GREAT’s founder Mariella Frostrup explains the background to our work…
I founded The GREAT Initiative in 2010, along with performer and advocate Karen Ruimy, and human rights lawyer Jason McCue after years of being frustrated with the lack of collaboration, excitement and innovation in the gender equality space – particularly in international settings.
There are of course hundreds of organisations and institutions all set up to end gender inequality and they are doing brilliant work to that end. But where is the excitement we saw for Make Poverty History and Live Aid? And why is so much of the current agenda about women as victims and men as perpetrators, about playing a blame game instead of building a global movement of women and men fighting together?
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. The time is running out for millions of people across the globe and we have to act now.
GREAT acts through three very simple things:
First, we form collaborations that will create a change in legislation and use evidence to influence the policy of the British Government, European governments and global institutions. Where the evidence of what works, how and where isn’t there we work to fill this gap and are now building a global Atlas of gender equality and the key issues that impact it.
Through all of this we strive to ensure that, just as human rights are at the heart of decision making, so too must be gender rights. We know the two are inseparable but more needs to be done to support awareness and understanding among wider public opinion – this is the second part of GREAT’s strategy.
For far too long terms like feminism and gender equality have been misunderstood. They have become words that symbolize hatred for men and for women considered too “feminine”. We need to reclaim this space, and to show the world what caring about this really means.
We are developing innovative campaigns that will reach out to everyone and help people understand why arbitrary inequalities based on the contents on your trousers are damaging us all. This is something every single person cares about – whether they know it or not.
The latest of these, Great Men Value Women, works with young boys to help them understand and question what it means to be ‘a man’ in today’s society, think about how existing norms affects their lives and how they might want to change it. Supported by some extraordinary young male Ambassadors this campaign is bringing gender equality to gender equality, getting the boys to work with this girls to make society better for everyone.
Our collaboration with family-run jeweller Boodles we took a very different approach and raised the issue with another new audience. Here we created a bespoke bracelet especially for celebrating a woman you value and admire. An unprecedented fundraiser with 100% of profits going to GREAT, the campaign has a simple premise: by buying the GREAT Bangle by Boodles for a woman you value, you support the women worldwide who aren’t valued enough.
Each campaign we run brings the realities of gender equality to a new audience, helping everyone understand what a feminist really looks like. The real face of a feminist is a teenage boy whose mum can’t afford better food because she’s paid less than her male colleagues, it’s the girl who is free to be a housewife, and it’s 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 and of the CEO who wants to attract and keep the best talent he or she can, some of which arrives in the form of a woman. It is my face, it is your face, and it is the face of my son who I want to grow up respecting all human beings, male and female, just the same.
The final part of our work is the one that keeps me inspired every day: helping grassroots women’s movements have a stronger 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.
One of our flagship collaborations is in Liberia, supporting Liberia Women’s Democracy Radio, a women-led radio station which gives rural communities access to essential information in an engaging way. Set up by women, for women, the station works to provide a vital information service while simultaneously changing opinions about women’s potential in society and to challenge the outdated assumptions which dominate much of the Liberian airwaves. These women are not only educating other women in their country, but by being exceptional role models they are helping to shift the opinions of men and women across Liberia.
We are now working with our Liberian partners to explore how we can expand this model to other countries, and support other women’s media initiatives. Through this, over the long term, we hope to see the creation of a network of women’s radio stations that will support each other.
When women are trying to change opinions in their communities, it is often very difficult, as they do not have the platform they need to be effective. With a partner organization we are developing a program that trains women to use film to change the opinions and actions of their communities.
In Kenya local women are advocating for an end to Female Genital Mutilation; the elders had been resistant to discussing the issue but with their own advocacy film on the health problems associated with the practice – they’d never been featured in a film before and were as excited as everyone to watch it – they have begun to listen. Some have now asked for FGM to be banned in their communities.
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.