Young women from US, Kenya, Israel brought together in Cooperation Circle program

This story is from the Center for Religious Tolerance, a URI Cooperation Circle based in Florida doing work around the world. 

You know something important is happening when the same good idea springs up independently on three continents. In Kenya, Israel and the United States, girls and young women are exploring the history of women’s rights, discussing the issues that face them today, and forging a new activism. In 2018, CRT will bring representatives from three successful local programs to Washington, DC to launch the Seeds of Change project.

In Israel, the Young Women’s Parliament began in 2011 when younger women observed their mothers participating in a CRT-sponsored women’s empowerment program and requested a group of their own. The program has expanded over the years, and now operates in 13 Palestinian and Jewish towns in Israel. In rural Kenya, Mpanzi launched two projects in 2011, both with CRT support. The first brought together Maasai and Gusii men and women to address inter-ethnic conflict. The second project focused on ending violence against women. As in Israel, younger Kenyan women requested a group of their own. In less than a year, the young women’s program expanded from 15 to over 45 participants.

The programs in Israel and Kenya share an unflagging belief in the ability of women and girls to make their own decisions. They use an explicitly gender-based analysis, and include direct experience with members of different ethnic, racial or religious groups. A third program, Dayton (Ohio) Early College Academy (DECA), is a free public high school offering students from high-risk environments an opportunity to succeed in graduating from college. The Dayton girls, like those in Israel and Kenya, struggle with discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic identity and religion as well as gender. They are actively seeking ways to empower themselves and others in the quest for a just and sustainable future. They jumped at the chance to connect with girls from other countries.

An exploratory Skype call with girls from the three programs revealed that although their personal situations vary widely, they have much in common. They were unanimous in their enthusiasm for the project. Four participants have been selected from each site to connect online, and to plan the face-to-face meeting and follow-up activities. Our hope is that this project will help to create a cross-cultural network of aspiring and empowered young women leaders, and to develop a model that can be replicated in communities across the globe.