In November of 2009, I had that wake up call, that smack down, that bubble over with anger I must do something moment of my life! I watched Oprah interview Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about the book they had recently authored – Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. I was so intrigued by their stories that I immediately bought the book and read it non-stop until I reached the end. It was frightening, frustrating, and inspirational all at the same time. Frightening and frustrating to learn how women are – still today – subjected to brutal violence and oppression across the globe. And inspirational because of what this couple went through to expose the true stories and give voice to those that would otherwise be silenced—just because of their gender.
These harsh realities are so alarming, yet at the same time seem so distant from my everyday experiences as a girl and my everyday experiences now. So I almost reverted to the common excuses: “The problem is so big, how could I possibly make a difference?” Or, “It’s the culture, I cannot change the culture.” Fortunately, my anger at the atrocities inflicted upon girls and women around the world bubbled over into an intense desire to make a difference.
Reading Half the Sky lit a fire in me. And all the data around the global issues affecting women indicate that it’s not hopeless, and that education is a big part of the answer.
educated women earn 25 percent more income and when women earn an income, they reinvest 90% into their families, breaking the poverty cycle
educated women are less likely to become victims of human trafficking
educated women are three times less likely to contract HIV
educated women have children who are 40% more likely to live past the age of 5
Education is a fundamental human right and is vital to overcoming poverty and inequality globally.
Educating a girl is one of the highest return investments available in the developing world, yet there are 66 million girls out of school. And what stunned me most of all, was that according to a study from Harvard and the Asian Development Bank, not even 7% percent of the world’s population are college degree-holders. That was the straw… because I am a college educated woman.
I was inspired to act because I am an educated woman and because I believe educating girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. I also believe schooling can be an impetus for girls to stand up against injustice. And, as a woman committed to empowering women, how could I sit by when so much human potential was being wasted? As well, I knew just the community of educated women that would help.
For more than 25 years I have worked and volunteered around a very large community of college-educated women – women who are powerful with strong conviction and compassionate hearts. I’m talking sorority women. This was the place to start. In my eagerness to make a difference, I reached out to the sorority women I know – across affiliation, umbrella group, creed and color. I personally asked them to stand with me in a humanitarian effort to help diminish the oppression of women worldwide. They did and the Circle of Sisterhood was born.
The Circle of Sisterhood Foundation achieved its 501c3 U.S. charity status in September of 2010, with the mission to “leverage the collective influence of sorority women to raise financial resources for entities around the world that are removing educational barriers for girls and women facing poverty and oppression.”
The whirlwind of excitement and momentum is breathtaking. In less than three years, more than 160 campus sorority communities and over 650 individual donors are engaged in creating awareness and raising money to remove barriers to education for girls around the world. To date, we’ve had an impact in 12 countries and will be funding a school build in Africa in July.
Clearly, the impact in three short years demonstrates the power of the sorority community, and educated women, to stand up against injustice – together. Sorority women – both alumnae and undergraduate – are having a significant impact on the movement to educate girls around the world.
If education is the answer that will start a chain reaction to end gendercide, sex slavery, oppression, sex selective abortion, and intense brutality against women, then there is much we should do as educated women. We have the wherewithal and the numbers to have a significant impact for generations to come.
Ginny Carroll is the Founder and Chair of the Circle of Sisterhood Foundation and CEO of inGINuity. Connect with Ginny via Twitter: @gc_inginuity.