Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why Many Girls From Troubled Lands (incl: Indonesia) Don't Want A One-Way Ticket To America

The words of Alina, a young women who is living on the front lines of global climate in Nepal, are stuck in my head. At the end of the trailer for An Inconvenient Youth, a documentary that tells the truth about climate change, Alina says, “I love this place. I love the mountains. I love the rivers. I love my earth.” She isn’t looking for a way out of Nepal – she wants to fix the home she loves.

Alina isn’t alone. Over the past five years, I’ve heard her message echoed by many girls, especially the delegates of the G(irls)20 Summit that brings together girls from each G20 country (plus the European & African Unions, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the MENA region) to design solutions that will economically advance girls around the world. Like Alina, these girls want to stop the brain drain. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to explore, learn and have an impact on the world. What it means is that they aren’t looking for a one-way ticket to America. I asked four G(irls)20 delegates to tell me what needs to be fixed in their countries and why they must be a part of the solution:

Ayendha Kukuh Pangesti, Age 20, Indonesia

When Ayendha went to college, she saw things she didn’t see at home: people who are unemployed, faced with poverty and have limited access to education, information and technology. She asked a sixth-grade village girl what college she wants to attend and the little girl’s response made her sad. The girl told her that she will not go to college because her education will end when she graduates from elementary school, when she (and her friends) will begin working and waiting to get married.

Ayendha says that although Indonesia has a gender equality program, there is a gap between men and women, especially in the rural areas. The biggest gaps are in education, labor force and health. She explains, “These three aspects are like a never-ending loop and stem. But my biggest concern is relations between the labor force and education. Low income impacts education because those families prefer to employ their children rather than educate them. Girls become victims and marry at a young age to survive.” The solution isn’t easy and it’s a repeat of what we’ve been hearing for years: Women and girls need to be educated so they can get jobs and be paid fairly for their work. That’s when girls will begin to dream, their confidence will rise and women will no longer be second-class.

As an educated woman, Ayendha believes that helping other women have the same rights as she does is not an option, but an obligation. “Especially as a delegate representing Indonesia at the G(irls)20 Summit, I have the duty to take an active role to assist the government in its goals to empower Indonesian women,” she says. “This opportunity is also a good tool to socialize and promote awareness of gender equality in the media so this issue is not only a burden on the government, but also the society.”

Ayendha talks about what she’s doing to fix the problem, “Considering that Indonesia is rich in agriculture and almost all regions have an unique agricultural potential, I have a big project named ‘Women Agripreneurship’.” The core of this project is to empower women in agriculture and create value to their local community. One of the Agripreneurship programs she’s working on is called “Talas Day” (talas is a vegetable, also known as taro, that is grown in Southern India and Southeast Asia). Starting in the village of Situgede where they grow and sell taro as low priced raw material, the Agripreneurship program will educate women to cultivate taro into high value products that will help their families, their region and the nation’s economy. Through this program volunteers will provide training, facilitate access to capital and government donors, help market the products and socialize the program so more villages are inspired. “I hope this Women Agripreneurship program can be applied to other areas with their local commodities in agriculture,” says Ayendha. “In this way, step by step, many women in Indonesia can become entrepreneurs and pillars for their families and the country.”

Misato Oi, Age 19, Japan

Born and raised in Kyoto, one of the most historical cities in Japan, and witnessing Japanese traditions die, Misato Oi, wants to revive the importance of the Japanese culture because she believes it will have a ripple effect. Misato says, “Our lives will be more sustainable as Japanese culture is very sustainable with a spirit of reusing things. And it will help the Tokyo Olympics be more successful as cultural promotion should be one of the keys in attracting more tourists.” She adds to that thought, “Our culture has been handed down from generation to generation. In some cases people took great risks to hand down the culture. I feel a strong responsibility to hand down our ancestors’ wisdom to the next generation, with a pride of being Japanese. Another reason is related to my future dream to set up a cultural business that can help protect and promote Japanese traditions.”

But Misato isn’t waiting, she’s taking action now. “As a member of the Kyoto University International Business Studying Society (KUIBSS), I work to protect Japan’s traditional agriculture, specifically the sericulture industry (production of raw silk by raising silkworms),” she says. “KUIBSS supports old men and women who are protecting traditional sericulture in the Fukushima Prefecture, one of the most affected areas from the earthquake that hit Japan in 2011. At one time, Japan was a ‘silk power’ that exported 80% of the world’s supply. Most of the silk was from Fukushima and an area called Oshu (includes Fukushima). The fact that Fukushima supported Japan’s prosperity as the number one silk supplier was a sense of pride for Fukushima, a sense of pride that could be a mental support to Fukushima’s earthquake disaster reconstruction. However, [as a result of the earthquake] Fukushima’s sericulture is endangered.”

After working with farmers to learn the process of sericulture, KUIBSS and Misato started producing 100% Fukushima stems. Then they negotiated a deal with cotton mills to make kimono fabric with Fukushima stems and even created new kimono products that are being sold in a traditional kimono shop. They succeeded in making 100% Fukushima silk kimonos and found a way to sell them. Misato says, “This is how we are making a difference locally at the same time spreading the awareness globally.”

María del Rosario Margarita Liuzzi (Maggie Liuzzi), Age 21, Argentina (Ambassador, 2013 Delegate)

“In Argentina we are tackling many inequality issues by giving transfers of money called ‘social plans’ to many poor people, making this one of the main expenses of the state,” says Maggie. “Those expenses are covered by debt or monetary emissions, principally the latter, which usually lead to high inflation rates. The problem is that those plans, although necessary and helpful in the short-term, do not give the right incentives, as they are given to the unemployed (which often goes against the will to find a job), or women with more than a certain amount of children (which often makes them have more kids in order to receive the plan, as sad as this may sound) and create a strong dependence, among other consequences.”

Maggie believes that microcredit could be an extremely impactful tool if correctly implemented: “It consists of small credits, mainly with productive and entrepreneurial purposes. These allow households to start their own small business, often related to clothing, food and services which otherwise would be unachievable because of a lack of credit access from banks, as they do not have enough traditional warranties or savings to offer. Without them, the only viable alternative is to approach a local informal lender, who often charges ridiculous interest rates and sometimes provokes abusive pressuring situations in the communities.”

Maggie will graduate as an economist this year and is writing her thesis on microcredit. She knows that social problems require solutions beyond money: “This year I participated in microcredit programs from different organizations in Buenos Aires, such as “TECHO,” as a credit assessor. Women play an essential role in the field, as they shape the vast majority of microcredit recipients and have an increasing responsibility towards the household economy. However, I think there is still a lot of improvement to struggle for in terms of sustainability of the microfinance organizations and of the businesses started by the micro-entrepreneurs. We must put more effort in helping them throughout the formalization processes, which is the only way for them to start thinking about it as a future asset and not only as a current source of income. The role of the organizations is not only to give a credit but also to provide entrepreneurial training.”

Maggie is very interested in information and communication technologies and is considering doing a Master’s in that area. She says, “It would be a totally new world for me, but it thrills me how impactful it can get in various spheres of life. For now, the link between IT and development has not been sufficiently explored and the idea of doing it myself captivates me.”

Fernanda Gabrielle Lagoeiro, Age 20, Brazil

Fernanda lives in Campinas, a countryside city in São Paulo, Brazil. She is studying Journalism at PUC-Campinas University and her goal is to become an international correspondent.

“Brazil’s main problems are education, health, violence, unemployment, corruption and poverty,” says Fernanda. “But I believe that education is the highest deficit we have because it can turn everything on a cycle. We need to create a “new model” of mentality, entrepreneurship, management, education, health and politics. A model that includes corporate social responsibility, a model that helps people understand that we live in an ordinary world and social problems are unfortunately a part of our lives, and we are responsible for changing them.”

That model begins with formal and informal education. Fernanda adds, “Non-formal education includes a variety of educational programs and activities outside the classrooms. It promotes, amongst others, the concept of lifelong learning and provides wide access to information. It can also empower vulnerable groups, specially in cases where access to the formal education system is limited.”

It’s a problem that Fernanda says needs to be attacked locally and globally. She says, “If you want to change the world, start by cleaning your bedroom.” And she’s starting with what she loves, writing combined with the power of social media: “Social networks can help me share information and improve education and health through the power of writing, mixing my hability with my wish to solve a big problem.” She’ll start with a blog that focuses on education and health.

Going back to her own bedroom, Fernanda is a Lupus carrier (auto immune disease) and she wants to help others. She says, “I have been working on a project, seeking partnerships to create an online platform to support Lupus carriers, who are mostly young women, in order to work on their self-respect, knowledge about the disease and treatment options, and to help them conquer their fears and lead a normal life. I also intend for it to become a book in the future.”

And she’s counting on youth to help change Brazil because she believes her generation has the power to push the government to make better decisions. She uses the word “awake.” But first youth must be educated and put their knowledge into practice. She says, “The future I want is one in which all people have the opportunity of high equality education and health, and understand the importance of inalienable human rights. I want people to be engaged on putting in practice what they learned, and to be able to ask and search about what was once ignored. That’s an action that would make Brazil grownup in a developed way… I believe we can make significant changes with simple words or actions.”

About the G(irls)20 Summit: “The 2014 goal is to see action from G20 leaders that backs up their verbal commitment to engaging women in the economy,” says Farah Mohamed, President & CEO G(irls)20. With a focus on entrepreneurship, youth unemployment, agriculture and technology, the summit will be held in Australia on August 25-26.

Forbes by Denise Restauri

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