Empowerment

Women’s Leadership Challenge Creates Transformative Change

Samantha Karlin Samantha Karlin’s passion to help women become phenomenal leaders drove her to develop the Women’s Leadership Challenge to give women the tools to create transformative change. Samantha is an entrepreneur at heart and excels when it comes to finding a need and meeting it with results-driven solutions. As the host of Samanthropolitics and CEO of Empower Global, she has built a career around analyzing women’s needs and consistently meeting them with whatever it takes, whether it be for information or inspiration–providing training on everything from inclusive and feminist leadership to diversity and inclusion.

During the height of the initial COVID wave, Samantha took time to really look around and listen. Paying attention to the isolation people were feeling and how many were struggling, she realized there was a need among women for meaningful connections and community. At the same time, she saw that women’s progress toward leadership was going backwards; a trend that continues today. She also realized the only solution that can reverse that is more women leaders.

“I believe we need women leaders who don’t reinforce the patriarchy, women leaders who lead in innovative, creative, courageous ways that are true to who they are.” Samantha said, “It’s not just about having more women leaders; it’s having women leaders who are committed to change. It takes women at the top who are not afraid to speak out.”

Through her company, Empower Global, Samantha created and launched the Women’s Leadership Challenge to call out to women around the world who have similar commitments and need help to lead in ways to create transformational change. The Women’s Leadership Challenge gives participants the skills practiced by the great feminist leaders of today – Jacinda Ardern, Christine LaGarde, Stacey Abrams, and Angela Merkel among others. It also equips them with the tools they need to counter imposter syndrome and self-doubt and discover what is most unique about them as a leader. Each session also explores gender-specific challenges and delivers strategies to help women navigate them and change the system. Overall, participants gain the courage to advocate for themselves and others, learn to speak truth to power, utilize their strengths, and become agents for change.

“When women graduate from the program, they absolutely and truly believe in themselves as leaders and have crafted their leadership mission and vision,” Samantha said. “They are committed to creating workplaces where women and marginalized voices are able to rise, while supercharging their own career growth simultaneously. They are ready to lead, to move forward, and to be vocal.”

Each Challenge class, or cohort, is limited to just 8-10 participants, some virtual – generally international – and some in person, limited so far to the Washington, DC area. Samantha usually has one of each going at the same time, and while she has generally done four per year, this year may result in five or six due to increased demand. The Challenge consists of 14 sessions covering everything from “Deconstructing Your Inner Patriarchy” to “Speaking Truth to Power” and “Building Your Own Damn Table.” There is also a bonus session for final presentations. Samantha routinely brings in speakers during the sessions – social entrepreneurs like Rachel Kiddell-Monroe, founder and executive director of See Change Initiative; and Hasina Kharbhih – who’s Impulse NGO was selected as one of the top three models in the world for its innovative development and practice, and has transformed the way Southeast Asia confronts human trafficking; women in Senior Executive Service positions in government like Jennifer Miller, acting Assistant Secretary of the Airforce; heads of DEI like Dr. Naomi Mercer, Senior Vice President, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the American Bankers Association; and entrepreneurs like Tory Graf, CEO of Trillium Creative Solutions.

“I really like to have people across borders. You gain perspective on the lives of women far different than yours, from other countries, industries, races, and religions, increasing your ability to lead diverse teams,” Samantha said. “By taking this course, women join a global community of women leaders who will encourage them, support them, and supercharge their growth.”

The Empower Network

The Challenge does not end for participants once they complete the curriculum, graduates transition to The Empower Network where they can continue networking, connecting in referral circles, a soon-so-be launched women’s leadership mastermind, and even virtual and in-person parties. While women have had the time to bond with others in their own cohort, once they reach The Network, they are also intentionally paired with other members of the Empower community for one-on-one networking meetings based on what they want to achieve in their lives. These meetings expand their world views, foster collaboration opportunities. While the program is still young, Samantha envisions growth and partnerships throughout multiple cohorts happening as a result.

Samantha described the course as intensive with amazing results. She said, “Women are getting salary raises, promotions, winning leadership awards, becoming CEOs, starting their own businesses, shifting policy. I’ve seen so many amazing results from the women who go through this program.”

For example, Samantha is especially proud of one Challenge graduate who is putting together a humanitarian action network to change the humanitarian aid industry to be more human focused and gender equitable. The graduate has put together a task force of women from across the different cohorts who are all in the humanitarian aid space.

“Another woman was doing work with indigenous communities, and I had a feeling about two other women who would be interested so I matched them all at different times,” Samantha added. “Now they are all working together on a sustainable finance initiative for indigenous communities.”

Samantha plans to continue to grow the Challenge, do more with her alumni community, and expand the program further with additional trainers focused on specific geographic regions. She is also in discussion with several corporate clients about bringing the Challenge to their workplace and is working to secure additional fiscal sponsorships so she can continue to offer partial scholarships. If your company would be interested in sponsoring the program and reserving a few spots for female leaders and rising stars, reach out to info@empowerglobal.net for sponsorship options.

Cohorts are forming now. To learn more about The Women’s Leadership Challenge or to register for an upcoming cohort, go to WomensLeadershipChallenge.com.

 

Empowering Women to Reclaim Their Lives

Empowering_WomenDepression, anxiety, performance failures (failure to launch), emotional trauma, domestic violence, or sexual abuse are just a few of the reasons many otherwise bright, empowered women turn to drugs and alcohol. For some, that momentary reach for something to dull the issue at hand can lead to abuse and addiction. The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that 14.5 million people ages 12 and older have an Alcohol Use Disorder, 5.5 million of which are women. The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics finds that 53 million Americans have used illegal drugs or misused prescription drugs within the last year. Drug abuse and misuse of prescription drugs is marginally more prevalent in males (22%) versus 17% of females, yet women make up only 20% of people in drug treatment. Bottom line, abuse and addiction are problems unrelated to age, race, or socioeconomic status. And women are largely going untreated, except at Soledad House.

Soledad House provides women with a safe supportive space where they can heal. Executive Director, Shana Shaterian Penny, M.S., helps women who find themselves at the mercy of their drug and/or alcohol problems by being a role model and motivator to women who were once hopeless, and are creating a life filled with purpose, meaning, and serenity. Shana said, “People who are addicts or alcoholics, they are using substances to escape some type of reality, they are looking to take the edge off – every single day.”

“15 years ago, people were drinking too much – that’s all. Now, they’re drinking too much and they have anxiety, depression, bipolar, suicidal ideations, gambling problems. Today the problem is becoming more and more complex. Everyone is looking to not feel how they’re feeling; they need to escape.” Shana added. “Social media makes it so much worse – we’re just seeing highlight reels, but it absolutely makes women, who are struggling, feel like they’re not good enough, like failures, which is a basic theme for women, that they’re not good enough.”

Helping women reclaim their lives and return to their homes, families, and communities with the knowledge that they are good enough is what the work at Soledad House is all about. A “Recovery Program for Women” specializing in women’s addiction treatment, Shana and her team, some in recovery themselves, offer programs for drug and alcohol addiction in a healing environment with an emphasis on relapse prevention, faith-based rehab programs, and a range of addiction treatment therapies. And with 70 beds spread among nine sober living residences, Soledad House is often the step between rehab and a successful return to life.

“Many people believe that with a 30-day residential program, they’ll be fine. The reality is, you aren’t going to solve the problems that led you here in three or four weeks; you simply can’t address it all,” Shana said. “There is no magic wand, no magic pill, so a big piece is the person has to want this. We will help them build a solid foundation, but it comes down to the person wanting it for herself.”

Shana is familiar with what it means to want to change. She struggled with her own issues when she was younger, as many women have – dabbling, depression, anxiety, codependence, performance “failures” – but today when she looks back, she realizes that it all turned out exactly the way it was supposed to. She entered the field serving first as an executive assistant at a different rehab center before making the move to Soledad House 10 years ago, and she hasn’t looked back. She said, “I truly just love what I do. I love the opportunity to sit down with another woman and let her know that hey, it’s okay, I’ve struggled. I got through it, and this is what my life looks like today. It’s such a gift to share hope with these people who were once hopeless. I was there. The people that work here, they were there too, and I think that a big piece of recovery is sharing and giving back what was so freely given to us.”

“Top 10 List” of behaviors to look out for in yourself or others: 

  1. Neglecting responsibilities with work, school or family.
  2. Spending more time with friends who are drinking or using (to normalize it).
  3. Isolating at home.
  4. Engaging in secretive or suspicious behavior.
  5. Displaying signs of anxiety or depression.
  6. Suddenly losing their sense of purpose or achievement.
  7. Showing changes in personality, attitude, or sudden mood swings or irritability.
  8. Noticing changes in physical appearance, sleep patterns, or moods.
  9. Experiencing financial or legal troubles.
  10. Drinking or using with a significant other frequently.

Soledad House is based in San Diego, yet nearly 75 percent of their clients come to them nationally, with only 25 percent from California. Shana feels Soledad House is blessed to be a destination facility. “A lot of our clients come from small towns or states without a lot of robust treatment options, and for some people leaving town is the best course of action. When you’re here with us, with other women your age, you have a support system. We have people here 90 days on average. The longer people stay in treatment or in a structured environment, the better chance of long-term success.”

Through foundational pieces put in place during a client’s stay and a comprehensive after-care program, Shana and her team work hard to support the women who have turned to them for help and give them the tools they need to build or rebuild their lives. The methods they use are definitely something Shana feels we can all use to support women dealing with addiction issues, and truly anything else. “As women in general, it’s important for us to not lose sight of the issues that women deal with. Women are sensitive; we care; we have so much love. In the workplace, at home, in the community we have to support women; we have to lift them up.”

“Part of the thing I love about my job is that I get to create a workplace that supports women.” Shana said. “Not judging–go the extra step and ask, how can I support you? Compassion and grace. The more work environments like that we can create, the better we will all be.”

If you ever reach a point where you are concerned about your own issues, or those of someone you love, Shana and her team at Soledad House are standing by to help. “Just don’t give up – don’t lose hope – get help yourself if you need it. Call us – we have a plethora of information we can give you, and free resources nationally. If you have questions, we would love to answer.”

For more information go to www.SoledadHouse.com, or call 1-866-314-3222.

Lift Women Up in the New Year!

The_Lift_List

It takes only one woman to support and encourage another woman. Picture the faces of those who helped you along the way. You owe it to them—and to yourself—to do the same. – Dr. Nancy O’Reilly                

At Women Connect4Good, our mission is simple: women (and men) supporting women. Period. When we work together, we ignite our power to create real change. Right now, gender equity does not exist, and as we work towards it, we must be advocates for each other. We must raise our voices to speak up for the women whose voices may otherwise go unheard. We must speak kind words to each other and encourage one another when we can. We must support each other in our homes and offices, acting as advisors, mentors, and friends. One way we can do that is by lifting women up.

Lifting women up doesn’t stop with an idea — since launching in 2020 it has gained so much momentum, it has become a movement.

That’s why we’re excited to announce the 2022 Lift List!  A free checklist with 52 weeks of brand-new, simple actions that will help you step into your power, increase your impact, and build an environment where every person is valued, respected, and equally compensated.

Whether you’re prompted to “educate yourself and others about women’s accomplishments” or “reach out with your time and talent to help another woman” or “support women-owned businesses” the 2022 Lift List outlines the steps we need to take to help another woman rise. The List also spreads the word about the need for women to lift on another up, while reminding us that the first woman we need to lift is ourselves. Once we’ve done that, we can lift others from a stronger, more centered place.

The 2022 Lift List tasks fall under a number of categories including Women in Leadership, Women and the Pay Gap, Supporting Diversity & Inclusion, Supporting the Next Generation, and more. Each category includes a number of ways that we can educate and empower our daughters, ourselves, our friends and colleagues, and the women who currently (and soon will) lead the way. The Lift List also links to a number of fantastic resources, several of Women Connect4Good’s partners and organizations where you can make a difference.

As we regain our footing in these uncertain times, it’s important to remember that small changes add up, and when steps are taken by many women in support of each other, we can create massive ripples of change that lift up the world. Download your list and lift another woman up today—there are a thousand ways to do it. Reach out, listen to a story, share your own story and make a connection. Every single one of us can create change just by showing up.  We can do it together.

 

Women Lead Arkansas Is Empowering Women to Lead

Women Lead Arkansas (WLA) is empowering women and girls to engage in politics, policy, and leadership. The non-partisan 501c3 formed after a group of friends got together to complain about how politicians were trying to restrict women’s access to birth control. They felt like they were losing ground on a basic human right. As they write on their website, “The most infuriating aspect of the politics at the time was that there were no women involved in the discussions. Over and over, we saw tables full of men touting their latest attempts to control women’s bodies.”

They realized that until they took their seats at the table, men would continue to control legislation and restrict women’s rights to make decisions about their health and families. After looking for opportunities in Arkansas for women to learn how to run for office – and finding none that focused on women – Women Lead Arkansas was born.

Although birth control and reproductive freedoms began the conversation, that’s not what their work is about. Instead the organization focuses on women leading policy discussions and decisions about everything that impacts their lives. WLA doesn’t support political agendas; it supports women who are called to lead. It was decided early on that the organization should be non-partisan and inclusive on all levels – socioeconomic, race, gender identity, and experience. As summed up on their website, “To WLA, it’s all about the numbers. The more women we see in public office, the more normal it becomes, and the more likely others will continue to follow this lead.”

WLA started with political campaign training and has partnered with the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University to build on their “Ready to Run” branding and resources. CAWP is nationally recognized as the leading source of scholarly research and current data about women’s political participation in the United States. Its mission is to promote greater knowledge and understanding about the role of women in American politics, enhance women’s influence in public life, and expand the diversity of women in politics and government. Also nonpartisan, CAWP is the go-to organization for unbiased research on women in politics.

WLA has continued to grow, and since their first event has expanded their board to broaden their resources to “support all women and woman-aligned people seeking the tools to become stronger leaders.” One board member who answered the call to serve is Amanda Potter Cole. She feels strongly aligned with the mission and says, “Leadership is seeing that something needs to be done and being willing to use one’s talents to help make it happen.”

Amanda’s work with WLA links back to when she spent six years on staff at the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, and served on the organization’s board for three. There she worked with digital messaging, both on the website and on social media, and used those platforms to streamline their communications materials, and spread the word about what they were doing. That was when she first realized that there wasn’t a directory of women’s organizations anywhere in the state of Arkansas, which she found frustrating and became determined to change. Amanda then became involved with the American Association of University Women – Little Rock Branch – and revisited her idea of a directory but still was not able to bring it fully together.

Fast forward nearly a decade, and Julianne Dunn, WLA Board President, reached out to Amanda wanting to put together a directory for WLA. Amanda welcomed the opportunity and now serves on the WLA Board She is also a member of the organization’s Digital Resource Hub committee, which is allowing her to accomplish her goal of making women’s organizations and resources available to all women in Arkansas in one easily accessible location.

“Our goal is to encourage folks to join us and share their collective knowledge. That is how, together, we can remove barriers,” Amanda said. “Our goal is to say, ‘Here’s these organizations that do grants, training opportunities, here’s research, a list of women business owners.’ We want to take all the bits and pieces and pull them together in one place. The ultimate goal is to help people cut down their research time and give women something exciting to think about and easily access.”

Today, WLA’s Digital Resource Hub is up and running and available to all site visitors, who can choose options to sort by primary purpose, leadership focus, geographical focus, or in its entirety. The Hub also boasts an online tutorial and a portal to submit resources. The Hub allows both Amanda and WLA to achieve their goals and provides a valuable tool to further empower women, and to provide access for all.

To learn more about WLA and access their Digital Resource Hub, or to learn how you can support their efforts, go to www.womenleadarkansas.org.

Diversity Woman Media is Empowering Women to Lead!

Diversity_WomanIf there’s one thing that Dr. Sheila Robinson believes, it’s that every woman is a leader–EVERY woman. We lead in our families, with our children, and in our communities. Women also lead in the workplace, and now more than ever we need to empower them to do just that, and give them the tools and support they need to step up and redefine corporate America. That’s why she chose “Empowered to Lead” as the theme for this year’s national 16th annual Diversity Woman Media Business Leadership Conference.

Sheila founded Diversity Woman Media and currently serves as its publisher and CEO. Diversity Woman is nationally recognized as a leading multi- platform enterprise with program offerings that advance all dimensions of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through publishing two magazines, and producing regular Leadership Development Academy workshops and national conferences, the organization’s businesswomen’s network and membership directory provide a forum for established and aspiring women in leadership roles, including mobility of all women and marginalized professionals. They work to empower women as leaders to help them achieve their career goals through real-world experiences with sage advice, information, and mentorship.

Diversity Woman’s flagship event, the annual Business Leadership Conference, is around the corner (November 4-5), and this year’s theme personifies the organization’s focus. The opening keynote from Tara Jaye Frank – “Making a Way” – will recognize how difficult the past months have been (and still are) for many women in the workplace, and will guide participants through “what leaders of the future must believe, know, and do differently to unleash their own power while unlocking the potential of every ONE.”

Sheila_RobinsonTara’s compelling keynote will kick off two action packed days where attendees will be front and center to experience powerful speakers, a fireside chat with Sheila and Ruchika Tulshyan, panel discussions, peer discussion roundtables, breakout sessions, executive coaching, and the conveyance of the organization’s Mosaic Awards to Subha Barry, CEO of Seramount; Lorraine Hariton, President & CEO of Catalyst; Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor with Morgan Stanley; and our very own Dr. Nancy O’Reilly, Founder and President of Women Connect4Good, Inc.

Once again, Diversity Woman Media’s Business Leadership Conference is attracting women business leaders of all races, cultures and backgrounds from the world’s largest corporations and entrepreneurs from successful women-owned businesses. Following last year’s event, with continued commitment to the safety of community and staff, the event will also be virtual, and promises to deliver the same innovative opportunities for engagement and networking experience with a similar outcome attendees are accustomed to experiencing in-person.

To learn more about the event, and the participating speakers and coaches, or to reserve your spot, go to the Diversity Woman website today!

 

Power Forward and Register

Level Up – The Diversity Women’s Business Leadership Conference

There’s still time to register for the 15th Annual Diversity Women’s Business Leadership Conference, which you can attend virtually October 8-9, 2020. As in years past, this event will attract women business leaders of all races, cultures and backgrounds, and features amazing speakers, exhibitors, content, coaching and a virtual program like no other. Recognized as the premier women’s leadership conference for racial, ethnic and gender diversity, attendees can expect to hear and learn from some of the most influential thought leaders and executives across the nation and the world.

Dr. Nancy will be on hand and will be joined by Trudy Bourgeois, Founder and CEO, Center for Workforce Excellence, during the general session to discuss “supporting one another across differences.” Together they will explore privilege, and how white women have been the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action while Black women have been left behind. Their conversation will reveal the ways we can boldly reach across differences as allies for other women.

This conference is incredible each year, and this year’s virtual event makes attendance easier than ever. Check out last week’s interview with Dr. Sheila Robinson for more information.

Power Forward We've Got the PowerWe look forward to “seeing” you there, and together we’ll Power Forward!

Here’s a recap of last year’s conference:

Since its inception, Diversity Woman Magazine has recognized the importance of leadership development and empowerment for diverse women. Aiming to educate and support diverse and multicultural women leaders and to facilitate their continued growth and success, the organization more than delivered through their annual Business Leadership Conference in November.

Attracting diverse and multicultural business leaders from the world’s largest corporations and entrepreneurs from successful women-owned businesses, the Conference not only served as the perfect place for women to make connections, it also provided plenty of information for women to further their development. Boasting notable speakers and powerhouse panels, attendees were able to gain wisdom and insight from some of the most influential women leaders in the nation.

Take The Lead’s Co-Founder and President Gloria Feldt provided a flash talk on the Conference’s first day. With “Intentional Woman: Be BOLD and Carry OUT!” Gloria told attendees that the real secret to reaching their full leadership potential while helping all women get their fair and equal share of leadership roles starts with “I.” But it’s far from selfish. It is all about embracing the power of your own intention. Of taking those elements of female socialization that have traditionally held women back and turning them into assets, superpowers even.

Level Up – The Diversity Women’s Business Leadership ConferenceAdditional presentations and panels guided attendees on strategies for advancing in business, such as “Bold Moves for a Disruptive World” and “Three Rules for Winning in Corporate America”, and Leadership Coaching helped attendees do everything from navigating a project to developing their personal brand.

The Women Connect4Good Foundation was a diamond level sponsor of this year’s event, and Dr. Nancy was on hand to host the Conference’s Opening Reception and along with Dr. Sheila Robinson, Founder of Diversity Women’s Business Leadership Conference, delivered opening remarks on day two – helping attendees get supercharged for a day of powerful learning and inspiration.

Dr. Nancy recalled the first time she attended the Diversity Women Business Conference, and said it was the most amazing experience she’d ever had. It was the first time she truly understood the words inclusive and sisterhood. In order to deepen that understanding, Dr. Nancy had to look first of all at privilege, and how with privilege comes responsibility.

In her latest book, In This Together, we quote Michael Kimmel who said in a TED Talk, “Privilege is invisible to those who have it.” His point was that we have unconscious biases that prevent us from recognizing our own privilege. In fact, we are privileged if we don’t even see our race or gender when we look in the mirror.

This week’s podcast guest, Trudy Bourgeois, founder of The Center for Workforce Excellence said it best when she told Dr. Nancy, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” She said that if we are to create equality for all women, we have to name our biases and talk about them. Her recent book tells how we can transform our work environments by admitting our biases and engaging in tough, uncomfortable conversations. It’s called EQUALITY: Courageous Conversations about Women, Men, AND Race in the Workplace to Spark a Diversity and Inclusion Breakthrough.

Trudy and Dr. Nancy met a few years ago at the Diversity Women’s Business Leadership Conference, and Trudy point-blank confronted Dr. Nancy with the question, “What’s wrong with you white women?” Trudy’s question had to do with the advantages that white women have had and squandered. Now, Dr. Nancy believes what’s wrong is, “We’re afraid to step outside the lines for fear of retribution ourselves. While we have to be twice as educated and work twice as hard to get half as much as our male counterparts, we realize it is our responsibility to make sure that no woman has to work twice as hard to get half as far as her white sisters.”

Chelsea Handler has said that when it comes to privilege, it’s about taking responsibility, about having those difficult conversations and doing something actionable about it. Dr. Nancy agrees and says we all have to learn how to be better. “We can do that in part when we realize that racial and gender bias impacts every aspect of work, and that includes our own path to leadership and how we lead once we get there. We are our own worst enemies because of the biases we have towards other women, and the biases we have towards ourselves. We’ve got these measurements and comparisons, and we need to recognize them and realize, nobody is winning. We need to learn to recognize that we have biases, and we all have them.”

Dr. Nancy also pointed out the fact that it’s really all about relationships. Women build relationships. We are good at it, and we can use this strength to help ourselves and our companies succeed. Study after study shows that when women hold top positions, an organization does better. She said that in order to build relationships that work for all of us, we need to realize that our differences can be challenges, but they can also be opportunities.

“I think that when we talk about how we are different we begin to understand each other better and better and realize that we’re more alike than different. We all want the same things.” Dr. Nancy said. “We also need to remember, no more US and Them. We truly are in this together and that means ALL of us, all colors, races, and our male allies too.”

Dr. Nancy concluded her opening remarks on the topic of support. After all, when we support each other, anything is possible. “This conference is a perfect example of what happens when we support each other.”

“We need to realize that we are ALL in this together and we’ll get there faster when we work together – side by side—to make the world a better place. I think that’s why we’re here is to have better lives and to make it better for other people.”

Dr. Nancy is already making plans to attend next year’s Diversity Women’s Business Leadership Conference, October 7, 8 and 9, 2020, and urges other women to do the same. Attendees will have the chance to spend time with some major players – real leaders who understand just what it takes for organizations of all sizes to be successful as well as discover great opportunities to learn from and share with one another and create new and rewarding relationships. To learn more about Diversity Women and next year’s conference, go to DiversityWoman.com.

 

It’s Time to Use Your Voice and Vote

US Vote Pins

White women in America, listen up. Do you know that you represent the largest voting bloc in the United States? That means you have both the most influential feminine voice and you are also the most powerful electorate. There is strength in numbers, and you have an opportunity to push the change that we need in our country right now. But despite your strength in numbers, collectively, political activism, even at a micro-level is not your strong suit.

That needs to change because there’s an important election coming up. Women made a difference in 2016 and they can create phenomenal change this time around too. So it’s time to ask yourself: Are your children well-fed, safe and receiving the education they need? Do you have equal pay and the successful path you expected in your career? How are your extended family members doing? Have you been tested yet? Could you be, if you need to be? Do you have representation that understands your struggles and concerns?

It’s time to face facts. Unless you answered absolutely yes to most of these questions and wouldn’t change a thing about your life today, it’s time to accept your responsibility to yourself, your family and your community. You have an opportunity to push the change that we need in our country right now.

Yet even in the midst of an important election season, an alarming number of you admittedly steer clear of conversations about politics with friends, family and strangers – 74% according to Jenna Arnold, author of Raising Our Hands: How White Women Can Stop Avoiding Hard Conversations, Start Accepting Responsibility, and Find Our Place on the New Frontlines. Nearly three-quarters of you get by with a demurring, “I don’t like politics.” Probably few of us do like politics. It doesn’t bring out the best in people. But it does create our system of checks and balances that keeps us living in a free society. And that means we must participate, use our voices to support what we want and vote.

What keeps you silent? Were you taught to avoid discussions about politics and religion? Do you worry that you don’t know enough and might make the wrong choice? Or perhaps, you’ve been shut down in the past when you’ve raised your political opinion, and hate to be criticized and made to feel small for your beliefs.

Certainly today’s divisive political environment fueled by social media is exacerbating the problem. The toxic brew of fake news, uninformed opinions and polarizing content is wearing people down. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of Americans have stopped discussing politics with at least one person in their lives.

Whatever reasons, it remains disturbing that an overwhelming majority of the largest most powerful voting bloc in the country chooses to be silent on issues that impact their lives, their health, their wealth and the well-being of their families, not to mention important issues that support the success of a free society.

Even if you’ve been shy about advocacy, speaking your mind about anything at all for fear of not being liked, the one place you can and should raise your voice is at the ballot box. Your vote is yours and no one else’s. It’s the one place you can speak your mind without criticism and it’s your right and responsibility to use it.

This year has been the ultimate litmus test of the strength of our democracy, the facility of our government, the responsibilities of our leaders and the integrity of our society. By all accounts we are failing. A recent Gallup poll found that across party lines, Americans’ satisfaction with the direction of our country has taken a dramatic nose dive. Overall, satisfaction is down 25% since January, with only 20% of the population feeling that the United States is on the right path.

It’s obvious that we need change. And part of the change we need is more women in elected positions. Women lead best in times of crisis.

Women represent 51% of the U.S. population, yet we make up only:

  • 25% of the U.S. Senate
  • 23% of the U.S. House of Representatives
  • 29% of statewide elected executives
  • 29% of state legislative seats

Yet, more women are running for office now than ever. It’s past time for women to be represented in equal numbers in government. Women leaders back the issues that support our families. The 2020 election is just eight weeks away. It’s time for you to stand with women of color and use your voice and your voting power for the greater good of all women and the issues that are important to us.

If you’re not registered to vote, get registered now. And on November 3, come together with other women, use your voice to vote for the change you want to see in our country at every level of government.

 

 

Celebrate and Exercise Your Right to Vote!

VOTE

So, women 18 to 118, when it is time to vote please do so in your self-interest. It’s what men have been doing for years, which is why the world looks so much like them but don’t forget we are the largest voting body in this country. Let’s make it look more like us. – Michelle Williams

On August 26, 1920, the U.S. Secretary of State certified that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution had been ratified by the required 36 states, and it became law, marking the largest expansion of democracy in the history of our country. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

As we celebrate the passage of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote, it’s hard to believe that our presence at the polls wasn’t possible until one hundred years ago, and for Black women, it wasn’t until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that their right to vote was finally secured. We’re also stepping into another active political season, and women nationwide are deciding who and what to vote for.

Elections impact every aspect of our lives, and it’s important that we all weigh in. While presidential or other national elections – like the current season – usually get a significant voter turnout, state and local elections are typically decided by a much smaller group of voters. In fact, a Portland State University study found that fewer than 15 percent of eligible voters were turning out to vote for mayors, council members, and other local offices. Low turnout means that important local issues are determined by a limited group of voters, meaning every single vote matters even more.

This year we have the opportunity not only to shape the way our communities and our country are run, we have the opportunity to make sure the electorate looks like us – female! We can elect women from local offices, like the school board to the second highest office in the land. This is our chance to vote for women like us who know what it’s like to juggle the demands of a career with the needs of a family, women who know that you deserve equal pay, who value affordable healthcare, childcare and workplace protections, and women who are empowered and who can help you make your voice heard.

But it’s not going to be easy. While the 19th Amendment continues to prohibit states from denying the vote based upon gender, there still will be struggles. National Geographic reports that today is much like it was in 1920. A woman’s access to the polls is determined by where she lives—and that, because of a long history of housing segregation, that often correlates with her race. “A resurgence of voter ID laws, the shuttering of certain polling places, and the purge of voter rolls in some states following a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that rolled back provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have deprived both men and women of color of the right to vote.”

Add the projected difficulty of voting during the pandemic, a record turnout expected November 3, an expected surge in COVID 19 cases, the possibility of further restrictions of polling stations and limitations of vote-by-mail, women will once again struggle to exercise the right to vote. We need to act now, plan ahead and make sure our voter registrations are current, that our polling stations will be open if we want to cast our ballots in person, or that our mail-in options will make our vote count in a timely manner. We need to reach out to our friends and family members and help them do the same. It is time to exercise your rights, choose representation that supports what’s important to you, and make sure that your voice is heard this November.

What Does Your New Normal Look Like?

Woman relaxing on the couchA large portion of the country is reopening, and while that can signal a return to the office – at least part time – for many, it won’t be a return to “normal”. We’re going to be leaving our homes for a very different world. And while some people can’t wait for “things to get back to normal,” the question we need to be asking is, “Was that ’normal’ the best that we could do?”

Prior to the pandemic shutdown we were a society on the go. We were a schedule-driven, multitasking mob with goals, agendas, and very little downtime. We defined ourselves by doing, not by being, and wore our busyness like a badge of honor. We scheduled our kids, ourselves, our weekends, and our holidays. We scheduled it all and we were busy, busy, busy. That busyness came at a cost though, it was making us sick. Dr. Susan Koven, Massachusetts General Hospital, noticed the trend and wrote, “In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.”

However, early this year that busyness stopped – abruptly –and the time of the great reflection began. Why were we so busy? What did that busyness mean? Why did that busyness matter? And most importantly, what’s next? Our dilemma is global and can best be summed up by a piece of graffiti in Hong Kong that proclaims, “We can’t return to normal, because the normal we had was precisely the problem.”

While these past weeks have been traumatizing, in certain ways they’ve been a gift. We have been able to connect with our immediate and extended families; we’re consistently reaching out to neighbors and friends; we’re reengaging with our communities (from a distance), and we’re focusing on the people that make our lives full. We’re more mindful of our time; we’re focusing on self-care; we’re picking up old hobbies; we’re cooking; we’re making art, and while many of us are still working, we’re not traveling, networking, or engaging in the extraneous noise, or busyness of it all. We’ve been able to enjoy the quiet, and in some ways, are reluctant to let it go.

As we start to look at what’s next and define our new normal, we need to take stock of these past few weeks and evaluate what we want to take forward with us. Is it unscheduled weekends or daily walks? Is it a consistent focus on self care? Could it be a regular opportunity to make art? More time with friends? Or watching the sunset? Now – before the busyness sets in – it’s time to pause, take stock, and ask yourself what you really want. We’re all in this together and if we want to collectively benefit from these times, we need to support one another, be clear with our intentions, and define what we truly want our new normal to look like.

 

Girl Up Initiative Uganda is Changing Lives

Black Woman SmilingMany young girls living in the urban slums of Kampala, Uganda, struggle with a lack of educational and economic opportunities. In a culture where a male’s education is prioritized, a disproportionate number of girls do not complete school, are often forced marry early, feel like they don’t matter, and lack the skills needed to contribute to their families, which lowers their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Monica Nyiraguhabwa was one of those young women struggling to complete her education until a chance encounter with Kimberly Wolf, a young American woman passionate about girls’ rights and leadership, changed everything. While their backgrounds and circumstances were different, they both related to the challenges that come with growing up as a girl in today’s world and the power of having someone believe in them.

Together, they dreamed up the idea of Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) after visiting Monica’s community and identifying the need to advance educational and economic opportunities for young women and adolescent girls in these slum areas. They named it “Girl Up” because they wanted the name of the organization to reflect their commitment to lifting girls out of a life of poverty and gender inequality. Just as boys are taught to “man up,” the two wanted girls to be taught to “girl up” and realize their power and strength as girls.

What started out as an idea with $100 seed money has grown into a movement in just eight short years. Each year, the number of girls and young women that GUIU helps increases as the organization grows. This year, Girl Up intends to directly help 15,000 girls and young women and equip them with the skills, knowledge, tools, and provide mentorship and support to develop their self-confidence and voice to thrive as leaders in their schools and communities.

“We aim to contribute to systematic change in the community by ensuring that girls are recognized as active agents of change,” Monica said. “By empowering girls, both individually and collectively, to challenge the patriarchal social order, they become spokespersons for girls’ rights and become drivers of systemic gendered change in the community.”

Girl Up Initiative Uganda is changing livesGirl Up has directly helped over 70,000 girls and young women through various programs since 2012 and encourages the girls and young women to share their learnings and acquired knowledge with others who do not benefit from the programs. The girls are also eager to use the leadership skills and confidence they have gained through the program to mentor other girls. Girl Up estimates that each girl will reach an additional five girls, creating positive ripple effects throughout their schools and communities.

Its mission is to create a gender equal world by equipping girls and young women with the confidence, mentorship, skills, and knowledge to reach their full potential. The organization currently has Coaches (facilitators) who not only train girls, but act as positive role models for at-risk girls. Programs include:

The Adolescent Girls ProgramGirl Up Initiative Uganda is changing lives

GUIU has run the Adolescent Girls Program (AGP) as its flagship program to advance the educational opportunities for adolescent girls aged 9-15 living in urban slum areas in Kampala since 2013. An in-school program, AGP focuses on building adolescent girls’ capacities for individual empowerment and social survival, especially in patriarchal environments that do not value and respect the rights of girls and women. It consists of a cluster of synergistic activities to ensure that girls receive the skills, knowledge, tools, mentorship, and support to develop their self-confidence and voice to thrive as leaders in their schools and communities.

The Big Sister Network

In 2016, GUIU launched The Big Sisters Network, as they recognized that graduates of the AGP needed continued support and opportunities to grow their leadership and influencing capacities. It now ensures that AGP alumni continue to access female- focused education and stay involved and engaged with GUIU and their fellow graduates. In 2019, GUIU realized one of its biggest organizational dreams – the Big Sister Camp – where 210 girls converged for a residential camp full of learning, laughing, and playing. It was a magical four days to honor and further develop the leadership potentials of our Big Sisters. In 2020, they plan to have another Big Sister Camp for 260 promising girl leaders.

Mazuri-trainees-in-their-clothesMazuri Designs Hub

Mazuri Designs Hub was first launched in 2015 in recognition of the limited economic opportunities for out-of-school young women in the communities GUIU works with. Uganda’s  70% youth unemployment rate leaves them financially dependent on men and struggling to support themselves and their families. Therefore, Girl Up launched a social enterprise to offer young women skills training that could provide them with a sustainable income. Today, the Mazuri Designs Hub training program offers a one-year vocational training course in fashion, design, and tailoring that is combined with entrepreneurial and personal skills training for young women, ages 16-35 years. The young women are trained by experienced tailors and given the opportunity to showcase their products at the fashion show graduation at the end of the course.  The project advances economic opportunities for the young women and has had a positive impact on their incomes. In GUIU’s 2019 post-project survey, 67% young women reported that their average weekly income had increased after participating in the program, all due to selling products they sewed.

Ni-yetu-drama-performanceNi-Yetu Youth Program

GUIU has partnered with Plan International Uganda since 2015 to implement the Ni-Yetu Youth Project in all five divisions of Kampala. The aim of the project is to empower young people, ages 13-24 years, with correct knowledge, attitude and skills for reducing gender-based violence and improving their sexual and reproductive health and rights outcomes. The Ni-Yetu Youth Project is a gender transformative project that looks at challenging negative social norms and practices that affect SRHR outcomes amongst young people. It uses youth innovative approaches such as street theatre performances, youth-friendly health camps, peer-to-peer education, music campaigns, and sports outreaches. While the project reaches out to both genders, it benefits young women specifically by changing attitudes towards gender inequality in the communities they live in. Even though girls and women constitute GUIU’s focus group, the organization understands that boys and men must also be engaged in the fight for gender equality given that they are the other half of the equation when it comes to advancing girls’ rights and ending gender-based violence.

Girl-sewing-padAs Girl Up’s programs have grown over the years, their staff has too. “We are proud of the growth of our young, female-led, Ugandan team. Girl Up now employs 20 full time Ugandan staff, 76% of which are female and 85% under the age of 30 years. Providing employment and volunteer opportunities to aspiring and dedicated young Ugandans is an essential part of our mission and the way we work,” Monica said. “These vibrant young people make up the GUIU Dream Team – we dream together, create ideas together, and make change happen together! Each team member brings their own unique skills, talents, and ideas to enable the organization to grow and transform more lives.”

“We have achieved many exciting milestones, and I have been blessed to work in a job I am extremely passionate about. My biggest highlight is seeing the growth and development of our girls as they become powerful and confident young women in my community. Many of them are now in university and secondary school, and stay in touch with me. I love to see how GUIU has impacted their lives in positive ways,” Monica said. “Because I work in the same community that has seen me grow up, they are now seeing me in this position as a woman and a leader. I love going into the community to engage with the adolescent girls and tell them my story to inspire them to re-write their stories so they can achieve their dreams.”

Monica and Kimberly have garnered some international attention for their efforts too and have appeared on NBC’s The Today Show with Michelle Obama in 2018 (see here) and were invited to meet Oprah Winfrey at her home last year. Monica has also had the opportunity to speak up for girls through the Obama Africa Fellowship, Cordes Fellowship, iLEAP Fellowship, and African Visionary Fellowship with the Segal Family Foundation.

People can help Girl Up Initiative Uganda by following and sharing updates through social media platforms (@girlupuganda on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and by subscribing to their newsletter at www.girlupuganda.org. You can also support GUIU’s work to change the lives of young women and girls and donate to their cause at www.girlupuganda.org/donate.

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