When California Lutheran University student Kiera Murphy traveled to Hyderabad, India, last spring for an internship, what she experienced changed her life.
She couldn’t leave her room without being sexually harassed, and she realized this was a daily experience for the country’s female residents, who face the culturally embedded sex discrimination common in developing countries.
“I was only there for a short amount of time, and there are girls there their entire lives, whether they’re dealing with dowry or that their communities don’t respect them and that they’re encouraged to drop out of school to become wives.” Murphy said. “India is one of the greatest areas of human trafficking and prostitution.”
Her internship with Voice 4 Girls, a nonprofit in India that teaches girls life skills and the power of sex equality, inspired her to bring the message home.
Murphy, now a U.S. representative for Voice 4 Girls, organized Girl Effect Week at CLU. The week’s activities were timed to promote Friday’s International Women’s Day.
The highlight of the week was Girl Effect Night, held Wednesday at the university’s Lundring Events Center. Guests from international and local groups that work to advance girls and women gave speeches.
“There are so many opportunities to be a role model and be a catalyst for change for the rest of the world,” said Murphy, who plans to pursue a doctorate in public policy and go into politics. “The most powerful lesson I have learned is the impact one person can make. That’s the whole idea of the Girl Effect: Once you have changed that one girl’s life, she can be that domino effect in her community and start changing the world.”
Sima Mobini of the Mona Foundation said the United Nations corroborated that education and sex equality can eradicate poverty.
“The Mona Foundation is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1998, and we support grass-roots educational initiatives around the world with an emphasis on raising the status of women,” Mobini said.
Representatives of local nonprofits also shared their work in this field. The Greater Contribution offers microloans to women in Africa, and Girls in Power holds workshops.
The audience members, mostly female, were attentive.
“I heard about this, and it sounded really interesting, so I thought I’d check it out,” said Mackenzie Paul, 19. “It seemed like it would be really empowering and cool for women.”
Manuel Perez, 20, didn’t seem to mind that he was outnumbered by women.
“It’s more about the issue than the fact that I’m a male that’s important about my being here,” he said. “I thought what Kiera did in India was very eye-opening. These issues are not just for females. Everyone should be aware of them.”
Erin Hickey, 24, was inspired beyond her expectations.
“I thought it was really interesting to see all the local nonprofits that are around that can help with the Girl Effect concept,” Hickey said. “It was really wonderful to hear how passionate all these women are about the things they do for other women in their communities and in society in general. I was expecting it to be informational and empowering, but listening to everybody talk, it was a lot more of a warming sensation than I expected. It made me feel a lot closer to the community.”
--- Published in the Ventura County Star on March 8, 2013