On Monday, 11 April 2016, I sat in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association room at the Houses of Parliament in London watching Leslee Udwin's critically acclaimed documentary India's Daughter. The shocking hour-long film based on the harrowing gang rape and death of Jyoti Singh, raises a key question. How is it that in 2016, we still live in an inherently violent world that is plagued by bigotry, prejudice and most of all, inequality?
Despite insurmountable amounts of legislation prohibiting discrimination and mandating equality in a number of countries and nearly every nation having signed up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, nearly all of us have suffered some form of prejudice or discrimination due to our race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation or some other difference. Prejudice is rife. With a US Presidential hopeful promising to build walls to keep out Mexicans, gays being thrown out of buildings in ISIS controlled territories and women nearly invisible in corporate leadership - the world seems trapped in a mind-set that continues to breed bigotry.
The consequences of this mind-set have been nothing short of devastating for humanity. In 2014, 180,000 people were killed and nearly 50 million displaced due to armed conflicts. Every year, it is estimated that war leaves 4 to 5 million children disabled and 12 million more homeless. Nearly 1 in 4 American women will suffer domestic violence during their life time, 1.4 million British women suffered from domestic violence in 2014 alone and nearly two thirds of all women across the world will suffer some form of violence or abuse.
The cost of the consequences of prejudice is staggering. Wars alone costs the world US$ 400 billion annually - higher than the GDP's of Singapore, Egypt, Austria and Norway, and in the USA, the annual cost of domestic violence against women is estimated at US$ 8.3 billion.
Politicians, civil society organisations and activists have for generations promised to eradicate discrimination and create a fairer and just world. Although we have, through the generations, moved closer to that ideal; a world that truly thinks equal has only been a distant dream. But, in 2016, Leslee and her team may have found the solution.
Think Equal is a new UN Human Rights Office endorsed start-up initiative, led by Leslee Udwin, that is creating a ground breaking new curriculum to be introduced into schools around the world that will start teaching children a fundamental value system based on empathy, compassion and equality. The initiative aims to provide children with a more holistic education that will begin in the first year of a child's entry into the schooling system and end in the last. Its most profound contribution to education will likely be the Early Years Curriculum (the "EYC"). Targeted at children in the 3 to 7 years age category, the EYC will focus on values of fairness, equal status, confidence to express one's voice, courtesy, empathy and consideration. Led by Think Equal's Education Director, Helen Lumgair, the EYC will employ the latest philosophies of the world's education systems incorporating imaginative play, art, sport and other instruments aimed at breaking down stereotypes.
As the student grows older, the subject will evolve in its complexity, introducing concepts of human rights, democracy and electoral systems and fact-based studies to familiarise students with humankind's past mistakes. Learning will be about fortifying and empowering children to utilise their potential fully as they become responsible, moral, empathetic, and equal adults.
The initiative has already gained immense traction globally. Its patrons include some of the world's biggest celebrities, philanthropists and political leaders including Meryl Streep, Lord Verjee, Harin Fernando, President Joyce Banda and Sir Ken Robinson. The panel helping review and create the curriculum is beyond impressive - consisting of representatives from the UN, World Bank and some of the world's leading educational institutions such as Yale and Stanford.
The underlying vision behind Think Equal is that this new holistically educated generation will grow into natural advocates of change and will self-identify with issues of equality. A new generation of leaders who take not only personal but also collective action to end violence and discrimination in their lives and in communities.
With 28 countries on board and 9 pilots already confirmed for 2017 (a school in Kurunegala, Sri Lanka being the first to pilot the subject from January 2017), Think Equal is probably embarking on the biggest educational experiment in generations. Its success will depend on the number of countries that are willing to commit to the underlying principles of the initiative and who want a solution to the many challenges they face. But, its final testament will take nearly two decades to unravel, through a new generation of equal thinkers that are helping create a safer and more equal world.