Friday, March 09, 2007

International Womens Day

March 8 is International Women’s Day, so I would like to acknowledge four women who are using their talent and energy to help others.

First, of course, there is the remarkable Gemma Sisia, visionary and founder of the School of St Jude.

Gemma was a ‘mere slip of a girl’ in her 20s when she took the first steps towards establishing the school. Under her care, it is growing by about 150 students a year. In time, it will serve 2,500 children from kindergarten to Yr 12. Just running a quality school in one of the poorest countries in the world is challenging, but this school is entirely supported by fund-raising. Last year the budget was AU$1million – a testament to her talent, determination, persuasiveness and good sense!

Michaelle Jean is the Governor General of Canada and what a remarkable voice she brings to this prominent role. For International Womens Day, she chose to travel to Afghanistan, to bring attention to the needs of women who are enduring the difficult circumstances of life in a broken country.

Michaelle Jean with President Karzai on 8 March 2007

Throughout these dark, terrible years, I often imagined the terror of their daily lives and I cried out inside with indignation for all those who could not. For me and for so many others, the hand they were dealt was unacceptable. To attack the dignity of women is to fly in the face of life itself; it is to make a mockery of humanity. Still today, Afghan women face harsh realities on a daily basis. I know that less than 10 per cent of Afghan women give birth with a qualified person present, and that these dangerous conditions are responsible for over 50 per cent of the deaths of Afghan women of child-bearing age. As a mother, it pains me to know that the infant mortality rate in Afghanistan is close to 20 per cent.

I am here, with Afghan women, to tell them myself how convinced I am that we need to take action on their behalf, while remaining respectful of their needs and aspirations.

Meryl Streep has achieved the height of her profession and become world famous in the process.

Here she is with Nancy Birdsall and Geeta Rao Gupta as a special guest at the gala event presented by the International Center for Research on Women to commemorate International Womens Day 2007. In this role she lent her name and support to causes that help women in the poorest countries. A lunch with Meryl topped the bids at the auction. The lunch will reflect Meryl’s grounded life – she said the menu will include her own home-made egg salad sandwiches. She is a great role model for women everywhere.

My fourth woman-of-note is Queen Rania of Jordan who I have mentioned before. She has taken up the fine legacy of Queen Noor to walk the world stage and speak out for the needs of women, especially poor women. She is an important voice for Islamic moderates.

Empowering women today is, perhaps, the single greatest legacy we can bestow upon our children. Our daughters, watching in admiration, will be inspired to emulate our initiatives and excel in their chosen fields. Our sons, proud of the positive changes they see not only in their families but also in society, will recognize the value of empowering women. Ultimately, we will all benefit from a more cohesive and active global community, renowned for respecting each other and proud of the strong foundations it has built, together.

Countries of Africa Challenge. I did it again today and this time I got 40! Dramatic improvement, eh? This time I remembered Algeria (no way I was going to forget it again!), but I forgot Uganda! – which I got yesterday. Good thing that ‘tomorrow is another day’, to quote Scarlet O’Hara in ‘Gone with the Wind’!

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