Speaking for Gender Equity at International School

DSC00215_copyIf the dynamic group of senior girls who pulled off an enlightening International Women’s Day at Zurich International School is any indication, the future for women is in good hands. This talented group of young ladies organized a memorable event reflecting on gender bias within art, sport and the work place.

The multicultural members of the committee were completing their final year of the international baccalaureate and on target to enter fields in law, medicine, and international relations at universities around the world.

I led off their program recounting the history of the pioneers in women’s sport and the impact of the groundbreaking Title IX amendment to the Civil Rights Act. As I explained legislation helps but attitudes take longer to change than laws. Gender biases are deeply ingrained.DSC00225

Real change has to start in the home with men sharing more equitably childcare and housekeeping chores. Brothers must contribute as equally to domestic chores as their sisters.

After speaking I answered a barrage of questions not only about my experiences, but also about what can steps can be taken towards gender equality.

A German boy in a Duke basketball jersey, an avid hoopster asked how young males growing up today can make things more equitable.

“Well, you can start by going home tonight and cooking dinner for your mama.”

Parents serve as our first role models, yet their roles as breadwinner and homemaker are so institutionalized that we don’t even think about it. Even if they work outside the home, women in all cultures continue to do the greatest percentage of work in home. Half of all women do some kind of housework compared to only one-fifth of men. If they are mothers, they spend twice as long as fathers doing unpaid domestic work each week. Within many societies the disparity is far greater.

Due to centuries of inequity, gender bias remains a pervasive part of our psyche.

Following my speech, Regina Lanford discussed how artistic images have perpetuated cultural prejudices about women. Then Eleanor (Tabi) Haller-Jorden, talked about the gender gap in leadership in corporations across Europe urging us to avoid gender stereotypes that are inherent in every culture.

After the speeches, a school band played hits of the seventies during lunch hour while the girls sold tulips in a pledge for parity. A lively panel discussion between teachers, parents, students, and speakers topped off the day.

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International Women’s Day with Amy Greene, former DI player, coach, mom and assistant principal ZIS

Will the efforts of these young women in Zurich revolutionize the world? No, probably not. But their actions will raise eyebrows, increase awareness, and open dialogue. And if the turn out at ZIS International Women’s Day Celebration was any indication, with males in attendance in almost equal numbers, we are headed in the right direction.

But our work is cut out for us. “The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Only a year later 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.”

A study by McKinsey Global Institute shows that by advancing women’s equality $12 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025. We must pledge for parity in the public, private and social sectors. Raising awareness is a first step.

Our travail has just begun.

 

Brussels Bombing – Freedom to Fly in the Terror Age

imagesWe knew it was only a matter of time until the next terrorist attack. Yet, when the suicide bombers struck the Brussels international airport and near the heart of the European Commission at Maelbeek subway station, the shock, horror and disbelief reverberated around the world.

Weeks earlier, during a long lay over in the Brussels airport on our way to a basketball tournament in Vienna, my team dispersed to wander in gift shops and buy snacks. Though a few armed guards patrolled, the ambiance remained peaceful. Even so, when my team regrouped at our departure gates, I breathed a sigh of relief as I counted heads. Under my watchful eye, the girls lounged in comfy seats passing time by telling stories, texting friends, taking pictures and giggling, enjoying the last vestiges of youth.

To comprehend the impact of terror attacks, one has to understand how closely we are interlinked in Europe. With low-cost airlines one can fly from one capital to another for less than the price of a tank of gas. We travel through national borders more often than most Americans cross state lines.

My home in Switzerland is a mile from France, so I border hop to shop, hike, and dine out. When I coached at the American School of Paris, Brussels teams were part of our international athletic conference. Presently during our school break in Geneva, some students returned home to the Belgian capital; others traveled through there on route to their homelands.

After I heard the news of another attack, my first impulse was to reach out. I contacted friends whose children live and work in Brussels. Yet even after loved one’s safety is assured, doom prevailed. How can we stop this fatal spiral of violence?

tnPAB3n05I0wkA2AiQM-FGruhag6LKcP3pn1bTkO65ynq_k56sPDvE9sTtq-L95z4GJrSw=s115My family and friends live cross culturally. Our only link to each other is by air travel, so fly we must, but never without trepidation, never without fear.                 .

Thankfully I have never been the victim of a terrorist attack, but I have deplaned on an Italian runway, while police dogs searched cargo after a bomb threat. I have been standing at an American Airlines ticket counter in Paris when security forces cleared the area to detonate an unclaimed bag. And I have taught students who lost loved ones in terrorist attacks. I will never forget the words of one former student who wrote,

«When I found out that my mom died in the Nairobi bombing, I was so shocked,  I ran straight through a glass door. »

In the future, we must continue to cross borders, reach out to others, exchange information and stay united. We must maintain open lines of communication to learn about other cultures, faiths and nationalities.

But today we must mourn. Our hearts ache for Brussels a beautiful capital city in a small, peace32771D1300000578-3505016-Tributes_People_hold_up_a_banner_as_a_mark_of_solidarity_at_Plac-a-21_1458678138603 loving country, resplendent with culture, tradition and charm.

Tomorrow we must spread our wings. Soon, my brother will fly to Brussels for business, my daughter will fly to Geneva for family and my son will fly to London for love.

Fear must never keep us grounded. We must continue to soar free like a bird. And then fight with every ounce of our strength to uphold that freedom.

Pockets Full of Friends Make Every Day Special

Quicks at SLI was so bowled over by well wishes for my birthday that I decided to add an extra day to the calendar in February just to celebrate longer. Having been around for nearly six decades and having moved often I accumulated a lot of acquaintances. Though I hate the impersonal nature of the Internet, it miraculously allows me to reconnect with friends from past lives.

I never carry a purse (too hard on the back) instead I wear pockets. Though I may forget to carry cash or identity papers (Americans struggle to develop the habit of toting passports), I never leave behind valuables. Instead of money, I stash friendships in my pouches and pull out memories of each to help me through tough times.

My pocketbook may be empty, but my pockets are overflowing. And birthdays, as reluctant as we are to have them in midlife, give us a time to reconnect and reflect on the wonderful people in our lives. Those reminders are especially valuable when facing isolation due to pain, loss or health setbacks like I did recently.

We all belong to circles. And we don’t need Google+ to remind us.

neighbourhood's gangGrowing up as one of 4 siblings only 5 years apart, we shared cars, clothes and playmates. When I need a lift, I think of my old neighborhood gang back in the day when it was safe to play outside even after the streetlights came on.

How could I ever forget my college roomies, the family, who happy bdayshared that magical time transitioning from childhood and adulthood when all dreams seemed possible. One of whom sketched cards to pick me up in tough times and made me laugh everyday with her creative zest for life. Or the teammates, who picked off pesky defenders, set up perfect plays and had my back literally every time I drove to the hoop.

Or my international friends from the Land Down Under, to the City of Lights, to Berlin to my peeps here in Geneva. And all those basketball buddies – coaches, teammates, players throughout the decades – whose lives intersected mine in gymnasiums around the globe.

How could I forget my writer friends who reach out through their words? Those women on the Midlife Boulevard whose wisdom helps me navigate the perils of middle age. And to my reader friends that make this blog buzz.

Long ago I pitched my purses, but I keep my homies close by tucked in my hoody. They understand my past growing up on main street in the Heartland.

In my front jacket pocket, I tote new friends; in my back jeans pocket I carry old pals. And in my breast pocket, close to my heart, I hold loved ones who have been with me every step of the way, those sisters and brothers who held me up through tragedy. And triumph.

Thanks for filling my pockets with memories, for touching my life. Your birthday wishes reminded me how blessed I am to be around for another year.

My mom taught me early on that even though every day can’t be my own birthday, each day is a gift. The secret to a happy life is learning to share in other people’s joy. Join in someone else’s celebration. Share the laughter. Spread the love.

Cheers! Here’s to all of you!

Sharing My Story at the International Women’s Day Celebration

2014-03-20 05.50.16As someone who grew up in a time period when women, like children, should be seen, not heard, I grew up without a voice. I wrote Home Sweet Hardwood, a Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball to tell the story of the pioneers. Since its publication, I have been invited to speak at dozens of functions including ironically those hosted by organizations like the Rotary, Kiwanis and NCAA, who for years denied access to women. I never passed up a chance to share our story and felt especially privileged to be invited to speak to the next generation at the International School of Zurich (ZIS) for their International Women’s Day March 8th celebration.

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”

Coincidentally, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) as part of the International Women’s Year 1975, which was the same year the groundbreaking Title IX (June 23, 1972) was to be in regulation. This year, the IWD theme “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up For Gender Equality” focuses on women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.

As a misfit in an era when female athletes (especially in team sport) were ostracized from society, I grew up on the fringes of girl groups, hanging out as one of the boys. In adulthood, as a basketball coach in a field dominated by male coaches, officials, and athletic directors, I often felt like the odd “man” out. It has been a pleasure to see more women joining the ranks in sports and to offer a tribute to the women and men who contributed to women’s rights advancement in my homeland.

Gradually, Title IX revolutionized women’s lives in America by opening doors to education and athletics. Though we may be growing closer to gender parity in the West, women lag far behind in many parts of the world. Women are subject to sex abuse and domestic violence and continue to be denied access to health care, education and equal opportunity in the work place.

The need to celebrate women’s day remains crucial.

Step It Up Highlight“Everyone – men and women – can pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly and each of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to help include and advance women.”

Change begins with one voice, one dream, one step.

On March 8th, I will be speaking in a room filled with girls from around the globe, movers and shakers of the next era, who will go on to become doctors, lawyers, diplomats, and leaders in their own countries. It dawned on me, maybe, my role all along was not to play ball, but to share my experience to inspire, to light the fire, and pass the torch to a younger generation who can use their talents to make this a better world.

I finally know who I am… an international woman.

Please join us in the party. Take time to celebrate the women in your life and make a pledge for parity.

Timeline: Women's Footprint in History

fascinating timeline – be patient, takes long to upload, but it is worth waiting

Basketball Blues and Brotherhood: Remembering Mike Maloy

Mike MaloyEvery February, I celebrate Black History month in the lessons I teach. I know what a travesty it is to be left out the history books by the powers that be. I owe a lot to my African American teammates who overlooked my skin color during our time together. Shared passions, common goals and interdependence out weigh prejudice. But nowhere was the bond greater than when I moved to Paris and joined the expats ball club.

It doesn’t matter if you are blue, green, orange, purple or female when you are flying solo in the Euro basketball league. Only a fellow American can appreciate our love for the game and understand the isolation of living in a foreign land 4,000 miles away from home.

When I first started coaching high school ball at international schools, women coaches were rare, but my male contemporaries – players recruited to play in Europe and who stayed on – accepted me with open arms. At the American School of Paris, Henry Fields, dubbed the Father of French Basketball, took me under his wing in the international coaching “brotherhood.” Another mentor, Mike Maloy, like Henry broke down racial barriers, and left his mark in Austria.

Mike, a tall lean guy with an endearing personality, winning grin and a raspy, heartbreaking bluesy voice, never belied the bitterness that a lifetime of discrimination could create.

He was so non judgmental and unassuming. You would never know by talking to him that he put Davidson College on the map of the NCAA basketball, dominated in the Austrian pro league and sang lead with Boring Blues Band in the Viennese music scene.

Under the leadership of the legendary Coach Lefty Driesell, Mike became the first African American to play at the small southern, predominately white Davidson College where the New Yorker worked as hard to fit in as he did to rebound. In 1967 Mike also became the first African American to pledge SIGMA CHI fraternity, an action that created scandal within a system that had a long-standing tradition of discrimination.

In 1970 Mike was drafted by the Boston Celtics. In 1976 he became the first African American in the Austrian league. He again overcame intolerance and went on to win four national titles with UBSC Wien Basketball team before becoming a successful coach in the league.

In Austria, Mike admitted the he started to enjoy the game again. “It wasn’t about money. It was about chillin out and getting my head straight. I kept staying another year.”

That line echoes the sentiments of dozens of former American players that have befriended me during my decades of living abroad.

After his untimely passing, American International School of Vienna (AIS) named the high school basketball gym in his honor. And it was on his court that I remembered him best.

My fondest memories of Mike were seeing him at international tournaments, sitting at the bar sipping beer after a game, ever ready with a pep talk.

Once while lamenting getting beat out of the final, I asked, “What am I doing wrong?

“Wrong? With your tiny, lil’, raggedy team you got no business being in the same gym with goliath – I saw you coach your skinny butt off to get into the semis.”

When many seasons later, my lil’ raggedy team from Geneva snatched the Sport Council International School (SCIS) championship from the 7-time champion AIS on their home court, I thought I heard my old buddy laughing from the rafters.

“I told you so, girl.”

Thanks for believing in me, bro.

This one is for you.

Paris Under Fire – State of Emergency

8xvDxBJA_normalYesterday evening, we did not watch TV…
We woke this morning to the alarming headlines: Paris Under Fire, President Holland Declared State of Emergency. In the deadliest attack since WWII, over 120 people were slain simultaneously during terrorist attacks at 6 different locations in Paris. Like most people our first reaction was disbelief, then horror, then concern for the safety of our family and friends living in Paris.

We have personal ties to Paris, a place we called home for over a decade during the 80s. Our children were born in the City of Lights. Our French family members still reside there, as do old friends. Terrorists tarnished the image of gay Paris when they gunned down young and ordinary people on a leisurely Friday evening dining at local cafes, listening to a rock concert and watching a football match.

Stunned as we watched the newsreel unfold, I insisted, “Call him.”

One of my husband’s best friends and family live within a stone’s throw of the targeted local restaurants, Little Cambodian, La Belle Equipe, and Carillon and Casa Nostra cafés and the Bataclan, the celebrated concert hall where the greatest number of victims were methodically slaughtered among the 1500 spectators of an American rock band performance.

When our friend answered the phone, we both breathed a sigh of relief; his apartment was situated in the center of the deadliest attack on French soil.

“My wife and I have breakfast every weekend at the Bataclan cafe,” he told my husband.

During the night of terror, gunshots and sirens flared outside their apartment, a night of despair knowing their 3 daughters were out in town, unable to get home until early hours of the morning.

The attack was systematic and precisely executed. The greatest massacre occurred in the Marais, a trendy district in 11th Arrondissement. It is traditionally a Jewish area: our friend is of Jewish descent. It might not be a coincidence that the Marais was targeted.

When the revelers tried to escape the concert hall out the back door into the alley, a man armed with a Kalashnikov was waiting to gun them down. Video footage shows other young people hanging for the windows in attempts to flee.

Within the hour other kamikazes attacked outside the Stade de Paris in St.Denis, a stadium packed with 80,000 football fans watching France against Germany. Luckily that assailants were unable to enter the arena or the death toll would be far worse.

Waves of sadness wash over us, making our hearts heavy and limbs weak. As in the aftermath of 9/11, we are reminded it no longer matters if it is an American trade center, a French concert hall, a Russian plane, or an Egyptian resort, all of us who value democracy including peaceful Muslims are at risk.

Our initial reaction of concern for the safety of our immediate family and friends offers no relief in knowing they are okay, instead a free-floating anxiety, unnerving impotence and imperceptible grief reigns.

A noxious fear permeates our souls. Our only certitude is knowing that regardless of our nationality, race or religion, we are all vulnerable in the age of terror. Though we may not be related by blood nor share the same language and culture, we are united by our respect for freedom and democracy.

Today our beautiful City of Lights is plunged in darkness. Liberty, equality, fraternity must prevail.