One thing that has been missed out of the dialogue around Ebola is, we talk about it as a health issue and it is a health issue, but there’s so many other repercussions from it.” Hoping to learn more about the the effects of Ebola on women’s and girls’ empowerment in West Africa, I found out that the outbreak does indeed extend beyond the purview of women’s health. Worryingly, the Ebola outbreak has directly and indirectly spilled over into other areas concerning women’s empowerment; …

#ShowYourSelfie: Educate Girls

In less than nine months, I will be graduating from high school. And in less than a year, I will be starting college. For the past 12 years, I have been blessed with an education that has empowered me to challenge the status quo. Guided by a love of learning and a supportive school system, I have been emboldened with the faith that I can leverage the knowledge I’ve acquired – whether within or beyond the classroom – to make a tangible difference in the world. However, unlike me, adolescent girls across the world face persistent barriers to the education that they are entitled to – the 2013 documentary Girl Rising posits that as many as 66 million girls are out of school globally. The lamentable, inescapable truth is that when a girl is shut out of educational institutions, she inevitably faces the brunt of abuse, early marriage, maternal mortality, poverty, and financial dependence. But we can change this reality for the 66 million girls worldwide. I believe that girls’ education is one of the most powerful investments …

The Real Questions We Should Be Asking About #WhyIStayed

Originally published on The Huffington Post On September 8, 2014, TMZ leaked camera footage that showed American football running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée, now-wife Janay Palmer in a casino elevator. Since the video’s release, Ray Rice’s contract with the Baltimore Ravens has been terminated, and he has been indefinitely suspended from the National Football League. Undoubtedly, the question on everybody’s mind as they watched the video was: Why did Janay Palmer stay with and marry the man who abused her? Ray Rice’s domestic abuse scandal has placed the much-needed yet often silenced conversations on gender-based violence and intimate partner violence back into the spotlight, including a discussion on Twitter under the hashtag #WhyIStayed. Recounting many women’s harrowing experiences with intimate partner violence, tweets hashtagged #WhyIStayed shed light on the complex reasons behind entrapment in violent relationships. These narratives from women tweeters focused not only on physical abuse, but also on the verbal, emotional, and economic manifestations of violence that occurred in a relationship. As I read the posts under #WhyIStayed on my Twitter …

Celebrating Women Changemakers Should Be A Concerted Effort

Originally published on The Huffington Post Recently, Marie Claire introduced a “20 Women Changing the World” magazine section in honor of its 20th anniversary. In a list including Chelsea Clinton, Eva Longoria, and Melinda Gates, Marie Claire spotlighted “20 movers, shakers, mavericks, and badasses who are boldly, bravely, audaciously blazing new paths for women and girls.” From Kimberly Bryant’s founding of Black Girls Code to empower young women of color through technology education, to Rachel Lloyd’s establishing of GEMS to help victims of domestic trafficking reintegrate into society, these stories were nothing short of amazing, wholly affirming my passion and deep sense of purpose in the movement to empower women and girls. Moved by these women’s untiring efforts to effect positive change, I immediately thought about one of my favorite extracurricular pastimes: running a weekly “Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight” column as a volunteer with Women LEAD, a nonprofit organization that provides girls in Nepal with education and leadership development training. Nearly a year ago, I started conducting interviews for this column on Women LEAD’s blog …

Why Should We Invest in Girls’ Education?

Originally published on The Huffington Post In developing communities, there are three structural issues that prevent a girl from fulfilling her right to education: Her gender, her zip code, and her economic condition. Deep-rooted stigmas against women’s education, conjoined with region-specific interventions and the heavy burden of tuition costs, form what is commonly perceived as an unbreakable barrier to girls’ education. As a result, child marriage, sex trafficking and forced prostitution become horrific alternatives to education, so-called substitutes to schooling that leave a country ensnared in a labyrinthine web of gender-based violence, economic paralysis, and ill health. For so many girls in the world, going to school remains a distant dream, an unattainable ecstasy that hovers beyond reach. But as champions for social change, we must understand just what women’s education holds for the lives of the female students we read about – and what it offers for our world as we know it. Exactly what is girls’ education, and where does its significance and relevance lie? Without further ado, girls’ education is a worthy …

End Child Marriage, Accelerate Progress Towards the Millennium Development Goals

Child marriage devastates communities all over the world, with an estimated one-third of the world’s female population aged 18 and younger married off as brides. A horrific reality for millions of girls, child marriage involves painful lifetimes of gender-based violence, dangerous pregnancies, complicated childbirths, risks of obstetric fistula, illiteracy, and poverty. Like organizations including Girls Not Brides, I believe that ending child marriage is key to accelerating progress toward achieving development on local and international scales. The perpetuation of child marriage interferes with the fulfillment of six out of eight Millennium Development Goals: Goal 1: Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger In common procedures for child marriage, prospective grooms offer a “bride price” to the bride’s parents to consent to him marrying their daughter. Typically, the bride’s parents accept the money hoping to escape difficult economic circumstances. Yet, the financial “gains” that families may reap are short-term, and cannot compensate for the long-term damage that child marriage incurs. A child bride does not receive opportunities for education and economic participation crucial to poverty alleviation. She and her family are locked in perpetual cycles of poverty, with hunger …

Takeaways from the Somaly Mam Scandal

I remember reading Somaly Mam’s stories in Half the Sky and The Road of Lost Innocence as a sophomore in high school. I remember feeling horrified and heartbroken by the traumatic experiences that she shared – experiences that reflected an egregious reality of ongoing sex trafficking and forced prostitution in Cambodia. I remember being inspired by her unfailing commitments to end modern slavery as the CEO of AFESIP Cambodia and the Somaly Mam Foundation, and remember expressing unchecked admiration as she “rescued” trafficked women and girls in brothel raids. I remember voicing my enthusiasm when a friend of mine said that she spent her summer volunteering with AFESIP Cambodia; recall showering compliments on my peers as they organized a local fashion show last April with all proceeds going to AFESIP. And I remember all too well the incredible shock I felt when I read the Newsweek exposé two months ago, which revealed that her stories were fabricated; remember being unable to conceal my disappointment when the article mentioned that Somaly Mam encouraged girls to lie about their experiences …

Why We Need #YesAllWomen

I take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one, the true alpha male. -Elliot Rodger’s Retribution Just before the Isla Vista Killings on May 23, 2014, assailant Elliot Rodger posted a video on his YouTube channel that outlined his plans to punish the women who “have never been attracted to [him]”, which he dubs “an injustice [and] a crime”. With a Glock 34 pistol, two SIG Sauer P226 pistols, two machetes, a hammer and knife in tow, Rodger actualized his “War on Women” by stabbing three male students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and committing a series of drive-by shootings, killing two women and one man in the process. Why did this “War on Women” break out? Rodger was frustrated that women didn’t want to date or have sex with him and desired to live up to his self-proclaimed “true alpha male” status, a status that apparently can only be achieved by having sex with or shooting women. His classification of romantic or sexual rejection as an “injustice” or “crime” deserving of retribution …