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A Year to Remember

The year 2014 will stand out to us for a multitude of reasons. For me, what resonates the most is the highs and lows we experienced in our efforts to create gender equality in education worldwide.

The most significant mark of progress was the honor bestowed upon Malala Youstafi. Malala, who at 17 years old, was the youngest person ever to win a Nobel Peace Prize. And she's a girl. Top that. Malala, whose brave message and groundbreaking efforts to create universal education have reached thousands and garnered worldwide support. Malala, who called her prize "a challenge to act, not a reward for having done so." How many 17 year olds do you know who are that gracious?

To add to this sense of positive movement, last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued his Synthesis Report. Titled "The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet", the report offers guidance for the key issues for 2015, which includes integrating women 100 percent into full participation in society and achieving gender equality for all women and girls.

Two steps forward. And then Tuesday our world took a big step back.

In the Pakistani city of Peshawar, the Taliban stormed a school and murdered 132 schoolchildren and nine staff members. An additional 121 children were injured and all of the children were believed to be younger than 16. The Taliban has attacked hundreds of schools in the name of its battle against education for girls, which it believes is un-Islamic, and continues to find supporters of its terrorism campaign.

In Africa, the Boko Haram terrorist organization, which has attacked the Nigerian people with increasing frequency, has still not accounted for the 200+ girls they kidnapped nine months ago. The government, which has never exactly screamed for the help in returning these girls safely, has instead announced a ceasefire. This declaration was supposed to result in the release of the girls, but so far has produced nothing. New reports have surfaced revealing the additional kidnapping of 25 girls in October. And still no pleas for help from the Nigerian government, which has gotten nothing done.

Many have coined the phrase "the century of women," to describe the 21st century and 15 years in, yes, we have taken make steps forward. But, for now, its two steps forward, one step back, and this simply won't do, especially when the steps back have such monumental consequences.

Lets make that our 2015 resolution.

There’s Work To Be Done

As the world watches in horror and keeps their fingers crossed for the safe return of the 300-plus girls captured in Nigeria, there has been much confusion. How can the US help? Do the captors’ demands for a prisoner exchange warrant consideration? Who is that barbaric to target girls who want to learn?

There has also been much head scratching. There are many in the world that spend their days advocating for equal gender education and sometimes think they are making some progress. Small battles are won. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announces, “There is no more valuable investment than in a girls’ education”.  And large efforts are recognized. Malala Yousafzai is nominated for the Noble Prize for her work to bring attention to this critical issue and has received an influx of funding from donors who want to support her efforts.

So, sometimes, just sometimes, you think that this type of lunacy is in the past. Then, Boko Harem kidnaps innocent girls in his quest for a pure Islamic state. And we start scratching our heads again thinking, “How can this be?”

Continue reading on the Huffington Post

I’m on Team Malala

Last year, when Malala Yousafzai was nominated for the Noble Prize at the age of 16, I felt conflicted. She’s so young, what will she do with her uninvited fame? There are many worthy candidates and issues. She is the youngest person ever nominated and the first girl.

This year, when she receives her second nomination, there is no doubt in my mind who the winner should be. Malala’s plight has brought attention to an issue that greatly affects so many, but is not embraced by all. While there are numerous people working hard to advocate for girls education globally, there are many governments that do not embrace these efforts and therefore, their girls remain uninformed and unqualified to take on life’s demands.

And it will remain that way until it becomes unacceptable to remain complicit any longer. And it’s a leader like Malala who is making it hard for these governments to ignore the issue any longer.

Continue reading on the Huffington Post

Tis the Season

No, not that season. The holiday season is not upon us yet, although that will be here soon enough. The season I am referring to is football season when girly girls like myself are forced to go sit in cold football stadiums to support their partner’s passion for the gridiron.

Whether it be the Longhorns, the Badgers, the Orangemen or now here in Seattle, the Dawgs – I’ve been dragged to my share of college football games and had to figure out how to stay warm in those stadiums without wearing those blankets with sleeves. A girl has got to have some standards.

So, this is where a bit of the shameless self-promotion comes in. What could be better than a cashmere sweater wrap for these events? They wrap all the way around you and keep you warm throughout the game, but you can still walk out of the stadium demanding some respect.

My favorite brand (completely biased, of course), Red Twist, has wraps in 15 colors, so you might even find your home team’s color and resolve the other impending fashion crisis which is how to pull off burnt orange?!? It’s a tough one and not many of your favorite designers are debuting that color this Fall.

There are numerous versions of this coveted item, so it doesn’t have to be my favorite brand. Many designers have similar styles with one goal (no pun intended) in mind – to keep a girl wrapped up and warm.

I recently came across this great website, called Broke, but Bougie, whose slogan is “Living the cashmere life on a cotton budget” and features fantastic fashion finds and style tips. But, in this scenario, cotton is not going to get the job done. You can wrap up for a whole season in cashmere and avoid those cotton football t-shirts, which are so appealing in September, but you are ready to trash by now.

Although Phyllis Diller’s infamous quote,” The reason women don't play football is because 11 of them would never wear the same outfit in public” is no longer applicable, the fashionista’s desire for warm, hip and fabulous has not changed. So, before you head out to that stadium with only a warm beer to warm you up, heed my advice and wrap up.

Helping Our Girls Rise

My husband and I are constantly struggling to get our children to realize how lucky they are to be living in the U.S. Prior to moving here, we spent five years living in China and traveling Asia, where we saw extreme poverty and witnessed many of the issues that children in developing countries face.

Needless to say, upon our return to the U.S., our three girls quickly put the problems of the world on the back burner as they adjusted to a much easier life back in the U.S. And despite my husband's occasional (and ignored) threats that their summer vacation may include an internship working at a Chinese brick factory if they misbehave, their biggest worry is whose turn it is to do the dishes that night rather than the larger issues of the world about which we would like them to be thinking.

And it has remained that way with us striving to teach them that third-world problems are very different from the first-world problems we experience here.

Continue reading on the Huffington Post >

Right On, Prime Minister

Last week, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, girls and their educational needs received some well-deserved attention. UN Special Envoy for Global Education and former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown recommended that an independent fund for the advancement of education be created, giving girls a better chance to access education.

Right on, prime minister. The number of elementary-aged girls out of school in South Asia and Africa is approximately 35 million. This number has decreased significantly in the past 15 years, but imagine what the world could be like if those 35 million girls were able to go to school?

For a girl to face the world and succeed, education is essential. In addition to the overall benefits of education — brainpower, emancipation, self-respect, the opportunity for significantly more income and the ability to advocate for herself, teach her family what she has learned and become a change-maker in her community — there are also more lesser known advantages to education.

Continue reading on the Huffington Post >

A Bad Year for the Goats

After my last piece, which was about the varying qualities of cashmere, I received a number of questions along the lines of OK, we understand we have to check the labels to make sure the quality of cashmere is high, but why is cashmere so expensive in the first place?

I explained about the nice goats with the soft hair, and how one goat needs to work seven years to make you one sweater, but that wasn't cutting it. The next question was, why is the price of cashmere going up? And the readers are right — the price is going up as the demand for cashmere products increases. When I started Red Twist cashmere two years ago, I asked the cashmere producers that question, and the answer I received for the increased price was along the lines of, "the goat is having a bad year."

Let me preface this by saying that I was living in Beijing at the time and these sort of conversations were fairly typical for me. So I had to wonder, what does that really mean? Is the goat not getting enough food, not enough water, not having luck with the lady goats?

Continue reading on the Huffington Post >

Understanding Cashmere

In Christmas pasts, I would navigate through the holiday rush trying to find that standard holiday gift, the perfect cashmere sweater for my sister or Mom. As I shopped, it would always surprise me to find $80, $200 and $400 cashmere sweaters. I would ask, "What's the difference?"

In Christmas present, I am the one selling the cashmere, but still hearing that question about the price variation. What makes good cashmere? And how do you avoid that beautiful sweater that is going to start pilling the first time you wear it?

After five years living in China, home to many of the goats of the world and, therefore, much of the cashmere production in the world, I have learned quite a bit about this fabric. It became clear that all cashmere is not created equal.

Continue reading on the Huffington Post >