The Courage to Create Social Change

by Katharine Daniels, Executive Editor
One light amongst the darkness of the tragedy that befell Newtown, Connecticut and this nation last week is the collective outrage that persists. In daily conversations with friends and family, throughout the social media, and in the news people are feeling the injustice, the inhumanity, and the vulnerability. Everywhere there is outrage.
Today, in the wee hours of the morning, I lay awake after nursing my youngest son. I found myself repeating over and over the second line of Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer – a prayer commonly heard in rooms of recovery around the world. In this verse, the prayer asks God to give us the “courage to change the things which should be changed.”

Image of tulip growing out of sidewalk.

As a twin, my heart hurts every time I think about 6-year-old Noah Pozner and his little sister Arielle who just lost her best friend. I know what the twin bond feels like and I cannot imagine it being ripped from me so young. As I prepare for the very first Christmas my 3-year-old son will likely remember, I find myself crying as I wrap gifts. I think about the presents already wrapped by mothers and fathers in Newtown that will go unopened under trees this year. And, after many years as a schoolteacher, I know that I too would have shielded my children. I also know that no amount of heroism can stop a barrage of bullets coming from an assault weapon with a high-capacity clip. I too would have died in the classroom.
And then I think about The WIP. Since Friday I have struggled with an appropriate response to this latest gun violence. What I am realizing is that for people around the world - and especially around this country – the Newtown tragedy is igniting an outrage that many contributors to The WIP experience every day. There are hundreds of similar stories that go untold – stories of injustice, stories of inhumanity, stories that make us feel vulnerable both as individuals and as a community. The WIP publishes such stories because we are moved to respond to the outrage we feel, to do what we can to change the things which should be changed. We are inspired by individuals and organizations such as Anne Firth Murray and the Global Fund for Women whose work promotes movement from outrage into action.
Since Friday, I have thought about the first responders, the colleagues, the townspeople, and the lawmakers. I wonder which of them will be catapulted into the life of a change agent. Which of them will be the next person from Newtown who devotes his or her life to transforming society? In her book From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice, Firth Murray talks about the “downer” it can be reading the daily newspaper as it is most commonly filled with stories of violence and corruption. Yet, “there is a lot of good news,” she tells us, “much of it going unreported in a media structure bent on emphasizing despair.” Unfortunately, the stories of the changemakers Newtown will produce will not have the same appeal in the media as the tragedy.
Last Friday’s gun violence coincided with the final day of The WIP’s campaign to raise funds for our 2013 operating budget. As it became clear that children were murdered, I could not roll out the PR campaign intended for this final day of our fundraiser. Ironically, the last time The WIP planned a big PR roll out was on April 16, 2007. We invested in a press release to be sent throughout the country. Yet, despite our investment, the press release went unread. April 16, 2007 was also the day of the Virginia Tech massacre – the deadliest school shooting on record in this country. Instead of wrapping up our fundraiser, I spent the weekend reflecting on the stories we have published in the past and how they transform tragedy into hope.
At The WIP we highlight agents of change across the globe who transform their societies. In Oloitoktok Kenya, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is common practice causing permanent disfigurement in young girls as well as pain, trauma, health hazards and even death. Change agent Lilian Mogiti Nyandoro, an anti-FGM crusader, promotes gender equality among the Massai tribe through her organization ABANTU for Development, a local NGO. Because of her work, women and men in this community are recognizing women’s worth and making the decision to send girls to school versus undergoing FGM and getting married.
Doctor Carmen Barroso, Regional Director of International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region, highlights changemakers in her article about an epidemic of deadly yet preventable cancers killing women in developing nations. These women lack access to health services. For most, their first contact with medical personnel is only after the disease has reached an untreatable advanced stage. Doctor Barroso introduces us to the work of innovative organizations such as PROFAMIL, who after the earthquake in Haiti developed an innovative screening technology to detect precancerous lesions with the naked eye. The solution was inexpensive and readily available – vinegar. And, according to Dr. Barroso, this technology has now been proven to identify up to 79 percent of women at high risk of developing cervical cancer.
The WIP shares stories of dilemmas unthinkable to most of us, like women who live in India without a toilet. In our coverage of poor sanitation, we learn that women and children suffer disproportionately. Often waiting until dark to privately defecate, women and children risk rape and violence in their search for isolated and dark spaces to relieve themselves. Menstruation creates an additional challenge for girls and results in increased school dropout rates. Yet, in our coverage we meet people like Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization, whose vision is to improve sanitation globally by training the poor to become “sanitation entrepreneurs,” and innovators like Paul Calvert, creator of the Ecopan, an eco-toilet that will not waste or pollute water.
As I think about our contributor’s stories, I am reminded of a quote from an interview I had with Binalakshmi Nepram-Mentschel who lives and works in one of the worst conflict zones in India. I asked Bina to talk about the unique role women play in peace and disarmament. She told me, “In many parts of the world women have always been told that our role is in the kitchen, that our role is to rear children, that our role is to be responsible mothers. We are never there where decisions matter; and if we are, we have to wear pants like the men to be able to do it. As women, and as women who have survived violence, it is time to turn the table because it is through our lens that we know where it hurts … We, the women, have to start staking our rightful claim at the negotiating table - that we have the right to decide our own future, how to end conflicts, how to devise strategies so that no future conflicts happen.”
I am certain publications like The WIP are moving us toward equality at negotiating tables everywhere - a giant step in preventing horrific violence. We are providing a critical platform in the media for women to deliver stories “through our lens.” We are charting a future where women will be understood and recognized as a critical component in the effort to end conflicts through peaceful means. With women’s perspectives we are changing the world.
With each donation that came in during our campaign, The WIP felt deep gratitude. Every donation reminds us that people all around the world share our vision for social change. But, we are still behind in our effort to raise $20,000 for next year’s operating budget. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation toward this year’s campaign. - Ed

About the author: Katharine Daniels is the founder and executive editor of The WIP.

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