I have devoured stories all my life, and I wonder who I would be today if I hadn't connected to others that way. At times I used stories, mostly novels, to take a break from reality. But whether they came from imagination or experience, stories that touch me also help me remember essential facts -- such as how we are unique but perhaps not alone, or how we are all afraid of dying or being forgotten. Stories keep me grounded. They help me hold on to humanity when humans become too hard to understand. Reading stories and entering the intimacy of strangers transforms a foreign world into accessible territory.
When the great writer Elie Wiesel wrote that "God made men because He loves stories," surely he meant "mankind" which includes womankind. Surely God loved women too? So where are our stories? Open a history book in any given continent and you'll be told about wars and conflicts and treaties and betrayals and economic growth and scientific discoveries. You'll be told about everything men did and destroyed and rebuilt, but for the most part, you'll only be told half of the story.
Women have always been under-reported or seen mostly through the prism of their misery. The women I have met in my many travels are everything but a reflection of their projected image, neither brainless sex objects nor perpetual victims. If one cares to listen, they are the greatest stories out there.
But until now, many women have been banned from leaving an imprint, as if they were an afterthought of history. Millions of women have thus been buried with stories that are forever lost because for the longest time they were considered irrelevant accounts of the human experience. And perhaps, therein lies a definition of solitude: when you know your life should serve others but it won't, because of your gender. Men cite myriad reasons to silence the opposite sex: tradition, culture, violence, religion, status. None of them makes sense. Women have been suffering for absolutely no justifiable reasons, and being deprived of a right to share their story is just one insult amongst many.
As managing editor of the Chime for Change storytelling platform, I hope to federate the tales of women and girls who are building lasting change all over the world. Whether they bring their rapists to court for the first time, or force their way to school, refuse to be genitally mutilated or fight for democracy, women are fighting on all fronts. In their mesmerizing diversity and in a surge of global awareness, they are now claiming their right to write half the story. And the truth is that courage as a common thread usually makes for a good narrative. Courage is what it takes to live your best life as a woman.
The latest story is that of Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old Pakistani girl who wants to become a doctor and whose fight for education led her to be shot by the Taliban. This girl gave courage and hope to millions of people. She showed by example that there is a force mightier than extremism and violence. For the longest time, there she was, a teenager confronting fundamentalists in her little village in the Swat region of Pakistan before she made international headlines. Her story needed to be told not because she craved the attention, but because we need that kind of courage. There are many more Malalas out there, working hard but without a thought for the recognition or wealth that comes with the most common definition of success.
The Chime for Change storytelling platform brings together a remarkable alliance of global correspondents and content partners who are on the frontlines of a largely ignored and necessarily complex reality. But the voices coming through are more than a collective outcry instead they seem eminently individual and the stories seem to emerge from the Earth itself. Some make headlines; most do not. But they are being told to daughters, to communities, in courts. A sense of justice shared by so many women, irrespective of culture and race, is emerging in those tales. It is shaped by an intimate knowledge of what injustice has wrought through centuries of overpowering oppression. In the last few years, the world seems to have become increasingly aware of women's general potential. We know that they are a sound investment, a force to be reckoned with. But he time has come to go a step further by listening to what women have to say and see what that can do for humanity.