Improving the lives of women and girls
through programs leading to social
and economic empowerment.
Soroptimist International of the Americas
SIA General Speech (Long Version)
Good evening/afternoon and thank you for inviting me to speak about my organization, Soroptimist. We are a global volunteer organization that works to improve the lives of women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment.
Soroptimist helps other women and girls by giving them the resources to create positive change—for themselves, their families, their communities and the world. In more than 120 countries throughout the world, almost 100,000 Soroptimist members help women and girls live their dreams each and every day.
Sometimes we are asked, “Why women and girls? The world is full of problems, and men and boys suffer too.” Our answer is, “Of course there is no shortage of suffering in the world.”
But the reality is that whenever and wherever suffering occurs, more often than not women and girls bear the brunt of it. Consider the following statistics:
Of the 1.4 billion people worldwide living in abject poverty, on less than $1 a day, 70 percent are women, and women generally earn less than half of what men earn.
65 million girls are kept out of school worldwide, increasing the risk they will suffer from extreme poverty, die in childbirth or from AIDS, and pass on those dangers to their children.
One in three women have been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetime.
And, according to a recent report, of the 600,000-800,000 people trafficked across international borders annually for the purpose of sexual slavery, 80 percent are female. Some estimates put this number in the millions.
Actress Nicole Kidman, who is now serving as a spokeswoman for Unifem put it best when she said, "If you help women, you help children and men. You help the family, because women are the heartbeat of the family.”
Now I know these statistics are grim, even overwhelming. Where do you start? How can anyone effect true change?
Adlai Stevenson, a candidate for U.S. president, once paraphrased a Chinese proverb when describing the philosophy of former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. He said Mrs. Roosevelt believed it was “better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
Soroptimist subscribes to that philosophy as well. We look at the state of the world and know the best way for us to help is by reaching out to women and girls with our personal support and our empowering programs.
When we dare to dream for women and girls, amazing things can happen. They go forward with courage to do great things for themselves, their families, communities and the world.
The Soroptimist Dream programs empower women and girls everywhere to live their dreams. These programs include the Live Your Dream: Education and Training Awards for Women and Dream It, Be It: Career Support for Girls.
The Live Your Dream Awards offer cash grants to women who serve as the primary wage earners for their families, to help them complete the needed education and training to enter the workforce and create a better life for their families. Live Your Dream Award recipients are an inspirational group of women. Many are survivors of physical, sexual or emotional abuse and all have triumphed over daunting challenges.
In addition to the funds to support their education and training, recipients us that being honored by an organization of women helping other women helps keep them motivated to reach their goals.
Guadalupe is one such person. When she was a young woman, Guadalupe emigrated from Mexico to the United States in search of opportunity and a new life. She worked hard to earn money and studied the language of her new land. She met a man in her English language classes, fell in love and soon married. After giving birth to two children, Guadalupe came to realize that she was trapped in a violent marriage. She felt lost and alone, without family in a country that was not her own.
“Imagine that your husband has taken complete control of your life. He calls you names and criticizes everything you do, and sometimes he uses physical abuse,” Guadalupe recounted. “Even your hair is not your own when he takes a pair of scissors and cuts it off. Suddenly your entire dream comes apart. You feel trapped as if in a dark room with no windows and no door to escape.”
Eventually, Guadalupe found the strength to leave her abusive marriage with the help of a domestic violence shelter supported by the local Soroptimist club. Aided largely by the Live Your Dream Awards, she went on to complete an undergraduate degree. Today, Guadalupe holds a Ph.D. in criminology and remains a committed activist on behalf of abused women.
“I am very grateful to Soroptimist,” said Guadalupe, “because they have helped me since the beginning of my new life.”
Each year the Live Your Dream Awards disburse about $1.7 million dollars to more than 1,600 women throughout the world. Recipients can use the cash for any education related expense they wish, including books, carfare, childcare, and even rent.
In addition to the financial assistance, this program gives women a sense of pride and accomplishment. Our award recipients consistently report completing or continuing their education, getting a better job, increasing their self-esteem, improving their standard of living and serving as a role model for their children. It was that sense of empowerment that carried Gaudalupe and thousands of women like her through difficult times while they pursued their dreams.
In 2015, Soroptimist launched a new program specifically for girls. Dream It, Be It: Career Support for Girls provides resources to girls in secondary schools who face obstacles to their future success. Dream It, Be It gives girls access to professional role models, career education and resources to live their dreams. Topics covered include career opportunities, setting and achieving goals, overcoming obstacles to success, and how to move forward after setbacks or failures.
Earlier I mentioned a statistic that one in three women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. Throughout the world, more women between the ages of 15 and 44 die due to gender-based violence than cancer, malaria, car accidents and war combined.
Soroptimist has made the prevention and elimination of domestic violence an organizational priority since 1994. Our Workplace Campaign to End Domestic Violence focuses on a rarely discussed area of the domestic violence epidemic. Many domestic violence victims work and although they may feel their place of employment is a sanctuary, the abuse can often follow a woman into the workplace—putting her and her co-workers’ safety in jeopardy and affecting the company’s bottom line.
Soroptimist members reach out to these women by distributing hotline cards in the workplace. They leave the cards in company restrooms, or stuff them in paycheck envelopes. Each year, tens of thousands of domestic violence hotline cards are distributed in workplaces throughout the world. Soroptimists also encourage businesses to establish policies on domestic violence in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their employees.
Another way we create sustainable change is through our Disaster Relief Fund for Women and Girls. Generally, women and girls occupy an inferior position before disaster strikes. They are more vulnerable, have specific safety and health issues, and are routinely left out of the rebuilding process. Our Disaster Relief Fund ensures that women and girls get what they need following disaster, be it helping a domestic violence agency rebuild its shelters or funding local income-generating projects for women. Currently, we’re working with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research on a study of the effects of Hurricane Katrina on women. The study will provide guidance to ensure that in future disasters, the needs of women will be planned for and met.
Another organizational program is the Soroptimist Club Grants for Women and Girls, which funds club projects in local communities. Each year, grants are provided to Soroptimist clubs for innovative local projects that benefit women and girls. Projects include holding skills development classes for women in transition, building a domestic violence shelter, working to end sexual slavery, and offering self-esteem workshops for teen girls. Communities throughout the world have been improved through these projects. (ONLY MENTION IF CLUB HAS BEEN A RECIPIENT OF THIS PROGRAM. IF SO, BRIEFLY GIVE DETAILS.)
Right here, in our community, we are working to (INSERT BRIEF PARAGRAPH ABOUT LOCAL CLUB PROJECTS OR PROJECT THAT HELP WOMEN/GIRLS OR LOCAL PARTICIPATION IN AN SIA OR SI PROJECT)
(MENTION IF CLUB STILL PARTICIPATES IN VIOLET RICHARDSON AWARD PROGRAM) I talked before about looking at a world of trouble and feeling powerless to make things better. We work to replace that feeling with one of hope and accomplishment. And we believe in rewarding others who do the same. Our Violet Richardson Award honors girls who take leadership volunteer positions in their communities. Tara Syed, an award honoree, is an amazing young woman. She founded the first in-school human rights committee in Northwestern Ontario as well as a regional multicultural youth council. In addition, Tara established Revolution Girl Style, which helps younger women deal with gender-related issues in their quest to become successful, contributing members of society. The program has been so successful it has expanded across northwestern Ontario.
Tara told us, “Nothing in life is more important than being kind, caring and compassionate. In itself, this is a duty that every human being should recognize as his or her own. Volunteering has made me become such an individual and I take that in my heart wherever I go.”
(CLUB CAN MENTION THIS IF IT STILL PARTICIPATES IN THE RUBY AWARD PROGRAM) Our other recognition program, the Soroptimist Ruby Award: For Women Helping Women, honors women who, through their personal or professional lives, help other women and girls. One recipient, Kotomi Hori, exemplifies the type of woman recognized through this Soroptimist program. She has made great strides in bringing the issue of domestic violence to the forefront in Japanese society, where little more than a decade ago, the phenomenon was rarely discussed because it was considered to be the private business of families.
Kotomi knew that women in Japan were being abused and decided to establish a shelter where they could go to feel safe. She spent two years researching the field. During that time, a women’s organization Kotomi belonged to held an international symposium on domestic violence, the first of its kind in Japan.
“In the spring of 1997,” said Kotomi, “my dream came true when we opened the doors of our shelter—the first one in Hokkaido, and the seventh in the entire country. Even on the first day, an emergency crisis call came and we helped a battered woman escape her abusive husband. From that moment on, we never had an empty shelter.”
With help from a team of international lawyers, Kotomi and her group realized another dream when they helped to enact the first law to protect women in Japan against domestic violence.
“I’ll always remember each and every woman I have met in the shelters,” she said. “The women who come to escape the violence are truly brave because they changed a terrible crisis into a new chance for life. Every time they overcome the obstacles, they gain self-confidence and strength in their own eyes. When they leave the shelter flying like a swan with wide wings, I think it is the most powerful and beautiful thing in the world.”
Self-sufficiency. Empowerment. Transformation. Dreams. These are words that reflect Soroptimist’s mission. Our name means “best for women,” and that’s our goal—to be women at OUR best helping other women be THEIR best.
Where some see a world of trouble, despair, and hopelessness, we see light—the light of candles burning wherever one woman helps another lead a better life.
I hope you are inspired by what I’ve shared. Our members join 1,300 Soroptimist clubs in 20 countries and territories around the world that empower women and girls through volunteer projects in local communities. If you are interested in learning more about Soroptimist, please visit our organizational website at Soroptimist.org. I also invite you to join our dynamic online community at LiveYourDream.org. LiveYourDream.org offers ways for you to get involved in the Soroptimist mission now. It is a unique online community that empowers both online and offline action, helping women and girls to live their dreams. Everyone is welcome and best of all it's FREE and on your own terms. When you sign-up for the community, you choose your level of involvement and how you'd like to engage in or take action on a number of extraordinary Soroptimist programs.
I thank you for inviting me here today/tonight to tell you about Soroptimist, and the many ways we help women and girls live their dreams.
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© Soroptimist International of the Americas