By Joanne Omang
WASHINGTON, June 9 – Cell phone networks, edu-tainment, basketball teams, at least one kidney and great helpings of courage in the face of threats and even murder are bringing young people to the cutting edge of political change for women worldwide, a Women Deliver 2010 panel discussion demonstrated today.
Sarah Nkhoma of Malawi told the 3,000 conference participants that organizing university students to speak realistically about HIV/AIDS risks and sexual behavior earned her an arrest and a severe beating that left her hospitalized. “People don’t want to deal with the fact that young people have sex,” she said. “They owe me a kidney.”
Maihan Wali, a youth in Afghanistan, faltered in describing what happened when she braved anonymous telephone threats to organize events and college women’s basketball teams of 20 players each in 40 Afghan colleges. “It’s not only just playing basketball,” she said. “We were getting information and sharing it with each other.”
She set up programs to build women’s awareness of human rights. The threats continued, and then a friend of hers was murdered. Entertainer Ashley Judd, moderating the session, led the audience in saying the murdered friend’s name three times in remembrance.
In Pakistan, Shamila Keyani established a clinic to bring health care to poor rural women, and wound up telling them about their rights and also treating many men injured in tribal conflicts. The women brought gifts to the doctors, she said: “Women [there] have no sense they deserve decent medical care as a human right.”
Josh Nesbit, a self-described child of U.S. privilege, was stunned to learn that Malawi doctors often walked 30 to 40 miles and two or three days to deliver patients’ documents where they were needed. Nesbit packed 100 cell phones, a computer and some software in a backpack and immediately doubled the doctors’ caregiving capacity. He went on to set up a global electronic network that handled and directed more than 80,000 emergency calls to first responders after the Haiti earthquake.
Then, he said, he realized he had to stay involved. “It was that ‘Oh, crap, this works’ moment,” he said. “At that point there’s no turning back.”
Mexico’s Lourdes Barrera told of a woman activist who was arrested and beaten on charges of kidnapping policemen. “We have laws but not justice,” she said. “What motivates me now is rage for justice.”
“That’s rocket fuel,” Judd said. The emotional panel session, she added, was “an espresso shot of inspiration.”
Watch video of the panel discussion: http://www.livestream.com/womendeliver/video?clipId=pla_988ef296-3ae9-47a4-a3ae-00d54216e182&utm_source=lslibrary&utm_medium=ui-thumb