I was with two colleagues recently, and we were talking about creating an initiative to give women and girls in the US access to financial literacy training and best interest savings accounts, and the possibility of partnering with the Girl Scouts on this project. With their good deeds everywhere, and their wholesome Girl Scout cookies, they seemed like a safe bet. Immediately both women started launching into the Girl Scout Promise, holding up the three middle fingers of the right hand to form the Girl Scout sign:
On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law
Then one of them recited the Girl Scout law:
I will do my best to be
Honest and Fair,
Friendly and Helpful,
Considerate and Caring,
Courageous and Strong, and
Responsible for what I say and do,
respect myself and others,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout
The two women were aghast when I confessed that I’d only lasted a day in Girl Guides, as it’s called in Australia. I had been a Brownie and then I suddenly decided I’d rather devote my time to St John Ambulance and be trained to deal with emergencies. Curiously, my first task there wasn’t to learn bandaging, it was to write a ten-page essay on the Order of Knights Templar.
Seeing how quickly these women both resorted to their Scout positions, I could imagine a whole room of former Girl Scouts standing to attention to declare the Girl Scout sign and recite the credo, with a backdrop of images of them each as girls, in their new Girl Scout uniforms with all the hope and promise ahead of them.
Now it was a time to give hope to those young women who didn’t feel that same sense of promise and optimism and to give them the tools, skills and support they needed to help secure a decent education, job and access to health care. Just as my organization was doing for women and girls – and men and boys – in developing countries.
Of course issues of self-esteem continue to be important for young women in countries like the US and Australia as well as for young women in developing countries. I’m due to go to my first training this week for an I-mentor program that another woman introduced me to in the hope that I may be able to help a young person who needs support and guidance to navigate school and get into a decent college.
At the Women In The World Forum last week I met many young women, and one young woman in particular, called Lily, asked me for guidance on what she could do to gain more experience in movement building and citizen led change. “Go to AWID, the Association of Women in Development triennial global gathering,” I said. “Immerse yourself in the movement building there, where the global south is strongly represented and where you’ll find yourself in the company of such a rich diversity of individuals and organizations.”
“How can I fundraise to get there?” Lily asked. “I come from a very disadvantaged part of Mississippi where many of the girls and young women I interview don’t even have a sense of possibility beyond their current lives which are so limited.” She later sent me a YouTube of her interviewing some of these girls and young women.
What a natural interviewer, of grace and intelligence and keen listening skills, I thought. “Call yourself Lily at Large and get individuals and foundations to contribute to your costs in return for your providing reportage on what you’ve experienced,” I emailed. And so she is and I hope she gets there.
In Australia two of my gorgeous young friends are busy making their own short films with immense creativity and inventiveness. “I want to create a new entity called ‘Girls Make Movies’ so that they can reach out to other young women across the globe,” I said to my brilliant, web-adept friend. “I’ll register it for you,” he said. And now I dream of getting Geena Davis with her organization, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, to support such an initiative.
A few nights later I had dinner with a friend who is a creative director and genie for a new crowd- sourcing platform to attract investments in projects that benefit women and girls – to be launched in New York in September this year. When I saw the test site I could see its democratizing potential to engage a new generation in giving funds and being involved in tracking and contributing to projects.
When I turn 180 degrees to a new generation of girls and young women I feel great optimism for what they might achieve. When I think of the work of organizations like World Pulse in giving women and girls everywhere the chance to upload their own videos, I’m reminded of what enormous power we have to help usher in a different kind of world, a kinder kind of world.
When I turn 180 degrees the other way, I see women who have been role models in my life, either directly or through their global, national or local leadership. “Did you hear the news, Jane?” my Dad asked me. “Margaret Whitlam died.” And so another great woman has passed from this life. What an immense force for good she was. What a deeply loving relationship she had with her husband, former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam. She also exercised her own form of feminism and encouraged women to be active in communities and in public life.
I remember when I was General Manager of the Sydney Olympic Media Centre, Margaret Whitlam came to the centre with Aboriginal leader and elder, Lowitja O’Donoghue, to ensure that she received the respect and recognition she deserved from the world’s media for her extraordinary leadership in regard to reconciliation. At that time Lowitja O’Donoghue was co-patron of the Journey of healing for the Stolen Generation, and 250,000 people had joined the People’s Walk for Reconciliation Across Sydney Harbour Bridge.
I watched Lowitja O’Donoghue rise up and address the media throng. She was majestic, strong and courageous, and Margaret Whitlam stood nearby watching as a young Aboriginal girl did her own graceful dreaming dance in the wings.
We can change anything. We can make a just and peaceful world. History has shown that a genuine people’s movement can move more than governments. It can move mountains.
Faith Bandler, Australian civil rights activist of south sea heritage and who, along with Margaret Whitlam, was declared one of Australia’s National Living Treasures