I’ve just returned from a screening of Half The Sky, a documentary about the oppression, and subsequent empowerment of women and girls around the globe. It was produced off the back of a book of the same name by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I read this book years ago and it deeply impacted me. Many of the actions and projects I’ve birthed since then were inspired by that book, and a want – no, a deep need – in me to do more than what we’re all doing here, now.
The emotions the documentary stirred in me and my team (we all went to see the film together) are very raw this week, because it features Somaly Mam, (left) an extraordinary woman who was our guest speaker at Business Chicks in Sydney just last Friday. Somaly was trafficked into sex slavery in Cambodia at the age of 11 or 12 (she doesn’t know how old she was exactly because she’s never known her birth date or her real family). Somaly is a living, breathing example of a courageous woman who has had every wrong card dealt to her, but she’s overcome this with incredible kindness, love and forgiveness.
Somaly has devoted her life to rescuing young girls from brothels, and providing them with shelter at one of her centres. She’s gifted them with education, healthcare, and above all, love. She trains these young survivors to become a voice and they travel around educating men on safe sex and encouraging them not to frequent brothels. It’s an incredible result from a tragic situation – these girls are the faces of the world’s second largest crime and multi-billion dollar industry – human trafficking.
As I sat watching this documentary, I was overwhelmed with sadness – particularly the part where they showed a little three year old girl who’d been raped and subsequently sold by her mother to a brothel (I have two daughters – one is three and the other is 16 months) but the emotion I was more overwhelmed with was shame. Shame at the thoughts and questions that fill my head each day by choosing to live the life we all do here, now – I’m ashamed that I worry about which private school my girls will go to; I’m embarrassed by the food my daughters leave on their plate each night or worse, throw on the floor; I’m angry at the conversations my husband and I have about which overseas holiday we’ll enjoy next. All these thoughts and questions seem so trivial and small.
I’m trying to do my bit to wake people up here in Australia, in the same way I’m trying to wake myself up. At Business Chicks we tell the stories of women doing brave, amazing things in our magazine Latte and on our website every day; we find speakers with heroic stories to tell and big lessons to teach and we put them on our stage at our events; and my team and I try and be role models to others through our actions and beliefs. But, as I was last night, I’m often left feeling a sense of emptiness – that we all could be doing much, much more.
This Friday I head to Uganda with a bunch of Business Chicks members to see the on the ground impact on women and girls that The Hunger Project is able to achieve. Business Chicks has now collectively raised more than $355,000 for The Hunger Project, and last week at our event we raised more than $11,000 for Somaly’s foundation.
I’m proud of that, but I’m not done. I hope never to be entirely done.