A few years ago, the Country Directors for Women for Women International in Congo and Rwanda were crossing the bridge that connects their two countries - it's called La Corniche and is a very non-descript bridge lying between Giseny in Rwanda and Goma in Congo. It looks more like your bog standard dusty road. But for Rwandans and Congolese, La Corniche has huge significance because this was the scene of the mass exodus during the genocide of 2004.
The Country Directors had a vision that the women of their two countries would all come together on this bridge to show that women can build the bridges of peace and hope. I'd recently started to work with them at Women for Women when they talked about this dream, and they asked me how I thought we could get international attention and support for the women on the bridge. Straight away I said that I'd love to organise a similar event in solidarity with them in London, and that I could ask other colleagues, supporters and friends to likewise organise bridge events around the world.
We decided that we'd all stand on a bridge - any bridge - whether it was three of us, or 300 of us, all on the same day. And what better day to choose than International Women's Day (IWD), 8 March. Therein was born what has now become the biggest global women's rights campaign calling for peace and equality, called Join me on the Bridge.
So, on 8 March 2010, we all took our tentative first steps on bridges. We thought we'd be doing well if we had 10 events around the world, and so you can imagine our excitement when this idea took off and there were 129 events in 24 countries. The women of Congo and Rwanda were joined by other survivors of war in four other countries where Women for Women runs life changing skills training and support. Women for Women also works in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it was felt to be too dangerous for women there to march on bridges to call for their rights and equality.
In London, we were joined by about 500 people to march on Millennium Bridge. We didn't really know what to expect - I was just so excited that people were joining us as more and more people gathered with their banners and faces painted. I'd also met Annie Lennox a week before at a dinner hosted by the White Ribbon Alliance and talked to her about the campaign, and she said she'd love to join us. And so you can imagine how excited we all were as she galvinised us to dream and aim higher in our collective campaign for women's equality.
In fact, it was all so thrilling that we decided to organise a second Join me on the Bridge campaign to mark the 100th anniversary of IWD last year. Our colleagues in Afghanistan and Iraq felt that they really wanted to join in the campaign, and the women there took huge personal risks in joining bridge campaign events. In Kabul, there was a bomb explosion close to where the women were marching - a scary warning about the risks that they were taking. For most of them, it was the first time that they'd taken part in any kind of campaign and it was the first time they felt that they had a voice - which were captured in this film.
Over 75,000 people stood on bridges in solidarity with the women of Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo, Rwanda and other war-torn countries last year. We had a dynamic campaign collaboration with Google and this made a huge difference and meant that there were 464 events in 70 countries.
This year is the 101st anniversary of IWD and we're organising our third Join me on the Bridge campaign. We have events happening on all seven continents, with the 2041 International Antarctic Expedition scheduled to stage their bridge events on 8 March. All of this would have been unimaginable 101 years ago. We see this as the first year of a new century for women.
The last 100 years have been about getting the vote and women in the west making many strides towards equality, though there is a long way to go. We don't want it to take 100 years, but we are now calling for all women to be equals - whether it's in parliaments, the boardroom and, in war-torn countries, on peace councils. We've been very much inspired by the vision of Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn who write in the influential that "In the 19th century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was the battle against totalitarianism...in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world."
The first step that we can all take towards achieving this gender equality is to stand on a bridge. Whether there is a bridge event happening near you, or whether you want to get together with a few friends and organise your own get together, equality starts with us all taking a stand - so please join us on 8 March. You know what they said about one small step...it's a giant leap for womankind.
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