Restarting the global conversation about women

Sixty-two million girls across the globe are not attending school today. Sixty-two million dreams will never be realized. Those who advocate for access to schooling do so at a significant risk to themselves and their families. It’s not just about education, but values, attitudes and beliefs.

Last weekend the movie ‘Suffragette’ was released in theaters in the U.S. It’s a fictionalized story of the fight for women’s right to vote in Great Britain in the years between 1911 and 1913.

In a ‘CBS This Morning’ interview, actress Carey Mulligan discussed her role and how little she knew of the historical facts, prior to filming, with co-anchor Nora O’Donnell.

“I knew a sort of really basic school version which is a little paragraph in our history book saying, you know, ‘Women got the vote eventually,”‘ Mulligan said, laughing. “Somehow. It was a couple of lines and, you know, lots of images of women with flowers looking very peaceful.”

“I left school and I voted because my parents voted. But I didn’t really understand the weight of what I had with my vote,” she said.

This past Tuesday was election day and I was tempted to opt out, thinking there were no major initiatives on the ballot. But then I remembered the Carey Mulligan interview and the history of women who sacrificed so much so that I could have the opportunity to vote.

Along with suffrage, women have a right to education. The absence of one or both, excludes women from the global conversation.

On Wednesday First Lady Michele Obama addressed the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha, Qatar and introduced her initiative, ‘Let Girls Learn’.

“If we truly want to get girls into our classrooms, then we need to have an honest conversation about how we view and treat women in our societies,” she told an international education conference. “And this conversation needs to happen in every country on this planet, including my own.”

“I don’t think it’s an accident” that girls who want to attend secondary school are threatened. When girls are young, she said, “they are often seen simply as children. But when they hit adolescence and they start to develop into women and are suddenly subject to all of their society’s biases around gender, that is precisely when they start to fall behind in their education.”

“It’s about whether parents think their daughters are as worthy of an education as their sons. It’s about whether our societies cling to outdated laws and traditions that oppress and exclude women, or whether their views of women are as full citizens entitled to equal rights.”

I live in a country that failed to pass an equal rights amendment for women in the seventies. The amendment was written in 1923 by Alice Paul, a suffragist leader, after U.S. women won the right to vote in 1920.

“The ERA was introduced into every Congress between 1923 and 1972, when it was passed and sent to the states for ratification. The original seven-year time limit in the ERA’s proposing clause was extended by Congress to June 30, 1982, but at that deadline, the ERA had been ratified by 35 states, three states short of the 38 required to put it into the Constitution.”

It’s time to restart the global conversation about women. Let’s begin at home and honor the suffragettes of the early 20th century, and the global heroines of the 21st.

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