I’m celebrating all the women in my life today, particularly my daughters and my nieces. In Canada, the theme for International Women's Day and Week 2011 is Girls' Rights Matter, recognizing the importance of equality and access to opportunity for girls and women, and inviting us to not only reflect on the situation of girls in Canada, but to look beyond our relative privilege at home and recognize the situation of girls around the globe.
I’m filled with gratitude that I could raise my daughters to be educated, independent and strong. To be able to choose careers, to choose partners, to contribute to their communities, to vote and to make their own decisions about their own lives. Compared to many, many young women internationally, they are exceedingly lucky.
When it adopted its resolution on the observance of Women's Day, the UN General Assembly was recognizing that the participation, equality and development of women are fundamental in securing peace, social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights (UN Women Watch). We’ve come a long way. And we’ve got a long way to go to implement meaningful change for all of us, not just us lucky few.
To all the women who have enriched my life with your love, strength, compassion, humour, intelligence, generosity, kinship, support, ideas, knowledge, creativity, silliness, thoughtfulness, awareness, kindness, stubbornness, talent, work and art – you are, collectively, a bright and shining mosaic, and beautiful thing number 22.
The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all. ~Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Leader of Burma's Democracy Movement
Paul McAdams at A Change is Coming: Travels and Human Rights reminded me that today is International Day of Peace. Go read his piece – I love his reflection on this day, that maybe we could look inside and recognize the peace we might find there, and then take a look around and show some kindness to people who might not be so lucky. Maybe like that couple I wrote about this morning.
Here's my little playlist of some of my favourite peace songs, in honour of the day. If you care to listen why not give some thought about what you would do, if you could, to perpetuate the spirit of the day.
People all around the world have been doing that today. Imagining peace. Can you feel it?
…what story would you tell?
It's International Literacy Day today. This is a re-post of a piece I did a year ago. I hope you'll read it and think about how lucky you are to be able do so.
I teach creative writing courses in a continuing education department of a college. Most would consider these to be “special interest” courses, which people take for enjoyment. And that’s great – one of the reasons I teach these courses is because I enjoy it.
But there is another really big reason I do it. It’s because I believe that lifelong learning is a fundamental right of every human being, and that lifelong learning makes better citizens, communities and countries. I teach courses because I want to help people achieve that feeling of satisfaction and power I get when I expand my own knowledge. When a learner says to me “I’ve changed because of this course” the sense of gratification I feel in having engendered, just a little, someone’s personal growth and the power they feel at having told a story is enormous.
But adult learning is so much more than that which I promote in my own little world. According to UNESCO, one in five adults is not literate. Two-thirds of those adults are women. 75 million children on this planet are not in school. You want to talk about how literacy is about personal empowerment and human development?
Then think about what it means that that 776 million adults lack minimum literacy. It means that 776 million people lack the skills necessary to overcome poverty. 776 million people lack access to information about how to take care of themselves and their children, about how to find help and support, how to achieve gender equality and how to carry out sustainable development so they can support themselves and their communities. Literate parents raise literate children. People who are literate participate more in their communities and they make their voices heard through actions – like voting.
And just as literacy is a tool of personal empowerment and human development – illiteracy is a tool of oppression and domination. We all know the Taliban work hard to oppress and dominate by withholding education. It’s not a new idea – it’s been going on for centuries, and continues around the globe.
Today is International Literacy Day. Stop for a few minutes and think about what literacy means in your world. What your access to education and information affords you and those around you. Think about what it means as you sit at that computer, accessing and contributing to the world of ideas and information on the World Wide Web.
Think about the sheer courage that girl in Afghanistan must drum up just to go to school in the morning because she probably heard stories about angry dudes throwing acid the faces of girls who go to school. Think about your laid-off neighbour who is suddenly faced with navigating the “information society” for a job his high school education didn’t equip him for all those decades ago. Think about your new neighbour who has escaped an oppressive regime but lacks the language skills to read a simple street sign, a carton of milk, a prescription bottle or the newspaper.
And maybe instead of buying coffee at Starbucks this week, give that ten bucks to an organization like this one or this one or one in your community (check your local library), and imagine the possibilities for a world in which 776 million people don’t lack basic literacy skills and have a chance to rise above poverty and oppression. Literacy is power. Share the power.