The article below originally appeared on MercuryNews.com and is being reprinted with permission.
Growing up in the progressive Bay Area, I am possibly more aware of my privileged life than some, but I too often continue to live in a state of cognitive dissonance, not really sure what to do with that privilege.
As a typical junior in high school I pretty much have “privileged teen” written all over me. From my iPhone to my Lululemon leggings, I continue to place value on the nonessentials in my life even though I am aware they are nonessential. I snack throughout the day and eat as many meals as I want — never doubting my food supply. I’ve lost more human contact through social media and technology than I have gained. I sometimes take my education for granted, not thinking about how valuable it is and how so many in the world do not have access to this fundamental right.
The fact that there are young girls in Pakistan denied their right to an education — even shot to prevent it, like Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, is very foreign to me. The thousands of women suffering from fistula in the Congo aren’t women with whom I can directly connect my experiences. And the women in Guatemala working in fields to simply supply their families with a stable life are women who know a kind of truly hard work that I may never have to experience.
I am clearly more privileged than these women. I have obviously won in the geographic lottery. My privilege is luck. I will never know what it is like not to have that luck.
I know what it is to be doubted, though. By my mere identification as a female, I am forced to carry the burden of the various stereotypes that turn a blind eye to the equal abilities of a woman to a man. I live in a country where, while there are many doors open to me, a glass ceiling still means I may only make 77 cents to every dollar a man makes. I am criticized for my clothing choice while my male peers’ behavior is excused away with the attitude “boys will be boys.” Because I am a girl, my body is judged before my capabilities. So, while I really have no idea what it is like to live on two dollars a day, there is something I have in common with women in the developing world.
It is my awareness of my privilege, combined with my awareness of my shared experience with women around the world, that has led me to get involved in microfinance for women in Guatemala.
The College of San Mateo Middle College program is presenting our community with the chance to broaden their mindsets and educate themselves on severe issues facing our world today. Middle College has created a group called “The Middle College Effect,” which helps raise money to finance microloans for women’s small businesses in Guatemala.
Through the nonprofit organization Namaste Direct, we are able to send the money we raise from various fundraisers to specific women looking to strengthen and grow their very small businesses. Through the use of social collateral, in the place of regular loan collateral, groups of women are able to support each other in paying back their loans as their businesses grow and become more profitable.
NamasteDirect offers personalized business training so women are able to create a strong business plan, emerge from the vicious cycle of poverty and become contributing members of their community. This is real. This works. And this helps.
Here’s where you come in. The Middle College Effect is putting on a screening of the documentary, “Half the Sky,” portraying real life triumphs of women all over the world who have faced terrible injustices. Admission is $1. That’s $1 I could likely find in the seat of my car on my way in. That $1 that could contribute to the rescuing of an entire family much less fortunate than my own. That $1 helps that woman’s business flourish, helps her see her true potential and allows her to send her kids to school rather than pulling them out to help support the family financially. That $1 empowers her.
This is not just each individual’s issue. This is not just a women’s issue. This is our issue. Our world, our future. We cannot truly make progress until the potential and capabilities of half of our global population are recognized to their fullest. We can help these women hold up their half of the sky — it is our sky too, after all. Malala Yousafzai has said, “Girls can be the future, if you give them the chance.” I have learned how I can use my privilege to give them, and all of us, that chance. I hope you will join me.
Half the Sky will screen at 7pm in the CSM Theater on Thursday, October 16. Admission is $1. Prizes donated by local businesses will be raffled off as well.
Katie Huddleston is a junior in high school at the Middle College program of the College of San Mateo. She wrote this article for this newspaper.