Women Hold Up Half the Sky at Skirball Cultural Center (and Worldwide)

Learn more about this "wishing tree" at the Skirball Cultural Center's special exhibit, "Women Hold Up Half the Sky."

A few weekends ago, I had a much-needed and enlightening girls’ afternoon out. Now I know when most hear about a chunk of girl-time like that, you mostly think shopping, drinking, spa-ing, or fine dining (or all the above). While of course there’s nothing wrong with a girls day out like that, well, this afternoon was a little deeper and meaningful, and it’s an event that will stick with me for a lifetime. And it’s not just because I am a woman, but because I am human being. Please allow me to explain.

Thanks to my friend Andrea for this great shot of the entrance to the Skirball Cultural Center's special exhibit, "Women Hold Up Half the Sky."

The topic of healthcare, or lack of, takes center stage at the Skirball Cultural Center's special exhibit, "Women Hold Up Half the Sky."

After we attended the Mayim Bialik conversation and book signing at the Skirball Cultural Center, my friends and I walked through a special exhibit entitled, “Women Hold Up Half the Sky.” On display through May 20, 2012, this exhibit is dedicated to and in honor of women’s struggles in the broader areas of healthcare, domestic violence, and human trafficking. Based on the book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas D. Kristof (of New York Times’ fame) and Sheryl WuDunn, this exhibit showcases the common obstacles, challenges, and tragedies that women in developing and developed nations fight against on a regular basis as part of their routine, day-to-day lives.

School or brothels? Sadly this is just one of the dilemmas faced by women around the world.

Regardless of a girl's actual situation, she still has dreams. We all need to remember that, RMT'ers.

From the exhibit: "Shameka Fludd was a mother of two who grew up in Washington, D.C. She discovered that she was pregnant again and told her partner that she was going to keep the baby and that he did not have to be involved. A few days later, he showed up at Shameka's apartment and asked if she was sure that the baby was his. When she said yes, he shot her, killing her in her bed."

Behind this curtain, visitors can listen to stories about human trafficking, told by the women themselves.

Yes, I said developed nations, which includes the United States of America. The things you read about, listen to, and view on exhibit here are not just limited to far-away places but are happening here and now and have been for some time. While I and perhaps even you already knew about these sorts of things happening here in America and the world over, the “Half the Sky” message is clear in that our action is needed now more than ever before. Knowledge and education just isn’t enough anymore, and it’s time for all of us – both men and women – to use the information we’ve learned to do something about improving overall conditions.

A close-up photo of "Wish Canopy" by Emily White and Lisa Little, on display now at Skirball Cultural Center's "Women Hold Up Half the Sky."

For starters, visitors are encouraged to write out and leave a wish or a hope for a woman in need. All the wish cards eventually make their way up into the installation called “Wish Canopy,” which shelters the entire exhibit. Think of the canopy as a representation of a warm and welcoming blanket of hugs for the women who need them most of all. We learned that the number of wishes left at the exhibit on a weekly basis is enough to cover the entire ceiling of the exhibit space. Once volunteers remove the older wishes,  and upon close of the exhibition, a selection of the wishes will be sent to women participating in Women for Women’s International’s programs in the Demographic Republic of the Congo. Consider it an effort to let them know that despite their current plights and obstacles, others are out there listening to them and their needs with strength and encouragement.

A FITE/KIVA kiosk at the Skirball Cultural Center's special exhibit, "Women Hold Up Half the Sky." Kiosks provide opportunities for visitors to micro-lend small sums of money to women entrepreneurs for their own empowerment and for the benefit of their communities.

The gift shop at the Skirball Cultural Center sells some of the FITE/KIVA-funded artisan crafts as well as other books and goods that give back through micro-lending agencies. Just one more way that visitors can give toward changing women's lives across the globe.

Another way the exhibit empowers visitors is through FITE’s (Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship) on-site micro-lending program. Thanks to a generous donation by Dermalogica, DNA Foundation, and KIVA, every visitor receives a micro-loan coded card. Visitors then step up to an on-site kiosk where they can activate the pre-assigned sum on the card for a woman who is turning her own oppression into opportunities (visitors can choose the region of the world as well as the industry they personally wish to support; that information translates into a loan recipient). Each micro-loan designated at the kiosks helps to allow a woman to go out and purchase materials or seeds for her farming operations, or for another to buy yarns for her hand-crafted materials on sale in her small shop. In turn, proceeds from these small, mostly artisan-based businesses empower women financially, allowing them constructively contribute to their small communities.

Amazingly, results are fairly immediate for such a large project. Here’s the brief story I received via email just 24 hours later about my FITE-sponsored businesswoman:

My FITE-sponsored businesswoman, Giovana Carlotta Palacios Sola of Nazca, Peru.

The FITE entrepreneur you have funded is Giovana Carlotta Palacios Sola. This loan will be used for the purpose of: To buy merchandise such as rice, sugar and other products. Giovana is 28, and lives in the city of Nazca. Nazca is a Peruvian city located in the south central region of Peru. It is a very lively city, due to the influx of tourists who visit every day to see the ancient Nazca Lines, and also because of the area’s booming development in mining, agriculture, and commerce. It is becoming one of the most cosmopolitan cities in southern Peru. She is the mother of a small 3-year-old, whom she really adores, and is the most important gift that God could give her, because to her, he is an angel. In her free time, she really likes to listen to music, as it helps her to relax. One of her favorite dishes is the very delicious “Tallarines Rojos” (similar to spaghetti). Giovana works in her grocery store, to which she devotes around 12 hours a day. This way she can manage to serve up to 20 customers a day. She believes her business is going well because she is very responsible and likes to serve her customers in a friendly way. This is why they always come back to buy the products she sells. Giovana is very thankful to the KIVA lenders, as thanks to their support she will be able to buy more merchandise for her business, such as rice, sugar and other products. This way she will be able to have more product variety, and have more income, which will allow her to continue striving day by day to fulfill her greatest dream: “To have her own house.”

For just a few minutes of my time, that’s quite a result, if you ask me anyway!

A close-up of another one of the hands-on installations inside of the Skirball Cultural Center's special exhibit, "Women Hold Up Half the Sky." Here, visitors are asked to color in a dot on the wall in memory of a woman who has paid the ultimate price due to violence or other form of gender discrimination. There are 20,000 dots on the walls of this exhibit, but according to the installation, more than 60 million women and girls have gone missing due to such plights.

From the installation above and an excerpt from the related book: "To travel in Eastern Congo and talk to villagers is to uncover layers and layers of routinized rape. In a camp of displaced people, we asked to talk to a rape victim, and one was immediately brought over. To ensure her privacy, we took her under a tree away from other people, but after ten minutes, a long line of women formed nearby.
"What are you all doing here?" we asked.
"'We're all rape victims,' explained the woman in front. 'We're waiting to tell our stories, too.'"

But obviously, there’s so much more that needs to be done. For starters, if you haven’t attended this exhibit, please try to make the time to do so. Try as I might, there’s something about being there surrounded by these stories that this blog post simply cannot convey, despite the many photos I managed to capture. Also, if micro-lending wasn’t on your radar before, do put it on your annual giving list (I already have). Sure, it’s just a couple of small steps towards a solution, but as with anything else in life, if we can walk together toward and not away from life’s problems, that’s when change is possible.

How will you help the women who need it most?

What action will you take today toward change, RMT’ers?

One response to “Women Hold Up Half the Sky at Skirball Cultural Center (and Worldwide)

  1. Pingback: An All-American Girls’ Overnight | Real Mom Time (RMT)

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