I believe that one of the best parts of Women’s History Month is getting to celebrate some of the inspiring and impactful nonprofit initiatives founded and led by women. This year, I had the incredible privilege to sing with my musical collective, Stronger With Music, at an event taking place at the United Nations on International Women’s Day co-hosted by one such initiative — an organization called The Aspire Artemis Foundation.
The Aspire Artemis Foundation educates, empowers and supports women and children in vulnerable and marginalized communities worldwide by offering opportunities for cultural exploration and holistic educational training. By highlighting the achievements of trailblazers and change-makers and harnessing the power of creativity in young adults, the foundation hopes to act as a catalyst toward inspiring leadership and improving upon quality of life through its skills training, internship and mentorship activities.
The Aspire Artemis Foundation was founded by Hermina Johnny, a woman whose passion for contributing to the greater good exemplifies the spirit of Women’s History Month. Hermina is a globetrotting humanitarian focused on gender equality, human rights, sustainable development, interagency coordination, and internal communications. Whether she is teaching, conducting research, building partnerships, or writing reports, Hermina makes an impact through her work with large corporations, educational institutions, top executives, lawmakers, and governmental organizations. Hermina truly has a gift for leveraging a wide array of economic, social, and political initiatives to work toward her ultimate goal of building a better future for disadvantaged segments of the population.
When I arrived at the United Nations on International Women’s Day (March 8) and entered the conference room where the Aspire Artemis event was about to begin, I immediately noticed the names of the many different missions in attendance. I saw representation from countries like Djibouti, Canada, Morocco, African Union, Guinea, and Singapore seated beside representatives from several UN organizations like UNICEF, UNESCO, UN WOMEN, and UNCTAD. I felt honored to be sharing a space with so many change-makers who were creating new policies, initiating programs, and forming partnerships through their work.
All of the 2019 International Women’s Day events at the UN followed one overarching theme: “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change.” The event I attended was put on by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Djibouti and The Aspire Artemis Foundation, and focused specifically on “the inclusion of arts and culture in STEM education and programming by uniting game changers, road shapers, and trailblazers from across the globe”.
The event took on a multisectoral and holistic approach, bringing together participants from many different geographical locations, religious and cultural backgrounds, and areas of specialty — including the private sector, civil society, grassroots organizations, rural and urban local community leaders, young leaders, and musical performers.
What I loved the most was seeing the number of women in the room. Women of all ages and backgrounds were there to engage, ask questions, and raise issues. It was exciting to see so many women and girls having a seat at the table. Providing more opportunities for marginalized voices to be heard is of the many important missions that The Aspire Artemis Foundation works to inject into society. When marginalized voices are given access to a global platform bringing together the likes of Microsoft and FiscalNote with youth, other private sector and civil society representatives, and diverse countries through a multisectoral approach, it allows participants to realize that their voice has value.”
The conversations focused on women in the field of S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts/Culture and Mathematics) and addressed the overwhelming need to incorporate education in these fields from the very beginning by working with teachers and schools. As one representative from UNICEF said at the conference, “There are 600 million adolesecent girls — what a formidable force they are to create a better world. They are future leaders and innovators.”
The Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations introduced a concept called the 7Cs. It is based on a theory that we can drive meaningful change for women and girls by working on the following: Curriculum, Career, Correct facilities, Caring /Child Care, Capable role models, Confidence, and Courage.
We can empower girls and women through the 7Cs — by providing them with the tools, resources, and strategies for success. This goes on to have a positive impact on their local villages and communities.
As the Under-Secretary-General stated, “When we talk, let’s not think big or abstract. Let’s think of what can make a difference to the everyday lives of people. Loving the solutions; do not live in the problems.”
“Loving the solutions; do not live in the problems”…I found this quote to be so powerful. Sometimes we are too overwhelmed by all of the problems in the world to actually take meaningful action. How can we move away from all of the hate that is out there? Perhaps the answer is by “loving the solutions”. It is through love, and by educating and empowering the leaders of tomorrow, that we can leverage innovation to reach long-term solutions. Innovation is what links science to art — we devise, and we create. Innovation, therefore, is an imperative part of our infrastructure.
I was honored to be one of the musicians invited to perform at this event, alongside Kaori Fuji, Ryan Brahms, and Gabriel Myers. I performed two of my original songs through Stronger With Music with my incredibly talented accompanist Roni Goren Ben-Zvi: “It’s Complicated” (Steve Barakatt) and “Women of Light”.
The Aspire Artemis International Women’s Day event at the UN reinforced my belief that art informs science and science informs art. I was encouraged to see that educational initiatives like the S.T.E.A.M. campaign are sparking conversations and gaining traction around the world. When we find ways to utilize the forces within each one of us — our culture, art, experience, education — and break down barriers, it can drive meaningful and long-lasting change.
Author Piera Van de Wiel is the founder of Stronger With Music, an artists’ collective that empowers women and promotes mental health initiatives through music. Stronger With Music has partnered with Barefoot College, a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers the leaders of tomorrow.