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Mariella: How GREAT is changing women's lives

In this week’s guest blog, Mariella Frostrup explains how GREAT Gender Rights and Equality Action Trust, the organization she co-founded – hopes to change the lives of women and girls across the globe.

mariella frostrupI founded the GREAT Initiative along with three other like-minded individuals, Karen Ruimy, Jason McCue and Marc Carter, in 2010, after years of being frustrated with a lack of collaboration, excitement and innovation around gender equality - particularly internationally.

There are, of course, hundreds of organisations and institutions all set up to end gender inequality, and they are working hard to that end. But where is the excitement we saw for Make Poverty History, and Live Aid? Why aren’t we seeing the excitement for gender equality that we see for food security, and for eradicating polio and malaria?

The GREAT Initiative was set up to be the catalyst for change. We want to be a trigger, a movement that pushes forward the gender equality debate. We can’t keep waiting for someone else to fix this problem – no more waiting. The time is running out for millions of women across the globe and so we have to act now.

GREAT very simply does three things: firstly, we form collaborations that will change legislation and policy of the British Government, European governments and global institutions. We want to ensure that, just as human rights abuses are at the heart of decision making, so too will be women’s rights issues.

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Women’s rights are human rights - they should never be separated; yet women’s rights appear to be easily ignored in decision-making processes, and in the distribution of resources. 

The second part of our work is the one that keeps me inspired to make a change: giving grassroots women a voice.

Through my many travels, particularly across Africa, I have been privileged to meet inspirational women who achieve extraordinary things. GREAT exists to give these women a voice and to support them as they make a real impact on the lives of their communities – and we have three main areas in which we make these extraordinary women’s voices heard:

Our Women-led Radio Stations are a core part of our work. Women in rural communities across the developing world have no access to information. As many women are denied the right to learn to read, they can’t even read a local newspaper - their main source of information are their husbands and fathers. The project will support the creation of a network of women’s radio stations across the developing world - inspired by our current programme in Liberia, where a station has been set up by women, for women, to change opinions and information that dominates the Liberian airwaves. These women are not only educating other women in their country, but by being exceptional role models, they are shifting the opinions of men across Liberia too.

Film For Change is a programme that trains women, who are already running advocacy campaigns in their communities, to use video recording and editing equipment to produce videos which could to change the opinions and actions of their communities. 

We’re currently working on a project in Kenya, with a women’s organisation that has been advocating for an end to Female Genital Mutilation. The elders in their communities have been resistant to listening and so change has been very slow. These women have now been trained in using video equipment and have created their own advocacy video on the health problems of FGM. The elders permitted a screening of the video; they’d never seen a video before and were as excited as everyone to watch it. The video was incredibly powerful, as it was filmed by and with community members and so the messages were relevant and effective. Some of the elders who watched the video have asked for FGM to be banned in their communities.

We’ll be using this model to work on many issues that affect women’s rights to strive and thrive; ranging from land rights, to rape, to economic and political empowerment, across the developing world.

Funding Social Entrepreneurs who are making a positive change on the lives of women and girls across the globe. We believe that individuals are the drivers of change – we’ve all witnessed the power of an inspiring individual. This will be an open fund that will allow us to be flexible in where and how we fund these individuals.

This brings me to our current campaign. For far too long feminism and gender equality have been demonized. They have become words that symbolize hatred for men and for women that are viewed as “feminine”. We intend to reclaim both those words and to show the world the real face of a feminist. 

That face will surprise us all. It is the face of a man who loves his wife or daughter, the face of a grandfather who wants his granddaughter to have an equal chance in life. It is the face of that well-turned fashionista, who embraces her femininity. It is the face of a housewife or househusband. It is the face of the company CEO who wants to attract and keep the best talent he can, some of which arrives in the form of a woman. It is my face, it is your face, it is the face of my son, who I want to grow up respecting all human beings, male and female. We are developing innovative campaigns that will reach out to everyone and show what feminism is really about.

The GREAT Boodles Bangle 

Our first campaign is in partnership with the family-run British jeweller Boodles. We have created a beautiful bangle that you can buy for a woman that you value and want to celebrate. It is a bangle that enables us to celebrate the women in our lives, while supporting the women that the world does not value enough - 100% of the profits from the sale of these bangles goes to the GREAT Initiative.

I am proud to be one of the founders of an organisation that is creating this change, but we can’t do this without you. We need to be part of this change, to participate, educate and add your voice.


Last updated: 16-Apr-2013 at 12:21 PM