Girls’ Globe | Ignore the Voices That Say You Can’t. We Can.

Originally published on Girls’ Globe on 17 April 2015:

I was six years old and in Primary 2 when Hillary Clinton gave her famous speech on women’s rights being human rights in Beijing in 1995.

Almost 10 years later, I moved to rural China. I lived with an Eritrean girl from London, whose Dad worked for the United Nations in the Middle East. It was in China I became passionate about human rights. I was blown away by the strength of the Chinese women I met, the stories of women and conflict in Africa and challenges diaspora women and girls face in the United Kingdom. I wish I had known about the Beijing conference; I wish I had been taught about feminism and the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at school.

I came home to study and learn more about human rights. I dreamed of a career that would take me to the UN one day.

In 2011 I graduated feeling a little defeated after struggling with stress, failing a UN Law class and being told by my Professor that I had no chance of the career I wanted so badly. I made a decision to prove him wrong.

I found work in India and Ethiopia. I worked with too many inspiring people to list. Last month I was invited, by one of the leading women’s rights figures in India, to give a speech at the UN on my work on human rights.

We need to involve more young women in international politics and in all decision-making.

Kara Photo 2As a YWCA delegate at CSW you meet others who share similar passions. There is an opportunity to lobby some of the world’s most influential people and learn first hand about issues facing women in other countries. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard young women describe this as a “life-changing” experience.

However, it’s not all rosy at CSW. At a cocktail reception with the UK Ambassador, I had the misfortune of someone saying to me “You need to learn more about the UN before you open your mouth.” In a meeting with the UK mission, I raised the issue of having young women and more diversity on the official delegation. I was told, “We’ve weighed up the pros and cons. It wasn’t the policy of the last Government, it’s certainly not the policy of this Government and good luck with the future Government.”

At an “intergenerational dialogue” event hosted by UN Women, out of all the speakers between 9.30am – 6pm only two were young women. The paintings that hang in the main UN corridor are of men because in over 77 years there has never been a woman Secretary General.

The daily UK Mission / NGO meetings are a good example of what needs to change.

  • There were more men than women of colour in those meetings.
  • There were more men than women with disabilities.
  • There were more men than transgender women.
  • There were more white, cisgender women from the South of England aged over 60 and 70 than anyone else in the room.
  • Voices from less privileged backgrounds were missing.

In order for real change to take place, and fast, we need to be proactive and hold our Kara Photo3governments accountable for making these spaces inclusive of all women. Given that the idea behind CSW is to empower and protect women and girls, I was disappointed to learn that so many are not a meaningful part of the decision-making process.

The good news is that World YWCA made history at CSW59. We held the first ever Young Women & Girls Forum in partnership with UN Women. Artwork from the day now features at UN Headquarters. A constant reminder of the future we want.

I am privileged to have had the opportunities I have had, but not all women are in the same position. I’d love to attend CSW with a truly diverse, intergenerational delegation from Scotland in future. Following youth engagement in our independence referendum, with a woman First Minister and gender-balanced Cabinet, there has never been a bigger appetite for a seat at the decision making table amongst young Scots.

Young women can and will change the face of international politics and development over the next 20 years, just as women before us did in Beijing in 1995.

My message to young women is to ignore the voices that say you can’t. We can. Women and girls can be whoever we want to be and do whatever we want to do. I hope you’ll choose to join us. Together we can motivate those in power to actively engage younger and more diverse voices in all decision-making so that no person is left behind.

This is an excerpt from my speech at the Scottish Parliament on 1 April 2015. A big thank you to Engender for the opportunity.

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She Let Go

She let go.

She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear.  She let go of the judgments.  She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.  She let go of the committee of indecision within her.  She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons.  Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

She didn’t ask anyone for advice.  She didn’t read a book on how to let go.  She didn’t search the scriptures.  She just let go.  She let go of all of the memories that held her back.  She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.  She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn’t promise to let go.  She didn’t journal about it.  She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer.  She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper.  She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope.  She just let go.

She didn’t analyse whether she should let go.  She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.  She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment.  She didn’t call the prayer line.  She didn’t utter one word.  She just let go.

No one was around when it happened.  There was no applause or congratulations.  No one thanked her or praised her.  No one noticed a thing.  Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort.  There was no struggle.  It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.  It was what it was, and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be.  A small smile came over her face.  A light breeze blew through her.  And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.

– Shafire Rose

HUFFPOST | After the Girl Summit: How Can We Hold the Attention of 900 Million People?

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Originally published on the Huffington Post Blog on 11 August 2014.

Have you ever been quizzed on a difficult topic by a complete stranger? Last week, on my journey home from Girl Summit, a young guy serving coffee on the train said, “I’ve heard a lot about that event you’ve been at and can see how important it is, but here’s the thing … I still don’t really know what FGM is.” He listened intently as I explained that 10,000 girls under the age of 15 in the UK are survivors of female genital cutting. He questioned why a woman who had been cut would let her own daughter suffer the same fate and so we talked about societal pressures on women and girls. This small exchange was the cherry on top of a motivating few days at the world’s first girls’ rights summit in London. However, it also indicates that the majority of people are still unaware of how widespread harmful traditional practices are, or what they can do to help end practices like FGM and child marriage.IMG_2212 Without more advocacy, awareness raising and engaging youth in the fight we cannot make the world a safer place for women and girls.

On 22 July at the Girl Summit several hundred million pounds were committed to tackling female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage and a staggering 900 million people have pledged their support online. The challenge now is to maintain the momentum and keep the global focus on ending FGM and child marriage. Here’s how…

Read the rest of this story at huffingtonpost.com

YWCA | Visiting YWCA Korea

Originally posted on ywcascotland.org:

Earlier this month I had the exciting opportunity to visit another YWCA… over 5,000 miles away in South Korea. 

Together, YWCA Korea and YWCA Scotland form part of a dynamic network of women leading social and economic change in over 120 countries. Each YWCA is unique in the work that it does and the lives it impacts, but we all strive to do one thing; empower young women to achieve their potential.

Here are three highlights from my first World YWCA experience:

1. The food

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Oh, the food!
Korean cooking is some of the best I have tasted. Signature dishes include barbecued meat, Bibimbap (mixed rice) and ice cold buckwheat noodles. No meal is complete without a medley of small side dishes such as kimchi, lightly fried vegetables and pickled eggs. [Photo: the lunch I tucked into at one of YWCA Korea’s favourite local restaurants.]

2. Learning more about the history of Korea

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Having lived in China after high school and more recently in India, I have a keen interest in all things Asian. Korea has a fascinating but distressing history. Even today the country remains divided by war.

YWCA Korea is calling for 100 million signatures for the resolution of Japanese military sexual slavery.

Between 1930 to 1945, Japanese soldiers fighting the Pacific War forced thousands of women and girls into sexual slavery. Survivors were either killed or abandoned far from home. Japan refuses to accept responsibility for this widescale violence against women. Sign the petition to support YWCA Korea and the international community in its mission to restore the victims’ human rights and send a powerful message to those abusing women in armed conflicts today.

3. Meeting other YWCA Women

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[Left to right: YWCA Korea Intl. Affairs Manager Ji Hea, YWCA Scotland volunteer Kara, YWCA Seoul Secretay General Jeon Hyun Sook, YWCA India General Secretary Leila Passah & YWCA Korea Corporate Partnership Director Hyunjung Hong]

My first taster of what it feels like to be part of a global women’s movement left a lasting impression. I was warmly welcomed to Seoul by YWCA Korea & YWCA Seoul staff and met the National General Secretary of YWCA India too! As a member of YWCA, you can expect to find yourself adopted into a family of inspiring women who share the same passion for justice and human rights.

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YWCA Korea oversees 52 local YWCAs and over 80,000 members. Their current priorities range from anti-nuclear and peaceful unification campaigns to promoting youth leadership and alternatives to the current, intensive Korean education system.

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Next door to YWCA Korea HQ is YWCA Seoul – the biggest of all the Korean YWCAs. [Photo: a conference room that accommodates approx. 300 people. There’s also a canteen, swimming pool, exercise studios and mini theatre inside.]

Thank you to YWCA Korea and YWCA Seoul for such a memorable visit. For more information on World YWCA and for all the latest YWCA Scotland newsfollow us on Twitter or Facebook.

GIRLS GLOBE | Meet the Girls Ending FGM

Originally posted on Girls’ Globe:

Girls are perfect, just as they are.

Yet over 125 million girls and women bear scars that suggest the contrary. Every minute five girls are held down and subjected to excruciating pain. Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting (FGC), is the harmful practice of partially or totally removing a girl’s genitals. Girls who are cut face emotional trauma and long lasting health complications. It is a strange paradox that many celebrate ‘cutting season’ with big parties and lavish gifts. FGM is the norm for a large majority of the developing world.

Thanks to a new wave of media attention and two daring young women, I now understand more about FGM. This understanding began with Leyla Hussein’s BAFTA nominated film The Cruel Cut. From impassioned women’s rights activist and mother Leyla, I learned that FGM is happening right on my doorstep.

Read the rest of the story here…

#StopKony: Why I’m excited.

Judging by the fact that you’re on the internet and reading this, you’ve no doubt already been swept up by the digital storm that is KONY 2012. For those of you who haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, I suggest you take 29 minutes out of your day to watch the viral video created by San Diego-based NGO Invisible Children: KONY 2012. Whether you’re taken with the idea or not, this video has catapulted Ugandan guerilla group leader Joseph Kony from a relatively unknown name to spectacular fame in a matter of days. And, as one of the most wanted war criminals in the world, he is certainly someone worth taking note of.

Kony and the atrocities he has committed aside, there are so many things I find fascinating about the current social-media-and-social-justice-infused buzz. Firstly, what began as a public outcry in response to Invisible Children’s emotive film has now turned into a heated argument between two camps of snarling social media users. While some are bowled over by the clever use of slick and trendy film-editing and the undeniable force of social networking, others are much more sceptical about  Invisible Children and their idealistic crowdsourcing tactics. The Invisible Children team have now updated their website in response to these criticisms.

So, is KONY 2012 a social “experiment” that will redefine the age of social media, raise awareness of some of the great injustices of modern times and capture the culprit? Or is it simply a sensationalised youtube upload, overlooking the complexities of a fading situation in Uganda, that most will watch once and then forget about as soon as the next video of Beyoncé breast-feeding in public surfaces?

To tell you the truth, I was so excited after watching the KONY 2012 video that I not only shared it on Facebook and Twitter, but also checked out the job vacancies page on invisiblechildren.com. I find the power and attraction of social media fascinating. I like the way that the video addresses that within the opening few minutes. The potential reach and impact of successful online campaigning for the greater humanitarian good is exciting. I’d like to be a part of it. It didn’t even occur to me that ‘making Kony famous’ might entail negative consequences. Despite having read a substantial amount of off-putting KONY 2012 babble since first watching the film and admiring several more eloquent strands to the debate, this campaign still triggers something in me. It affirms my thoughts on the boundaries of cutting-edge, socially conscious communication:  the best is yet to come.

In the past, we read the paper, watched the news on TV or listened to the radio and then discussed the headlines with each other face-to-face… over cups of coffee, in classrooms and workplaces, on buses or walking along the street. News spread quickly via word of mouth, but individual conversations were limited to the number of people present. Nowadays, we can show our appreciation or distaste for something in a very public setting at the click of a button and have instant access to a whole variety of opinions and perspectives as people join in the conversation from varying corners of the globe. While you could argue that the increase in online activity means that people are talking less, a campaign like KONY 2012 is pretty hard to stay silent about. In addition to online interaction, people are talking about it here in Ethiopia and I’m sure others are discussing it wherever you are right now. Within hours, KONY 2012 became the biggest human rights-based discussion in the history of social communication. It’s racked up an impressive 65 million views on Youtube and Vimeo already, and the hashtag #stopkony is still trending on Twitter after four days.

One real strength of Web 2.0 is this large-scale conversation. Sure, something about viral videos, like that band you love who went from playing cosy pubs to packed out stadiums overnight can be irritating. However, I’m sticking to my guns and am not ashamed to have jumped on the bandwagon. KONY 2012 is by no means perfect as a campaign or as a concept, but it is undeniably effective. Invisible Children are masters of marketing and crowdsourcing. Their lightning response to the inevitable backlash exemplifies tight social media policy. The organisation is pumping money into advocacy and production because they recognise the potential of social media in mobilising civil society. And boy, has it paid off. Conversation is now flowing on East and Central Africa, on the Lord’s Resistance Army and their 25-year reign of terror, and the thousands of men, women and children they have abducted, mutilated, enslaved and killed. But it doesn’t stop there… the KONY 2012 frenzy has fuelled discussion on charitable giving, development methodologies, military intervention, western ideologies, slacktivism, and the effectiveness of awareness generation and online activism. The campaign’s appeal has pulled the most influential and most unlikely of characters into this dialogue. Millions have watched the film and been moved, one way or another, because they care.

There are a multitude of issues in desperate need of pragmatic solutions in Uganda, not to mention other African countries, and removing Joseph Kony from the picture is not the answer to all of them. But hey, mass support for good old-fashioned justice is hard to come by. And that is what we’re witnessing here…. a coming together of people from all different walks of life who want to see Kony face up to all of the truly awful things he has done. Social media enables international solidarity.

Jason Russell said it himself, KONY 2012 is an experiment. Invisible Children has my utmost respect for trying. Sometimes in life, you step out of your comfort zone and into the unknown and you see or hear something that makes you so sad, so frustrated, and so angry that you feel compelled to help. You are bursting to share what you’ve learned with as many people as possible and go to bed at night wondering how you can help raise awareness and make a difference. There are those that will always try to put out your flame, to criticise your motives and your methodologies. Those people are not going to make one inch of a difference in comparison to Invisible Children unless they channel their own passion into constructive advice or action.

What we’re witnessing is incredibly exciting and what happens next is crucial. Through all of the attention and buzz surrounding KONY 2012, what one blogger said resonates loudest, “it’s only apathy if you don’t care”. Anyone who’s been inspired by the campaign, or angered enough to critique it evidently cares about humanity and about this particular cause. It would be fantastic if both the supporters and critics of Invisible Children in Uganda and the rest of the world now take advantage of this week’s surge in social solidarity and take rational steps forward to hold Joseph Kony accountable for his actions, in the least detrimental way possible. It will be even better if everyone working in the field of human rights and development can learn from and build upon the success of KONY 2012. It is too early to tell what the end result will be, but for now KONY 2012 should be applauded as an example of inspirational and thought-provoking social communication at its best and an encouraging nod toward the future potential of social media.

19 February 2012: Addis Ababa

International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Ethiopia
19.02.2012

Somehow, we’re already halfway through February and I’m not quite sure where the first few weeks of this year have gone. I celebrated the beginning of 2012 in snowy Scotland, singing Auld Lang Syne and drinking Stag’s Breath liqueur with family, friends and 500 other merry Scots on Newtonmore Golf Course. On 23rd January I was standing in a small corrugated iron hut in Nairobi, tentatively sticking my hand through metal bars to pay for a tube of Colgate. Today I’m sitting on my sunny porch in Addis Ababa, listening to the sounds of Orthodox Christian chanting in the wind and drinking Ethiopian ‘bunna’ (coffee).

What on earth am I doing here?

Good question. I always ask myself that when I arrive somewhere new. But the fear only lasts a day or two, and then I build up the courage to venture outside into the local neighbourhood and realise it’s not so bad after all. In fact, it’s comforting to be reminded that people are really not all that different from one another, irrespective of where they are in the world.

While I enjoy seeing these similarities, I’m also here to learn more about Ethiopian culture and what makes it so unique. I’ve come to the country’s capital to try and understand what makes people here tick. I’m here to try Injera and Kitfo – national dishes, ride local blue & white minibuses, listen to Teddy Afro – popular singer & political activist, attempt to shoulder shimmy, and meet a few of the 3 million Oromo, Amhara, Tigrayan, Sidama, Afar, Harari, Gurage and Somali people who live here.

I’m also in Addis to visit close family friends and do some work for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). ILRI works with some of the poorest farmers and communities across the developing world to help improve livelihoods through livestock. I’m interning with the ILRI communications team for 2 months and living on campus. My main focus is on social media – which includes a little bit of writing and documentation, research into social media monitoring and a lot of learning from the rest of the team. So far so good!

What else?

On Thursday, I went to Alemachen for the first time. Alemachen is a convalescent home in Addis for young children undergoing various different types of plastic surgery.  Some need treatment for club foot, others cleft lip, rickets, severe burns or even limb amputations. The children are brought to hospital from the countryside and city slums and stay at Alemachen throughout their treatment. Some children are there for a few months, others for a year or more.

Founded in the 1970s by a Dutch NGO then managed by a Catholic priest until 2009, Alemachen is now run by a dedicated nurse from the Netherlands, who I met on the ILRI campus. There are 15 other staff at the home, including nurses, a teaching assistant and a driver. The charity provides temporary shelter, food, clothing, medical and educational support for up to 40 children at a time. Alemachen is a colourful and positive place to be. As I walked into the courtyard, the children all came rushing to greet me and give me high fives. There’s a large classroom in the centre of the home where school lessons take place and the children each have a teddybear on their bed (pink bedding for the girls and blue for the boys). There is plenty of space to play and a small clinic too for changing bandages and daily doses of Calpol. 

While parents, family and friends can visit,  most children come from far away and don’t see their relatives during their stay. So, I’m hoping to spend a few hours each weekend keeping the children company – teaching some basic English and playing games with them.  More details and no doubt  good stories to follow soon! 

Photo Credits: K.Brown. All Rights Reserved.  

in Edinburgh, Scotland

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