LOCAL SPIN: Band of Angels
Women gather in Monterey to champion each other.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
The victims came to Ashley Nemiro in a flood of pain, some of their wounds visible, and many others not.
Nemiro, a Denver-based doctoral student, was running a women’s empowerment program called “We Made This,” working with Congolese refugees who had fled their beautiful but tortured war-torn country. In 2012, Nemiro decided to take that empowerment directly to women in the Congo.
On her first day at an Internally Displaced Persons camp in Bukavu, Nemiro spoke with 19 women who had been raped; one United Nations Special Representative calls the Congo “the rape capital of the world.” An estimated 48 women are raped there every hour; as filmmaker Fiona Lloyd Davies describes it in an essay for CNN.com, Congolese women have two choices: stay in their homes and starve and watch their children starve, or go to the fields in search of food and get raped in the process.
Rape has become their norm, their reality. And then after the rape, the women become objects of ridicule and scorn in their villages and by their own families.
The Congo “is a hard place to live, but with that said, it is a beautiful place, full of life and beauty in an extremely raw way,” Nemiro writes via email. “I quickly fell in love with the people and the Congolese culture.”
Nemiro says she knew she would dedicate her life to fighting for these voiceless women.
WE HAVE SUCH POWER FOR A MORE GENDER-BALANCED WORLD.”
“After listening to many stories, each time I am shocked by the level of violence that is inflicted on these women and young girls and the human rights abuses that occur each day,” she writes. “Many of the stories are filled with unthinkable violence and heartache… by improving women’s rights in general, some of the sexual violence can be prevented.”
While in the Congo, Nemiro co-launched the nonprofit MamAfrica to teach women skills that could earn them enough money to send their children to school and hopefully end the cycle of violence. (If you want to see just one example of their work, go visit Chef Tony Baker at Montrio Bistro – he’s recently been sporting an apron made by MamAfrica.) The women of MamAfrica earn upwards of $10 a day, enough to pay for schooling for their children, and maybe a little bit of peace in their own lives.
Nemiro is just one of several high-profile activists who will converge in Monterey next week for an event called “Hands of Hope.” The event, part social hour, part speeches and part global-goods marketplace, is to benefit Rising International. The organization, launched in 2003 by activist Carmel Jud, bills itself as the only nonprofit to target the direct sales marketplace; or, as described in a 2012 Weekly story, a kind of Tupperware party with a purpose – helping women artisans in developing countries by purchasing their hand-crafted goods.
Also speaking at the event is Jacki Zehner, who had risen to the highest ranks of the ultimate boys club, becoming the first woman trader and the youngest woman to make partner at Goldman Sachs. Now she heads the nonprofit Women Moving Millions, a networking organization for individuals (women and “a few good men,” she says) who have given at least $1 million to causes that promote the advancement of women and girls.
Zehner, a TEDWomen speaker, also urges women (and men) to just say no to all-male corporate boards, advocating that balanced boards make better companies. She sits on the boards of organizations such as The Sundance Institute and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.
“Money doesn’t make you smart, it makes you lucky,” Zehner says. “We’re becoming such a class-driven society and I think we’re meant to be here to serve and help others.”
One key way to do that is by using the power of the purse (or wallet) in deciding what to buy and who to buy it from, she says.
“We have such power in our pocketbooks and that power is multi-faceted,” Zehner says. “We can use our financial power to be in alignment for a more gender-balanced world.”
If, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it, “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” is it possible there’s a special place in heaven for women who do nothing but?
It might be easier to figure that out after hearing Zehner and Nemiro speak on March 19.
Mary Duan is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her at twitter. com/maryrduan.
HANDS OF HOPE for the benefit of Rising International takes place Tuesday, March 19, at Hyatt Regency Monterey, 1 Golf Course Road, Monterey. 11am wine/social reception; noon lunch and program; 1:15pm global marketplace. $30; $50 VIP wine reception. 429-RISE.