“To me, Akilah means family. It’s a place where you can find yourself, discover your potential, a place where you can know your responsibilities and discover how to be responsible in your future.” -Irene Ingabire, Akilah Student
This personal account is one of many shared by the young women whose lives have forever changed as a result of the Akilah Institute located in Kigali, Rwanda. The Akilah Institute for Women was founded in 2009 with the vision to help young women in East Africa transform their lives by giving them the skills, knowledge, and confidence to become leaders and entrepreneurs.
In an event held at the Harvard Kennedy School on Wednesday, November 2nd hosted by the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations and the Women’s Forum@the United Nations Association of Greater Boston, guests had the opportunity to hear from Elizabeth Dearborn Davis, Akilah’s Co-founder and CEO, and also current students Noella Abijuru and Allen Kazarwa who are touring the United States on a Metropolitan Safari for the first time to meet supporters and share their life-changing experiences at Akilah.
Dearborn Davis, inspired by the resilience of the Rwandan people after the devastating 1994 genocide, decided after finishing her education in the United States that she wanted to move to Rwanda and be a part of the reconciliation. On this journey, she found herself working to build a new model of education for young women. During Wednesday’s event she spoke about her passion to help women find meaningful career paths to lift themselves and their families from poverty. Her testimony was a powerful reminder that a moment of inspiration and selfless dedication can lead to life-changing results.
The Akilah Institute offers women a unique learning environment that fosters innovation and confidence. Currently Akilah offers a 2-year diploma in Hospitality Management and hopes to begin offering a Business Management and Entrepreneurship (BME) in 2012. At Akilah students develop their English language proficiency and gain the confidence to speak in front of others. Students learn how to become leaders in Rwanda’s booming hospitality industry while also developing their own individual strengths. Students express that Akilah is especially rare because it is not just a school, it is a family.
The Akilah students grew up as survivors, many without the guidance of elders or mentors. Today, in addition to attending school, many are also the providers for their households. These women have forged their own paths and overcome tremendous obstacles. Guests witnessed firsthand the influence Akilah has had when current students Noella and Allen captivated the room with their confidence and optimism for the future. They each briefly spoke of the struggles they have experienced but quickly changed the focus to the future and their responsibility to reclaim their country. They emphasized that Akilah has transformed their lives by empowering them with the ability to find meaningful employment, serve as leaders in their communities, and instill a powerful sense of pride.
The work that Akilah is doing directly addresses UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) #2 which aim to provide universal education opportunities, regardless of gender, and and #3, which focuses on gender equality and empowerment. Although the UN has stated in a new report that Africa’s overall progress toward achieving the internationally agreed targets to eradicate extreme poverty and accelerate social development has been slow and insufficient to meet the 2015 deadline. According to the report, the continent’s efforts to achieve the MDGs have been mixed and characterized by substantial variations in access to basic social services across sub-regions and countries. Yet, while overall progress is slow, programs like Akilah show us that results are possible and are what give us hope for scalable, sustainable change.
As Dearborn Davis spoke, she became especially excited as she shared her goals for the future of Akilah which include moving to a new campus, largely increasing the incoming classes of women, growing their social enterprise and earned income initiatives, closing the gender gap of entrepreneurs in Rwanda, and also plans to replicate the model of Akilah to reach more of Rwanda and other African countries.
It is safe to say that this event was inspiring to all who were able to attend and hear the testimonies of these courageous women. UNA-GB’s Women’s Forum would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the team at the Hauser Center for their partnership and especially to the women of Akilah who took the time to share their stories with us.
If you would like to donate to the Akilah Institute or learn about other ways you can support thier mission please do so! Remember each one of us has the ability to make a big change! I also encourage you to learn more about the Women’s Forum at UNA-GB and ways to get involved here.
-Katie Miles, UNA-GB Women’s Forum
Tuesday marked the Centennial Anniversary of International Women’s Day, a celebration of the economic, political and social achievements of women past and present that is observed around the world. This year is also notable for being the first International Women’s Day for UN Women, created by the UN General Assembly on July 2010 and formally launched just last month. The theme this year is “Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All”. Last week, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon highlighted the imperative need for the inclusion of women to achieve greater strides in meeting the Millenium Development Goals.
“Gender equality and women’s empowerment are fundamental to the global mission of the United Nations to achieve equal rights and dignity for all… But equality for women and girls is also an economic and social imperative. Until women and girls are liberated from poverty and injustice, all our goals — peace, security, sustainable development — stand in jeopardy.” – Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
The call to make equality a reality that was present in Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s Message was also present in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s, where she called for more ways to include women in the international dialogue and provide access for all women to live with access to education and free from violence.
At the 1995 Beijing Conference, Clinton famously asserted that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” This was further seen at Tuesday’s 14th Annual International Women’s Day Breakfast hosted by Simmons Institute for Leadership and Change, and co-sponsored by the United Nations Association of Greater Boston, with the theme “Unequal Treatment Under the Law: Women in the Criminal Justice System” which drew over 200 attendees from throughout the Boston area.
Karen Holmes Ward moderated the event and introduced panelists, Ph.D. Erika Kates, Representative Kay Khan, Sheriff Andrea J. Cabral, and Girl Scouts Beyond Bars past program participant and current manager Dawn Coleman. Each of the panelists offered a unique perspective as they educated the audience on the challenges women face due to current laws and policy. The statistics were shocking and reinforced the statements made by many attendees that this breakfast was addressing an invisible issue within our national community. The moving personal account of Coleman’s own oppression within the justice system made both the extremity of the inequality and the timeliness of the issues clear to audience members. To close, Sheriff Cabral recognized many of the programs designed to give women agency and voice in this arena while also emphasizing the importance of us all in bringing to action the work that still needs to be done.
With March also being Women’s History Month, there are events being held throughout the month that focus on education and advocacy surrounding women’s issues. Check out this month’s events!
Tuesday March 8th
International Women’s Day Celebration
Hosted by: Women’s Information Network
Time: All Day
Location: Back Bay Sheraton
NERD International Women’s Day Mixer
Hosted by: New England Research and Development Center
Time: 6-8 pm
Location: Microsoft New England R&D Center, One Memorial Drive, Cambridge MA.
Ladies Who Launch Networking Mixer
Hosted by: Ladies Who Launch
Time: 5:30 PM
Location: Top of the Hub
Saturday March 12th
Run for Congo Women
Hosted by: Women for Women International
Time: 10 am
Location: Boston’s Esplanade
Monday, March 14th
International Women’s Day Film Screening, Reception, and Panel
Hosted by: UNA-GB and My Sister’s Keeper
Time: Reception at 6:00 pm, Film Screening at 6:30 pm.
Location: Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc 10 Winter Place. Boston, MA 02108
COST: $10 Member/Student | $15 Non-member
Friday, March 18th
V-Day Boston 2011: Spotlight on Violence Against Women and Girls of Haiti
Hosted by: UNA-GB and Suffolk University’s Center for Women’s Health & Human Rights
Time: 6:00 PM- 8:00 PM
Location: Suffolk University, 73 Tremont St, Boston, MA
Tuesday, March 22nd
The Challenges of Practicing Law in Sharia Courts in Nigeria
Hosted by: UNA- GB’s Women’s Forum
Time: 4:00 PM- 6:00 PM
Location: Suffolk Law School, 120 Tremont St, Boston
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East
Time: Reception at 6:30 PM | Talk at 7:00 PM
Location: 6 Hilliard Pl. Cambridge, MA 02138
Cost: $15 Member Ticket | $20 Non-member Ticket
RSVP NOW – Limited Space Available!
Celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day either by coming to one of the events in the area or by learning more about your local and national policies and taking action within your community to ensure women’s voices are heard!
-Alex Teague & Katie Miles.
UPDATE: See coverage on White Ribbon Day in the Boston Globe here.
“From this day forward, I promise to be part of the solution in ending violence against women.” Massachusetts White Ribbon Day Pledge
The energy was lively this morning at the Massachusetts State House where local men, women and youth arrived to celebrate and pledge their support for ending violence against women in the fourth annualMA White Ribbon Day.
MA White Ribbon Day, a statewide campaign sponsored by Jane Doe Inc., is connected with the international White Ribbon Campaign. The mission of these campaigns is to encourage men everywhere to show their support by encouraging others in their organizations, families and workplaces to wear a white ribbon, place a poster up at their workplaces, spread the word about the campaigns and its aims, organize local events to speak out against violence towards women, and challenge attitudes and behaviors which condone or tolerate violence. Since launching the campaign in Massachusetts in 2008, Jane Doe Inc. has recruited over 400 White Ribbon Day Ambassadors and tens of thousands of men and boys have signed the pledge.
Today’s event was guided by a group of inspirational powerhouse speakers including: JDI Executive Director Mary R. Lauby, Lt. Governor Timothy P. Murray, Governor Deval Patrick, Congressman Bill Delahunt, MAPS Paulo Pinto, Michael Weekes, Student Support Specialist Andy Polanco, Start Strong Peer Leader Anderson Teneus, Dr. Phil, and Craig Norberg-Bohm. Each individual brought their own message but all stressed the theme of the importance of men’s responsibility as role models and voices for change and women’s responsibility to tell men and boys in their lives about the campaign and ask them to become an ambassador.
Today Craig Norberg-Bohm, Coordinator of the Men’s Initiative for JDI, stated, “This campaign is not only about preventing individual acts of violence but also fostering a broader framework that promotes healthy relationships and promotes positive masculinity”.
It is important to note that the WRC campaign is not about individual acts of violence but rather a broader framework that confronts unhealthy behaviors and promotes positive masculinity. It’s about creating and fostering a deep mutual accountability among men to one another and to women, to uphold their commitments as fathers, partners, friends, colleagues, brothers and sons of women and girls, to broaden definitions of masculinity that includes men and boys who support, nurture and foster authentic and respectful relationships.
It’s also important to reminder the global impact of violence against women. As former Representative Delahunt so eloquently put it, this is a problem not just here in Massachusetts, but in the far reaches of the globe – in Afghanistan, in China, in Brazil. We must continue to protect all women – the launch of the newly formed UN Women is a great step in particular, and we hope that men are actively involved in that organization and its mission. The same goes for passing I-VAWA – the International Violence Against Women Act.
The morning’s celebration closed with dozens of voices bridging gaps of age, gender, race and class to pledge their support and dedication to ending violence. It was a moving and unifying conclusion to an empowering event. Following the close of the program attendees bundled up to witness the revealing of the White Ribbon Day banner that will hang in the front of the State House for the next week to remind us all of the importance of this movement.
Remember White Ribbon Day extends far beyond the ceremony today. Now is the time for you to take action and do your part! Join us and take the pledge today and add your name to the growing number of men and women in Massachusetts who have joined the campaign!