"I may feel like a little Black girl who can run fast, but I'm also a woman who followed her heart and achieved her childhood dream," writes Cathy Freeman on becoming the first indigenous Aboriginal Australian athlete to take home an Olympic gold medal in the women's 400-metre race at Sydney 2000.
Her sentiment reflects a feeling of power that many women in their 30s and 40s are experiencing. Born in Mackay in northern Queensland (Australia) in 1973, Freeman discovered her passion for running at the age of five and went on to win an Olympic gold medal.
The `Imagining Ourselves: Global Voices from a New Generation of Women' project, which includes a book anthology and online exhibits, celebrates a significant moment in the history of women's lives and reveals a generation of women worldwide who, like Cathy, believe that anything is possible for them today.
The project is the brainchild of Paula Goldman, a doctorate candidate in social anthropology at Harvard University (USA). She has been using art and literature to create bridges between seemingly different groups of people. In post-war Bosnia, she worked on reconciliation and reconstruction projects; and in Kenya, she helped support human rights groups as part of an effort to boost the country's transition to democracy.
An expert in ethnic conflict and human rights issues, Goldman was born in Singapore and raised around the world; this book anthology grew out of her vision of a new generation of women poised to take the reins of global leadership.
Says Goldman, "When I think about the world today, I see a generation of young women with enormous opportunity to make a difference. We are present in record numbers in schools and in the workforce and many of us have access to digital technology that connects us across geographical boundaries. We have a huge opportunity to use these privileges to create substantive change in the world."
The project began in a small way in 2001 with an international call for artistic submissions from women aged between 20 and 40 years to answer the question: "What defines your generation of women". There were over 3,000 responses from young women in 105 countries.
The book anthology, published in association with International Museum of Women, San Francisco (USA), comprises 120 submissions from women worldwide. It is divided into four broad sections - Inside: Women's relationships with themselves and intimate relationships with others, spirituality, body, pregnancy, romantic relationships; Outside: young women interacting with the world around them, work, politics, race, AIDS, environment; Between: Intersections of identity and borders, global; travel, what it means to be an immigrant, what it means to be "between" cultures; and lastly, Towards: The world young women are working to create.
As Sydney-based writer Nina Cullen, 28, says: "When I saw this call for submission, I thought it was a really ambitious project - specific yet not personal. What does it mean to be a woman in this generation? This embodies the idea of a female generation gap. Between a mother and daughter there are obvious disagreements, but the fundamentals stay the same. My dad died seven years ago and with that loss in the family, my relationship with my mother has become much stronger. It's the curiosity about people who created and care for me. There
is an antagonistic dependence on each other".
While Cullen's mother was born in 1930 and lived through war-time Germany and the Nazi rule, Cullen was born in 1977 and grew up in an Australian suburb. She says, "In Australia, we are in a privileged situation. There is a new generation of women who expect more from themselves and have the possibility of getting more for themselves; it's no longer just a dream. The expectation that they have choice is a catalyst".
This project uses the internet and creative media as a platform to unite young women in a fun, inclusive global conversation and inspire them to take on leadership roles in their communities. It also seeks to address the significant obstacles in assuming these roles by exploring the changes, opportunities and challenges facing the first truly global generation of women.
The project is supported by many high profile women across the world from the fields of entertainment, arts, business, economic and human rights. Contributors include writers Zadie Smith, Isabel Allende and Nikki Gemmell, and Queen Rania of Jordan.
From Beijing to Bogota, Sydney to San Francisco, Cairo to Calcutta, the book anthology brings together women from across the world. "It is an important part of a larger project that starts a conversation that holds the possibility of positively changing your life and the world by overcoming the obstacles that women and girls face across the globe. It is more than just an art book, it is a portrait of a generation," writes Chris Yelton, President, International Museum of Women.
The International Museum of Women launched the project on March 8, 2006 in 14 countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, France, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States) and four languages (English, Spanish, French and Arabic).
Over 100 million young women (over 10 per cent of the one billion women between the ages of 20 and 40 years living in the world today) have ready access to the Internet. The Online Exhibit, an interactive multilingual gallery with over 300 interpretations of women answering the question, "What defines your generation?", has discussion forums, resources for action and educational outreach and curricula available for educators to bring content about young women into classrooms. From March to June 2006, the online exhibit will publish submissions on an interactive website, focusing on monthly themes.
The project aims to improve the lives of young women and their communities in the following ways: Increasing the global visibility of young women's leadership; connect advocacy organizations with a broader public; establish international community among the first global generation of women; leverage global media, technology and partnerships to create action for change.
The project will unite young women in taking focused action in three key areas of healthy relationships (ending violence against women); economic empowerment (career/work, entrepreneurship, microfinance); and culture and conflict (uniting women across boundaries).
As former president of Ireland and member of the International Museum of Women's Global Council Mary Robinson succinctly sums up, "The International Museum of Women and the Imagining Ourselves project will create a strong platform for young women's voices, uniting young women in a global dialogue around issues that impact their world."