Blog posts
Ingrid UN2014-3
Poverty of the Heart
Speaking at the UN Ingrid Stellmacher explores 'Poverty of the Heart' and launches the Dignity Diaries, as a tool to discover what dignity in toay's world really means. More ...
Nelson Mandella 0
Nelson Mandela in his own words
Mourning the loss of a great man but celebrating his life and legacy. More ...
in our right minds CSW pic
In our right minds? 57th Commission on the Status of Women
Is eliminating violence against women and girls a realistic goal? More ...
World Heart Day
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UN Speech 2014 Pov of Heart.mp3
Ingrid Stellmacher,
Dignity Diary
Georges Kisimbola, 20/07/2018
Dignity Diaries - Nick Makoha
Nick Makoha, 10/05/2014
Dignity Diaries - Kaneez Anwar
Kaneez Anwar, 08/04/2014

Ingrid's Insights

When The price we pay for Dignity and honour is poverty of the heart

Ingrid UN2014-3
Ingrid Stellmacher speaking at the United Nations in New York in 2014 to 400 NGO's during the launch of The Dignity Diaries.
The below includes extracts from her speech 'Poverty of the Heart'

Excessively patriarchal societies breed a harsh form of poverty. Polarising power, division, exclusion and discrimination. All of which contribute to escalating levels of violence, that all too easily become the norm.

We see it happening all over the world - all of us in this room, in the work we do, in some of the political institutions with which we engage, and for some of us - even in our own homes.  Poverty has many faces, many causes, with some effects hiding in plain sight.  It cripples humanity from the inside out and when it does, it creates another form of poverty 'Poverty of the heart'.

Research shows that the lack of development to connections in areas of the brain, through continual destructive and violent behaviour, limits the ability to exercise compassion and recognise emotional responses in others.  It slows the ability to communicate effectively, emotionally, and the most basic requirement of all, for humanity, limits the connections in areas of the brain that enables empathy. 

The way we treat one another, speak to one another, look at one another, or exclude one another, affects our own mental and emotional development, shaping who we are and the way we live.  It is a vicious cycle of destruction for everyone involved.  Forever treating a single group or person badly, literally leaves those neural pathways to possibilities and capabilities so neglected, that the conversation between our head and our heart becomes the ‘road less travelled’.

I am not speaking of the victims of violence and discrimination here, but more of the effect that the act of repeated violence and exclusion, carried out against an individual or group, has on the person doing it - the perpetrator.  What it does to them on the inside, especially in the way their brian develops as they become wired for violence.

Sanctioned by the culture you live in and woven into values backed up by laws to contain you, there is little chance of escape.  So what can we do to stop the violence inside and out?  In trying to grapple with any behaviour change we need to understand what has shaped it and what lies beneath, to create different approaches because your values shape the way you see the world.  And if you live in a world without compassion, how will you know what it looks like?  What it feels like?  How will you change it and why would you change it?  What would be in it for you? 

Dignity Diaries

In looking at poverty of the heart, I have been working with the role that dignity plays in our lives. Some tell me it is an old-fashioned word, an out-dated concept, no longer relevant for today. But it is relevant, for human dignity is the defining pillar upon which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself rests. Arguably the most important post World War II document created.  If dignity is weakened the world is weakened.  In my work, I have found dignity to be like peace and like love - you can’t touch it, you can’t buy it and you can’t hold it in your hand - but you know when you don’t have it.  

Like peace and like love, dignity is best known by its absence.  Its forced absence all too often used as a tool of war – to humiliate.  And humiliation is contagious.  So, do I belive dignity is still relevant in today’s world?  My work shows that it is and without it we lose a glbally agreed benchmark of behaviour.

But dignity is a complex concept, closely entwined with identity, with honour, with shame, with guilt, and humiliation because human beings are complex.  And because I work with human beings and their complexities, the often, fragile concept of dignity is the focus of a programme I am launching today called the Dignity Diaries.  Interviews providing insights and learning on the impact of dignity lost, or dignity reclaimed, in the lives of those at the heart of events from all over the world, reminding us of our value and that humanity still have much to learn about itself and our attitude to the planet.

Dignity Diaries

In one Diary, Ziauddin Yousafzsi, who you may know better as the father of Malala, the Pakistani schoolgirl short by the Taliban 2-years-ago, for daring to go to school, Ziauddin, now UN Special Advisor for Global Education, vividly describes how 'he did not clip the wings of his daughter in the name of, false dignity and false honour'.

'Freedom is her right' he declares, his own bravery revealed.  But it was not until speaking about the role that dignity and honour plays in his culture, exploring it in conversation - that he understood how it much contributed to the shooting of his daughter in trying to keep their lives small. Cultural norms have a habit of hiding in plain sight.

There is a moment in his Diary when his voice drops and he quietly shares how 'He feels ashamed to be a man sometimes', when he thinks about ‘how badly and unfairly men have treated women in his culture’.  It is a moment of humility against the background of a brutal reality, that many men face around the world, and we need to find a way to engage with them  and support them - as much as we need them to engage with us.

'Most forms of poverty we are familiar with but poverty of the heart is the road less travelled’

We are all familiar with the economic poverty of women excluded from contributing fully to life; keeping their world small. We all know that limiting the contribution of women, limits prosperity for families, communities, and economic growth. We know when women lose, we all lose.

Everyone in this room knows the impact of poverty of choice. When women are excluded the right to determine who has power over their own body; their own minds, and their own lives.  When girls as young as eight years of-age, many already maimed by FGM, are sold to pay off debts, without choice or power, to voice their own opposition, being married off to ancient men to have children with, when still only children themselves.

And everyone in this room knows that excessive patriarchy breeds poverty of education, access, and opportunity, including basic health education for their children. When babies and infants are dying of malnutrition in Afghanistan not just through lack of food, but through lack of the basic education allowed to young mothers on baseline nutrition and what babies need to be healthy. Not because that information isn't out there but because women themselves are not allowed ‘out there’.  Out of their homes to access the education for themselves and their children, by their husbands, their brothers, their uncles, cousins, until they want to, all in the name of dignity and honour.  Arriving at clinics sometimes so late in their child's illness that when they do get ‘out there’, their babies are too sick to save.

Dying of starvation is tragedy enough.  Dying of deliberately created ignorance and prevention of access to the right to health, is a crime - because these deaths are Avoidable. What gives them the right to choose a child will live or die?  Not their mothers and certainly not their faith.


Research shows that different values activate different thought structures within the brain and even show that different areas in the visual cortex, the area which processes what we see, is activated in different ways, according to different cultural values and beliefs.  Creating a fundamental difference in the way we see the world and act towards others.  It is a difference we have to recognise the importance of - not just in our work - but in our world in general.  Because our values, act as an anchor of certainty in an ever increasing uncertain and unstable world – we need them. We hold on to them at any cost.  They create a framework by which we live, however harsh.  We fight for our values, go to war to defend them, commit unspeakable acts in their name - but there are no winners in war – everyone loses in one way or another and that all important framework of values, in the end is all too often left in tatters because of the lines we cross to protect them.

'Every daughter is like Malala in wanting an education', Ziauddin explains, and while I’m sure that desire is true, sadly every father, however, is not like him. We need to work together with men across civil society and politics to help one another.

Dignity Diaries

In his Dignity Diary, Andre Mostert a lecturer from South Africa, talks movingly about ‘white guilt’ how it affected him growing up under Apartheid, and how 30 years later - it affects him still. What touched me most is when he recalls the moment black South Africans finally got the vote and the lines of people waiting were so long, that he and his school friends decide not to queue…..

"The world had moved on right, but for us spoilt white boys, it was just voting yeah.  So, we go into a pub and watch it on TV.  And I'll never forget, we were sitting there watching journalists talking to people, standing in those lines for hours, that went on forever, and this one journalist goes up to an old black woman waiting patiently in line and says to her:

'How long have you been waiting in this queue?  She turns to him and declares:

'My whole life."

Says Andre “I get goose bumps even now just thinking about it. Because it was the moment I realised this isn’t just about them – or one side against another – it’s about us!  It was about us getting our dignity back, because we gave them their dignity back, simply on-the-basis of being human.”


When I showed Andre’s Dignity Diary to young women at a workshop in Rajasthan, India, for the Guild of Service. I asked Merra Khan, the Guild’s deputy, how long she had been waiting in the queue to make a difference to the lives of widows in India she had dedicated her life to - the answer she gave: ‘2000 years.’


The good news is that narrowed network of neural development, can be changed, it can be expanded.  The world can grow bigger and more beautiful. Unexplored emotional areas of the brain can be activated due to its plasticity and new pathways in the language of empathy and compassion forged.  We can break out of that cycle of fear and negative behaviour - we can become whole again.


Most of us in this room today, have been working our whole lives to get to the front of our own queue – like Merra and like the lady in South Africa.  We work to change things in ways that we can, to make a difference, to make something of meaning, to leave a legacy. 

The Dignity Diaries is my way – I know you have yours, that’s why you’re here today, in the Dag Auditorium at the United Nations, as we take heart from each other and share what we’ve learned.  I hope you will join me in exploring how we can implement the Dignity Diaries in our own areas of work. 

Please, sign up - and maybe someday soon we’ll meet up at the front of the queue or better still, there won’t be one anymore. ….

Thank you.

Interviews with Ziauddin Yousafzsi and Andre Mostert can be found by clicking on the link 'New Global Conversation' Dignity and Honour Campaign on our home page.

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Looking for Elsie

DSC 0103
Ingrid Stellmacher leaving Carteret Harbour

In the early hours of 11th August 1948, two lovers stole a 12-foot dinghy from Carteret harbour in northern France and rowed
14 miles through rough seas to Jersey.  The wooden boat bore the name ‘The Elsie’ and the name of her builders who were English:
J Husk Jnr of Wivenhoe.  

Eight years later those lovers would become my parents and the story of my father’s  promise to come back for my mother when the war
ended, and his 14-hour battle with that stretch of water’s unpredictability, one of the most dangerous tides in the world, became
part of our history and their strenght our legacy.

Sixty-eight years later, I made that same journey my parents did.  What took my father 14 hours though to row, took us barely 2 hours in a Rib,
and Jersey’s Rowing Club’s competitors, just over 3 hours with a 3 man crew in their races across the same waters.  My father’s battle to navigate
Jersey’s treacherous rocks and unforgiving tides that night, to stop the boat from being pushed further off course and out into open sea, was
one my mother was convinced they wouldn’t win at times.

“I saw blood trickling from the corner of his mouth” She recounted. “He so was tired, the tide was so strong, the waves so high, and I thought
that’s it!  After everything we’ve been through we're going to die here!"

But my father's metal battle with the tides and his own exhustion won through and I have often thought about 'The Elsie’s' part in that journey.  How she came to be there that night and who the woman the boat was named after was.  For while Elsie appeared at the right time on the righ night for my parents to make their escape it was also Elsie’s presence that betrayed them, alerting harbour authorities of her secret arrival on the island.  Having made it to the last piece of land possible before overshooting Jersey altogether, my parents came ashore on a small rocky inlet at Vicard Point near Bouley Bay.  From there the only way out is up.  Forced to abandon Elise in full view, they scaled the Point’s dangerously steep cliffs and made the 5 kilometres into St Helier.  From the moment they left Elsie the authorities began to search for spies arriving illegally on the island rather than lovers looking for sanctuary, to marry and start a new life.  A life that would eventually lead they hoped
to England and settle amongst the British for whom my father had spied for during the war.

Trapped on the rocks where my parents abandoned her, Elise, pounded by the waves, broke up, and all that remained intact when she was salvaged were her ores and pieces of her that revealed her name and builder - not a French boatbuilder as expected along with the name Elsie, decorated with a blue star either side.  An afterthought added later perhaps?
John Collins, a key member of Wivenhoe’s History Group in Essex and authority on maritime history, tried tracing a boat named Elsie built
by J Husk & Sons but drew a blank.

‘It’s possible she had been built by Husk’s but not the yacht itself.’’ Explained John. 
“Husks only built boats and dinghies for vessels that they hadn’t built themselves, often as replacements, and mostly for yachts and
fishing vessels.”

He did find one boat named Elsie though, last registered to a Mr Albert Glandas, fils, in Havre.  Could this be Havre-de-Pas in Jersey?   
The Elsie registered to Glandas was built in 1875 but John couldn’t trace her beyond 1899.  That she would have survived the war years
and ended up in Carteret 51 years later is unlikely.

Peter Hall, Chairman of the Wivenhoe History Group, revealed that a fishing smack by the name of Elise was well known in Wivenhoe,
owned and raced by Friday Green, who won the America’s Cap and already detailed on Wivenhoe’s History website.       
Could it be the name Elsie was recorded incorrectly by the authorities when wrting up the report and was really a second generation Elise from Wivenhoe?  The builder after all is recorded as J Husk Jnr, not J Husk & Sons? 
Is there someone out there with clues about the boat, or the name of the lady she was named after? 
And my parents?  They were spotted at sea heading towards Vicard Point the same afternoon they beached Elsie.  Quickly found, the boat made headline news
in Jersey’s Evening Post, prompting extra police activity on the island which unlike mainland Britain, had been occupied by the Germans during the second World War. 

Three days later, anxious that they would ultimately be identified and arrested anyway, my parents, exhustated after their incredibly journey, having stolen a boat, entered the island illegally and made false declarations when registering at a bed and breakfast, gave themselves up.  They were arrested, held in custody, and 4 days later after a court hearing, deported to a jail in France having been banned from going back to Jersey for five years.

The mystery of Elsie remains unsloved but my
parents fight for how and where to be together was solved. They made it to England where they married later that year, in the beautiful county of Kent, after 43 love letters, 1 promise and 9 years in between.  They were together 59 years.

 They never returned to Jersey.


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Nelson Mandela in his own words

Rather than write the about the loss of this very special man, I felt it better to leave you with his own words on how he led what was a very
special life.
Nelson Mandella 0
Nelson Mandela's ability to use words to breathe life into his cause was one of his most powerful weapons in the struggle for black equality in South Africa.
Here is a selection of some of his most compelling quotes.
Conclusion of his three-hour defence speech at his 1964 trial for sabotage and treason:
"I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.
"But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Letter from Robben Island, April 1971:
"There are times when my heart almost stops beating, slowed down by heavy loads of longing. I would love to bathe once more in the waters of Umbashe, as I did at the beginning of 1935."
On his time imprisoned on Robben Island (from Nelson Mandela's autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom, 1994):
elson Mandela in 1962
He was 46 when he was sent to prison
"I found solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There is no end and no beginning; there is only one's own mind, which can begin to play tricks. Was that a dream or did it really happen? One begins to question everything. Did I make the right decision, was my sacrifice worth it? In solitary, there is no distraction from these haunting questions.
"But the human body has an enormous capacity for adjusting to trying circumstances. I have found that one can bear the unbearable if one can keep one's spirits strong even when one's body is being tested. Strong convictions are the secret of surviving deprivation; your spirit can be full even when your stomach is empty."
Message read by his daughter Zinzi to a rally in Soweto in 1985:
"In the name of the law, I found myself treated as a criminal... not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of my conscience. No-one in his right senses would choose such a life, but there comes a time when a man is denied the right to live a normal life, when he can only live the life of an outlaw because the government has so decreed to use the law.
"The question being asked up and down the country is this: Is it politically correct to continue preaching peace and non-violence when dealing with a government whose barbaric practices have brought so much suffering and misery to Africans? I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I, and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return."
Describing the day of his release from prison in 1990 (The Long Walk to Freedom, 1994):
"The cameras started clicking like a great herd of metallic beasts. I raised my right fist and there was a roar. I had not been able to do that for 27 years and it gave me a surge of strength and joy."
On fatherhood (The Long Walk to Freedom, 1994):
"Perhaps I was blinded to certain things because of the pain I felt for not being able to fulfil my role as husband to my wife and father to my children.
"It seems the destiny of freedom fighters to have unstable personal lives... to be the father of a nation is a great honour, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a job I had far too little of."
On prison (The Long Walk to Freedom, 1994):
"A man who takes away another man's freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness... The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity."
On reconciliation (on acceptance of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, shared with then President FW de Klerk):
"The value of our shared reward will and must be measured by the joyful peace which will triumph, because the common humanity that bonds both black and white into one human race will have said to each one of us that we shall all live like the children of paradise...
"But there are still some within our country who wrongly believe they can make a contribution to the cause of justice and peace by clinging to the shibboleths [dogmas] that have been proved to spell nothing but disaster.
"It remains our hope that these, too, will be blessed with sufficient reason to realise that history will not be denied and that the new society cannot be created by reproducing the repugnant past, however refined or enticingly repackaged."
Presidential inauguration speech, 10 May 1994:
"We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall without any fear in their hearts, assured of the inalienable right to human dignity, a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world."
"Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another... The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement. Let freedom reign. God bless Africa!"
Address to international Aids conference, Durban, July 2000:
"In the face of the grave threat posed by HIV/Aids, we have to rise above our differences and combine our efforts to save our people. History will judge us harshly if we fail to do so now, and right now.
"Let us not equivocate: A tragedy of unprecedented proportions is unfolding in Africa. Aids today in Africa is claiming more lives than the sum total of all wars, famines and floods, and the ravages of such deadly diseases as malaria. It is devastating families and communities; overwhelming and depleting health care services; and robbing schools of both students and teachers...
"Aids is clearly a disaster, effectively wiping out the development gains of the past decades and sabotaging the future... Something must be done as a matter of the greatest urgency."
Message to the Live 8 concert in Edinburgh, July 2005:
"Massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times... So much of our common future will depend on the actions and plans of these leaders. They have a historical opportunity to open the door to hope and the possibility of a better future for all...
"Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom. Of course the task will not be easy. But not to do this would be a crime against humanity, against which I ask all humanity now to rise up."
A rare public rebuke for Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, speaking at a dinner in London to mark his 90th birthday:
"We watch with sadness the continuing tragedy in Darfur. Nearer to home we have seen the outbreak of violence against fellow Africans in our own country and the tragic failure of leadership in our neighbouring Zimbabwe."
At the opening of the 2010 World Cup:
"The people of Africa learnt the lessons of patience and endurance in their long struggle for freedom. May the rewards brought by the Fifa World Cup prove that the long wait for its arrival on African soil has been worth it. Ke nako [It is time]."
On his public image (from Mandela's second autobiography, Conversations With Myself, 2010):
"One issue that deeply worried me in prison was the false image I unwittingly projected to the outside world; of being regarded as a saint. I never was one, even on the basis of an earthly definition of a saint as a sinner who keeps trying."

BBC, 06/12/2013

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In our right minds?
57th Commission on The Status of Women

in our right minds CSW pic
'In our right minds', was the perfect title for a session at this year’s United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York. Not because it’s the name of Dale Allen’s one woman show, the main speaker at our event, but because who in their right minds, of all the delegates, NGO’s and agencies attending one of the largest international forums in the world, could possibly think that we can actually ‘prevent’, never mind ‘eliminate, violence against women and girls in our lifetime? The title theme of this year’s 57th meeting of the Commission?
I had the privilege of being the opening speaker at the session, sponsored by Montage Initiative; a US based organisation working to create sustainable livelihoods for women in India. The participants purposefully reflected not only a range of expertise and experience but also the rarity of wisdom and youth as well as generation and gender; constituencies that must work together to help counter violence against women and girls.

Mohin  Garcia
Dr Mohini Giri - Head of Guild for Service, India. Photo by 'ar' 
The wisdom manifested itself in the form of 78 year-old veteran activist and scholar, Dr Mohini Giri, former daughter-in-law of President V Giri of India, and Head of India’s Guild for Service. Dr Giri, who saw first hand the affects of widowhood in India when her own father died, and who was later herself widowed, helped found the Guild in 1972 and works tirelessly to improve the lives of widows in her country. Numbering a staggering 42 million, many of them barely surviving and living on the streets, widows find themselves betrayed by a culture commonly lacking in compassion for its women, in a country beset by corruption that is flagrantly active at all levels of society and governance. 
Dr Giri’s tiny bespectacled frame belies her huge passion and commitment, undiminished with age, that bubbles just beneath the surface. Her opening words, that ‘patriarchy breeds poverty’, were received with nods of agreement from an equally distinguished audience and her sense of urgency for action only increased with the announcement that she had just delivered a declaration to the UN, requesting the rights of widows be formally recognised as a United Nations Mandate.
Violence against women and girls has for so long been firmly framed as a ‘woman’s issue’; a messy subject like menstruation; a taboo that no one wants to talk about, with some cultures in silent collusion more than others. But the thing about women’s issues is that they are for the most part, more about men than they are about women.  Particularly in cultures where men have absolute power over women and corrupted that partnership absolutely in many cases, disastrously holding those cultures back socially, emotionally and economically. Even in the case of FGM, where it is mostly women themselves perpetrating and perpetuating the practice, it is with men in mind, marriage, and the need to be identifiable as a virgin, that young girls continue to be subjected to this ritual. Who will want them otherwise? 


UN Per Carlos Garcia-Gonzales, El Savlador. Photo by 'ar'

 Which is why it was essential to have a male voice on our panel to provide that additional perspective to the discussion. That voice was the UN permanent representative to El Salvador, Ambassador Carlos Enrique Gonzales-Garcia, and this year’s Vice President of the Commission. For how can we talk seriously about ‘women’s issues’ without including men? 
The lack of men on other panels in some of the sessions I personally attended was disappointing.  In an early one on eliminating violence, where increasing political accountability and addressing structural violence was high on the agenda, not a single man was on the panel comprising senior UN agency heads and government ministers from around the world.  As heartening as it is to see women heading these organisations and holding ministerial posts, when the obvious absence of men on th
e panel was raised during question time by a young man working for the UN himself, the response from the chair was decidedly brief and vague, as if wrong-footed by a question that was totally unexpected. 
Self deprecating and with equal amounts of humility and humour, Ambassador Garcia anima
tedly spoke about the need for accountability, calling for an end to impunity in cases of violence against women and the need to work together. Not just top down, through political policy, or bottom up through social movements but sideways as well. Integrating and collaborating with one another, with organisations dovetailing to create a whole approach to issues as never before.  Not just soft power in action but the judicious use of smart power in pulling it all together.

 Garcia is a huge advocate of El Salvador’s ‘City of Women’ Initiative - Cuidad Majure in Spanish, supported by the country’s first lady, Vanda Pignato, who is also the Secretary for Social Inclusion. It is more than the usual one-stop social shop for women providing refuge from violence, however. City of Women will provide childcare, police support, help and education on legal and civil rights, job training and a raft of other meaningful integrated services.
The plan is also to provide entrepreneurship opportunity as never before, creating confidence as well as competence. Crucial components for what could create a huge cultural shift regarding women if this initiative’s success equals its ambition. And with these centres set strategically around the country, connecting holistically with one another, not only will whole communities benefit from such collaboration, but the whole country as they form a new social, emotional and economic infrastructure driven by women.  This is not just an initiative with guts but one with heart and a model to be applauded, adapted and adopted around the world.

Garcia and girls into
Klevisa Kovaci & Sharon Pedrosa, Chair & Co
Founders, Student Advisory Board, Montage Initiative.  Photo by 'ar'
And finally at the other end of the generation scale, the youth and enthusiasm on the panel came from the Co-Chair and founders of Montage Initiative’s Student Advisory Board, Klevisa Kovaci and Sharon Pedrosa.  These young stars from Fairfield University are no longer leaders in the making for they have already demonstrated they are leaders and role models, working for the empowerment of young women not simply as a cause to champion but as a way to convert energy and ideas into action.
With polished professionalism Klevisa and Sharon spoke about creating a ripple affect of change through the board they had founded and model they created for youth empowerment. They outlined the need for other organisations to be more aware of how educational opportunities in Service Learning can reap real dividends for both parties if viewed as an investment and how they themselves had benefited from Montage’s student programme.
Given meaningful mentorship and responsibility, rather than filing and making tea, these young women had become not only mentors themselves to their peers but real decision makers in their own right. Along with several other Montage student colleagues, they had organised and co-ordinated most of the UN event themselves and even the camera crew filming the session were students from another university. Showing just what young men and women can do given the opportunity to collaborate and shine. 

As Sharon put it, “Only a year ago we visited the UN during the Commission on the Status of Women for the first time with Montage and now look at us; we’re actually speaking here!  And if we can do it, anyone can do it”.
Dale Allen - Photo by 'ar'
Last in the line up came Dale Allen. Reading with authority as she stepped slowly through the room, her entry was theatrical. Wearing a full-length black cape she read from a large book, quote after quote, of different religious text from around the world that collectively demonised and denigrated women throughout history. The largely unsuspecting audience were spellbound by her delivery as much as stunned to hear women officially declared not only worthless but also evil across the continents, through the ages and in every holy book.

Travelling quickly but seamlessly through time, Dale recounted how women of early cultures were honoured as goddesses, protectors and co-creators. How their fall from grace began slowly with the advent of the alphabet, writing and reading. The different way in which the brain needed to process this new form of information was also the beginning of its rewiring and the great switch over; like going from analogue to digital. From previously, image orientated right brain soft skills of creativity, empathy and intuition associated with feminine qualities, to left brain, hard analytical skills of logic, reasoning and linear thinking; traditionally attributed to male ways of seeing and being in the world.

Leonard Shlain, put forward the hypothesis of the alphabet as the ancient female nemesis, in his book theAlphabet versus the Goddess’ published in 2004, in what he describes as the 'conflict of word over image'.  As a consequence the written word became the God of all things; over symbols, sex and of course women.  Dominating a world where feminine attributes had previously held the greater currency. 
But technology and the keyboard is our saviour apparently and its widespread use in our offices, our homes and on the move, by both sexes, is activating left and right brain connectivity in a new simultaneous conversation as never before. Rewiring new areas of our brain and encouraging not only new pathways of connectivity but greater access to creativity and enabling men in particular, to see the world through new eyes. If the left brain/right brain theory holds validity then announcements from the scientific community last year that the human race had reached its evolutionary limit, as there is no space left inside our skulls for our brain to grow larger, then perhaps our brain rewiring itself is where the real action and evolution is; the sum being greater than its parts.

'The human race has reached its evolutionary limit'

The human race is now exposed to more information in a single day than our 15th century ancestors were exposed to in an entire year.  But while the proliferation of ‘experts’ online makes more information available to the masses it does not necessarily make us wiser as a result. Information is simply knowledge. The wisdom lies in how you apply it. If Shlain’s theory is to be believed, not only is the use of our keyboards helping to balance out our brain but being bombarded by images through our TV’s, PC’s and hand held devices 24 hours a day maybe another contributing factor.  Images being processed in the right, more ‘feminine’ part of our brain.

Dale ended her contribution with a heartfelt song about the long and lonely wait for the return of the soul; the archetype that is woman and the feminine, to an eruption of emotion and applause. Joanne Watkins, my close friend, colleague and CEO of Montage Initiative, had achieved what she set out to do; deliver a session on empowering women using different ways of engaging; through words, images and theatre and one that will be remembered for the unique why in which stories were told and issues were touched.

Memorable as it is however, in the time it has taken you to read this, somewhere in the world a woman has been raped, a child abused, and a life will have been broken forever. Against the backdrop of the cavernous collective wound of daily violence against women, that mankind continues to inflict on itself, what difference do all the statements, sharing and networking at a meeting of this magnitude make?

What can we take away from our own session and this year's Commission as a whole?  What was clear, is that language and meaning is a key factor in both the sharing of best practice and its delivery. The shameful failure to agree acceptable conclusions at the end of last year's Commission was due to differences of language and terminology in the final draft document, which contained so many strike throughs and deletions it was rendered virtually incomprehensible.  A repeat of a similar roadblock has thankfully been avoided this year.

'We want more mentors and less monsters'

Now more than ever we need smart, collaborative, strategic thinking and action if we are to succeed and making use of technology and big data in creative ways. Both as organisations, and in the use of our tools, approaches and resources from every possible avenue. Conventional and crazy; top down, bottom up and sideways. From left of field and right to the heart; from social media to individual effort leading to widespread co-operation at scale.  Culture change comes through a number of different influences; including
education, communication and imagination. Their effects converging in the mother of all tipping points when the 'hundredth monkey has joined the 99' and the timing is ripe for change. Most of all change comes when people have had enough. It is crucial for men to be involved in the culturally sensitive conversations needed at every level along with the concrete commitment at the top that is sadly lacking right now.  We need more men to stand up and stand by us, as role models as well as change agents. We want more mentors and less monsters.

While introducing an additional perspective of difference between the sexes that could supposedly change mankind for the better if united, does pose an interesting hypothesis, the real meaning behind Dale's story is to help women understand and maybe even remember, that once upon a time it was different and that they must hold on to the hope that one day it will be again. This is what keeps us striving towards our common goals on the long road towards fighting violence against women and girls.  We know that culture change is a long and complex process and that working together we can make a difference. The belief in that is part of why we have come. Not to just to share and learn together but to renew our hope together.  For without that, our task surely feels insurmountable and we will have lost everything.

Poetically, hoElpis pe comes in many forms. The ancient Greeks had a Goddess of Hope named Elpis, who alone stayed on earth to comfort mankind after all other spirits had fled. That the ancient Greeks made the quality of hope itself feminine is perhaps even more relevant in the present. 

The Greeks had another Goddess named Nemesis.  She is the Goddess of Retribution whose job it was to restore balance to the world.  In order to do so, however, she had first to destroy it to pave the way for its rebirth.  If we can't stop the worldwide epidemic of violence against women and girls soon, the perpetrators might beat Nemesis to it.


    Elpis - Greek Goddess of Hope

Ingrid Stellmacher, 08/03/2013

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Ingrid Stellmacher, 28/09/2012