Friday, October 28, 2011

Los Angeles Teenagers OFF the Couch: Women Hold Up Half the Sky Open Now at the Skirball Cultural Center

It's not easy to explain, or even understand, why bad things happen in the world, but a new show at the Skirball Cultural Center goes a long way towards helping families turn their outrage into action. Women Hold Up Half the Sky, in town through March 2012, was inspired by a book that proclaims the worldwide oppression of women and girls as the central moral issue of our time. Pulitzer Prize winning authors Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn also believe that "the best way to fight poverty and extremism is to educate and empower women and girls." Kristof and WuDunn, the first married couple to win a Pulitzer Prize together, worked with the Skirball's curators on this landmark exhibit not only to heighten awareness of these issues, but also to spur visitors to action. 

Inside Women Hold Up Half the Sky, we wove around sail-like walled spaces, and learned about inspiring women who are fighting for the rights of abused women around the world. Then we spent a few moments inscribing wishes on blue wing-shaped paper. The wishes, addressed to a woman facing a difficult situation, will be tucked inside a plastic sleeve in an elegant Wish Canopy that hangs over the exhibit space. Our wishes, along with those of countless other visitors that will flock to see Women Hold Up Half the Sky,will turn the Wish Canopy "sky" from white to blue!

The metaphor, of course, is that a simple act can help a woman change her circumstances. We learned how CARE put locked boxes in an African village, allowing a woman to save a few dimes and start a thriving potato farming business. We learned how a Pakistani woman received a micro loan and began an embroidery business that freed her from an abusive relationship and now employs thirty other families. We were inspired to take simple actions for change, from sending postcards to our Senators, to picking up a bookmark with instructions on how to interact with specific charities, to shopping at a wonderful pop-up shop with handicrafts from women's cooperatives around the globe. We particularly loved an iPad station where we could make a micro loan with a dollar that comes with our exhibition ticket -- a direct way to prove the point that what might be pocket change to one family could change the lives of another. When we got home, we received an email that the dollar had been sent to a 36-year old woman from Kenya who runs a clothing shop to support her family.

Who Should Go: We think the show is an important one for young adults who are ready to tackle injustice, but we know it will be tricky to convince kids who aren't naturally inclined towards tough subject matter to come to the gallery. (The subject matter of abuse is not appropriate for elementary or middle-school aged children -- human trafficking and genital mutilation are just some of the horrors faced by women around the globe). You can tell the kids that Angelina Jolie and George Clooney use the power of their celebrity to support causes such as these, or suggest the show as a field trip for a school community service group; in fact, just watching The Girl Effectvideo (listed below) may be inspiration enough to get your kids through the door. Once on site, parents will appreciate that their kids will feel empowered to take action, whether by assembling a care package or gardening kit, sponsoring a woman in a war torn nation, donating food at a local women's center, or learning more about sexual slavery here in LA. One tidbit we gleaned from Kristof is his excitement for how college grads leap into action on issues such as the ones raised in the exhibit - they are notably more sanguine about the ability to address global issues than older generations, so bring your college kids over their holiday break.

Read and Discuss: Nicholas D. Kristof is a New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who wrote Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Knopf, 2009) with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn. The book is a great choice for an adult book group. To learn more, click here to visit the Half the Sky Movement webpage.

Don't Miss: A fabulous pop-up store features items produced by female artisans and women's cooperatives from around the world. Each is tagged with a story, and we particularly loved the beaded animals and a spectacular necklace made from bullet casings. Shop for the holidays with a clear conscience! The shop can also be found online next week on the Skirball website.

Doing: During the holiday season, we make donations to charitable organizations. Why not help your kids get in this habit by giving them a small amount of money (as little as $25) to make a micro-loan to someone in another country? Check out and let your children choose a project they'd like to fund. Once the loan is paid back, your family can choose another project to fund. We've found that a one-on-one approach makes giving tangible to kids. Other interesting approaches include Women for Women International, whose founder Zainab Salbi is featured in Women Hold Up Half the Sky, and whose model is for donors to become pen-pals with a woman in a war torn country.

One More Thing: Check out this clever campaign from The Girl Effect, a charitable wing of Nike, about how changing one girl's life can change the world.
Kids Off The Couch
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