Cherie Blair and I recently hosted a special event in Israel to announce a collaborative effort. "Women talking Women" packaged Mrs. Blair's international clout as a knowledgeable speaker on woman's issues, her expertise as a business leader, and the obvious fact that she is the wife of Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair, with my contribution of a hefty donation to her foundation. These elements helped us attract some 160 community leaders from the region. The stellar group that took time out of their busy schedules to attend, were mostly women, but since women's issues don't exist in a vacuum, we were fortunate to also have had many men in attendance who were interested in what we had to say.
And what we had to say was that we would like to see more young women entrepreneurs in Israel, and that we're prepared to do our best to help bring that about.
Cherie Blair's Foundation for Women has already started working with young women at the Western Galilee College, by helping them with scholarship funding, and she and her associates have documented that this program works. Our collaborative project will encourage even more young women in Israel to enter the business world -- to do so at a higher level, and with the tools and support -- such as the advice and guidance of a mentor -- that they'll need to be successful.
My SelfWorth Foundation has announced a $1million grant to Cherie Blair's Foundation For Women, in a program developed to benefit both Jewish and Arab Israeli women. The grant will be rolled out in three specific ways. The first part of the grant comes in the form of full scholarships to about 33 young women in Northern Israel, to develop entrepreneurial skills. They will be accessing high-quality economics, accounting, and Business Administration degrees at Western Galilee College.
By providing these scholarships, we hope to address the significant gender inequalities that exist in the business and political spheres there, as well as the alarming under-representation of women in Business and Accounting degree programs in Israel. This is desperately needed in the region to bring about some balance and equity, since women lag behind men in this area two to one. Women need to learn to be achievers in business, and must learn to feel confidant. We are sure that with the right tools, resources, support, and guidance, the young women who go through the program will excel as budding entrepreneurs.
This is significant, I think, at a time when there are so many difficulties, and it seems easy for people to lose hope -- for the women of the region, both Arab and Jewish Israelis, to cooperate, both as neighbors in business, and as fellow students in college. We are seeing the positive results of this cooperation. Two young women, recipients of our scholarships, came to our event and spoke to us, sharing their experiences, thrilled with their prospects now in business -- a wonderful visual when these two young smiling women hugged.
The second part of our project deals with capital -- and will address the need women in the region have to access capital to grow their businesses. We hope to reach over 500 women.
The third part deals with mentors, which we feel is a critical factor in the overall success of the program. Our goal is to to eventually reach 1000 women -- a lofty goal, we know, but we're excited about it, and aim to reach it.
Cherie Blair and I are both committed to helping women worldwide raise their level of education -- to have the ability to be decision-makers in the direction of their own lives, to succeed in whatever career path they choose. Sometimes a scholarship is the hand-up a woman needs to get started on her dream. Sometimes, it is the advice and long-term association of a mentor -- to explain how to create a business plan, to help build confidence. While other times it is merely a friend who will listen to you share your story, and offer you a safe harbor from the pain and the fear, and the guilt of a violent past.
I am often asked what drives me to write and crusade for women's causes. I have many good reasons to do so, but one of the things that compels me is my own past. Please indulge me, and I'll share a little embarrassing side story with you now.
We were on stage for the above-mentioned event, seated for a casual question-answer-formatted interview, moderated by one of Israel's top news commentators, Udi Segal. He pitched me the first question -- "So,Cheryl, what would you like to see for the future of women?"
A broad question, to which I usually have a few good answers. If I had used what I've learned from past interviews with journalists, I would simply have fielded the question with whatever message about women I wanted to put across. Instead, unfortunately, something else happened. My mind went blank.
I started talking anyway, though, about what, I cannot remember -- I do know I was anxiously seeking a foothold for an intelligent reply to Udi's question for what seemed an interminable length of time before I snapped out of my fugue state. It was a frightening moment for me - I felt truly helpless, embarrassed, humiliated, and afraid. I ultimately managed to turn the floor over to Cherie. Thank God for her, because she quickly brought the conversation back down to earth, and me too.
I mention this lapse in mental brightness because, like many other women who have endured violence in their lives, I have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome -- heart-pounding, anxiety-producing, memory-lapse, you-think-you're-going-to-faint ...can't breathe, PTSD. Every now and then, regardless of how much therapy I've had, or how well informed I am about my subject matter - my mind will get triggered, and take flight -- momentarily embarrassing me, and perhaps making those around me slightly uncomfortable. Mental burps or fogs are a mild PTSD response -- things can be worse, as many who suffer with the disorder are aware.
I eventually regained my Mojo, and was able to offer substance to the conversation. But a part of me couldn't help but recognize that once again, I was wounded by the violent attack I had endured in my youth. I was raped when I was 18, and though I write about it, and talk about it often, and have surely conquered it, it is imprinted in my memory banks, and its impact on me as a person, has been profound. I can't deny it.
Still, as much as I know about my disorder, I still find it odd when it comes back to hurt me anew. That said, I continue to cope, because I hold out the hope that even my new wounds will heal, and I know from experience that those places will get stronger.
The women in the audience related to me on a deeper level after I shared my own journey back from that difficult place. I am a survivor, like many other women in the room, and in the world. I refuse to let it take me down. This is one of the many reasons I am dedicated to helping women recover their sense of worth and empowerment now.
At any rate, when I got back to myself, all I could think of was, "Thank God for Cherie Blair!"
Next time I do an event, I'll be better prepared for the 'trigger.' I'll have pre-printed statement cards in hand to remind me where to land if my mind decides to ride a thermal again in the middle of an interview.
Meanwhile, the answer to the question about my hopes for the future of women goes something like this:
We will all have access to quality, affordable education and healthcare.
We won't still be having to advocate that the world do something about one of the millennium goals -- to eradicate violence against women. It will have been accomplished.
We will be more equitably represented in all decision-making spheres of society; political, science, research, math, academic, corporate, military. We are 50% of the population...this should be a no-brainer.
We won't be made to hide -- we won't be made to feel guilty just because we are born female, as is the case now in many countries in the world. Men will take responsibility for harnessing their own sexual lust, and not use women as scapegoats for their own moral weaknesses.
That would have been my utopian answer to Udi's rather broad question. It's something to strive for.