Join Me On The Bridge

February 22, 2010

On February 21, 2010 members of the Mary Baldwin University and Staunton, Virginia communities gathered together to celebrate International Women’s Day. What follows is a speech by Mary Baldwin President Pamela Fox.

Celebrating International Women's DayWe gather today to celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. We gather today to celebrate also the 10th anniversary of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.

But truly we gather today to join women all over the world in our united belief that women can build bridges of peace for the future. We gather to send a united voice to the world that the fight to eradicate poverty and attain equality for women is still much needed.

Join me on the bridge now. On March 8 women around the world will do what we do today. Hundreds of gatherings will take placed across the United Kingdom, the United States, countries in Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, site of over 5 million deaths and hundreds of thousands of rapes in conflict spanning more than a decade, the women suffering on a scale never known before will join together. Women from two sides of the war, from both the Congo and Rwanda, will join together on a bridge that connects their two countries to show that they can build the bridges of peace for their future, for our future. They are joining on the bridge to imagine peace.

Join me on the bridge now. Let us imagine peace. Let us act. There is much to be done. We can help do it.

As the Chinese proverb states, “Women hold up half the sky.” But even as we pursue the UN Millennium Goals, we are reminded of Kofi Anon’s statements as Secretary General of the United Nations in 2006:

“It is impossible to realize our goals while discriminating against half the human race. As study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.”

The education of women is the great unfinished global agenda. We know that educating a women educates a family. We do believe that while one woman can change many things, many women can change everything.

Consider that:

  • 70% of the world’s poor are women
  • 75% of the civilians killed in war are women and children
  • Women perform 66% of the world’s work but earn only 10% of the income
  • Women produce 50% of the world’s food but own only 1% of the property

Dr. Fox signs the bannerWe gather here privileged in so many ways. Right now we are illumined by the stained glass mosaic of one of our founders, Mary Julia Baldwin. Her vision and entrepreneurial spirit have guided this great college for 168 years, we have never and will never waiver from our mission to transform women — one woman at a time — the whole woman in mind, body and spirit. Baldwin women lead, risk more, dare more, care more, do more — as confident, compassionate changemakers.

We join the power of this commitment as a college with a cause, a college within this community, partnering together as community linked to global networks.

Three years ago I received a personal letter from former President Bill Clinton to be part of the first Clinton Global Initiative University-CGIU. Sixteen Mary Baldwin students and I traveled to New Orleans to join hundreds of other college and university students and presidents from across the United States. We made commitments — Mary Baldwin committed to help young women at risk around the world — with our first funding initiative going to help rescue young women from human trafficking through an orphanage in Dhamma Moli where Mary Baldwin graduate Robyn Stegman — who is here today, cloistered and committed herself.

Last year at the second annual CGIU in Austin, Texas, four Mary Baldwin women — Robyn was there again — were inspired by the dialogue between President Clinton and Zainab Salbi. Zainab is the founder and CEO of Women for Women International, a grassroots international humanitarian organization helping women survivors of war rebuild their lives, families, and communities. Ms. Salbi grew up in Iraq, and was sent to America for an arranged but ultimately abusive marriage in an attempt to save her from Saddam Hussein’s grasp. Stranded in America by the Gulf War, she escaped the marriage and started her life over. She co-founded, in 1993, at the age of 23, Women for Women International as a response to the trauma endured by women survivors of the Balkan wars.

Since 1993 Women for Women International has empowered more than 243,000 women survivors of war to move towards economic self-sufficiency by providing financial and emotional support, jobs and business skills training, rights and leadership organization. These are women who have never had the luxury to expect anything from life and yet confront each day with strength and determination. These women have truly lost everything — husbands, children, livelihoods — and had their dignity stripped away by atrocities on a scale most cannot even imagine. But through their year-long program with Women for Women International, each woman sponsored at the level of $27 a month — they are transformed.

Take for example Claudine’s story.

Claudine Mukakarisa was just thirteen when she and her sister were captured and held captive in a rape camp during the genocide. She was repeatedly raped and subjected to violence for many years. When her captures noticed she was pregnant they decided to let her go. Claudine became the sole surviving member of her family.

Alone and homeless, she gave birth to the child of one of her rapist. She took refuge with a family member who mistreated her, and when she became pregnant for a second time she was turned out of the house.

Traumatized and with no skills to support her children, Claudine came to the doors of the Women for Women International offices in Rwanda. Claudine was matched with her sponsor, Murvelene in New York. After graduation she took the skills she learned in the program and began making and selling beadwork. With her earnings she can send her children to school and buy the necessities to build a happy and healthy family.

Last May, Karen Sherman, the executive director of global programs for Women for Women International delivered our commencement address. Over the past few months Mary Baldwin University has entered into a strong partnership with Women for Women International, as led by Heather Ward, director of International Programs, and our student organization CGIU: Changemakers for Women.

So this three-way partnership, between Clinton Global Initiative University, Mary Baldwin University, and Women for Women International comes together in a powerful nexus here today. I thank the dedicated group of Mary Baldwin students:
Melissa Fararra, Class of 2010
Rachel Evans, Class of 2010
Jasmine Witmer, Class of 2011
Megan Pitts, Class of 2011
Rebecca Thomson, Class of 2011
Kimberly Parker, Class of 2011
Sarah Ann Barrow, Class of 2012
Christina Ramirez, Class of 2013

I thank the women of the community of Staunton for joining with our students. They have ambitious plans. They want to sponsor five women this year through Women for Women International, and ten in the years following. This three-year commitment is $8,105 for sponsorships alone — this is an ambitious goal. Then we seek to bring a graduate of Women for Women International — a survivor of war — to earn her degree here at Mary Baldwin University. The college will provide a scholarship to make this happen.

Join me on the bridge. Let’s act now. What can we do?

First, take a few moments for self-reflection. Think of a bridge you have stood upon, reflected upon. Envision it. Then think what message you would like to send to those women who are going to meet on the bridge between the Congo and Rwanda on March 8.

Second, shortly we ask you to write your message on the banner in the back. This will become part of the website combining all the bridge celebrations around the world. Write or draw your vision of peace and hope.

Third, please contribute. I will personally commit this check for $270 dollars as a 1:1 match. Let’s achieve it today, raising $540 dollars. Remember its $27 dollars a month to sponsor one woman through Women for Women International. So give $2.70, $27, $270 dollars.

Fourth, please join us at Baja Bean tonight between 5 and 10 p.m. Baja will generously donate 10% of the proceeds to Mary Baldwin’s Changemakers for Women and our sponsorship drive.

Fifth, join us by buying a copy of Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Cary McCallum of Sacred Circle has generously agreed discount the book by 10%, selling it for $27 dollars — our monthly sponsorship amount — and to donate $5 dollars from every book sold to help us sponsor women survivors of war. Buy it. Read it. Share it. Have a book club gathering.

And finally, please watch over the new few weeks as we make available for sale a very special box of Mother’s Day cards. Mary Baldwin University joins with Women for Women International in honoring the true intent of Mother’s Day, an occasion for thanking women around the world for the contributions they make to society. Anna Jarvis, Mary Baldwin University class of 1883, founded Mother’s Day. Proceeds from the sale of this card will help a woman survivor of war rebuild her life, as sponsored by our Mary Baldwin students participating in CGIU.

Join me on the bridge now. As Karen Sherman reminded us in her commencement speech: We are what we do. Not what we think. Not what we want. Not what we dream. Not even what we believe. We are what we do.

Stronger women build stronger nations. We join on the bridge to show that women can build the bridges of peace. We demand greater investment so women can achieve self-sustainability to rebuild their families and their economies. We send a united voice. Together the power of transformation as confident, compassionate changemakers will be the difference. The change can accelerate if you’ll open your heart and join in.

Information about Join Me On The Bridge, Ms. Salbi’s biography, and Claudine’s story are cited from the Women for Women International Website: