Sunday, February 24, 2013

Vital Voices

If you’re concerned about global poverty and war, about the situation of girls and women around the world, the book Vital Voices: The Power of Women Leading Change Around the World is for you.  Vital Voices is an NGO which with partners worldwide supports the work of 12,000 women leaders in 144 countries.  It began as a government initiative in the Clinton Administration after the 1995 Beijing United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women.  The book’s author, Alyse Nelson, based here in DC, is co-founder, president, and CEO of the Vital Voices Global Partnership.  Hillary Clinton, who at the Beijing conference proclaimed that “women’s rights are human rights,” wrote the book’s foreword.

There are profiles of women whose names you have likely not heard before, but whose stories you will not forget, like Carmelita Gopez Nuqui, who for decades has fought human trafficking of Filipino women to Japan, and Panmela Castro, who uses her street art to advocate against domestic violence in Brazil. 

There are profiles of women like the three who who won the Nobel Peace Prize for their “nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace building work.” Leymah Gbowee won for her work to bring peace and democracy to Liberia, including fighting the use of rape as what she called a “toy of war.”   Sharing the prize was Tawakkul Karman, who led a revolution in Yemen against a repressive regime. The book quotes the third winner, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose acceptance remarks capture the spirit of this important book: “Be not afraid to denounce injustice, though you may be outnumbered.  Be not afraid to seek peace, even if your voice may be small…My sisters, my daughters, my friends---find your voices.” 

I can’t write about women around the world as forces for change without also putting in another plug for one of the most powerful books of our time, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which is a must-read. Don’t miss the subsequent four-hour TV series Half the Sky, which debuted last year and has been rerunning locally in the DC market on PBS this month (also on DVD). 

Check out these two important global movements and find out how you can get involved:

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Honoring Alice

Happy Birthday, Alice Walker!

Did you know there's a documentary coming out about the inimitable poet, author, civil rights activist, and feminist?  Alice Walker: Beauty In Truth, a film by Pratibha Parmar, premieres in London March 10.  

                          (photo courtesy of Kali Films Ltd.)

Walker was the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction,for her novel The Color Purple, but she did not spring unformed as a writer into the public eye in 1982 with that book (or the movie made of it several years later).  I have loved Alice Walker’s poetry and prose since I was a high school student reading Ms. magazine and she was an editor there. (She contributed to more than 30 issues and appeared on the magazine’s cover).  Among her wonderful books: You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down (stories), The Temple of My Familiar, We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, and Possessing the Secret of Joy.  Often Walker’s writing tackles subjects hard to read about, but her unflinching eye and eloquent pen make the challenge worthwhile, because as the documentary title implies, her writing and her life embody beauty in truth.

Because for me the best of Alice Walker is her individual poems, articles, essays, and speeches, an early collection of them is my favorite of her books: In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose.  The title references an article I still remember vividly reading, "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: The Creativity of Black Women in the South" in a 1974 issue of Ms. The writer speaks of the black women who came before her, and of her mother and the “legacy of respect she leaves to me, for all that illuminates and cherishes life. She had handed down respect for the possibilities - and the will to grasp them.”

                          (photo by Scott Campbell)

Today’s Gem of Grace in the Gray Areas:

Look closely at the present you are constructing:
it should look like the future you are dreaming.

                                    (Alice Walker)