I have wanted to go back to school for a long time. It started even before having my first baby and moving states. But one thing led to another and the time never seemed to be right. In the Spring of 2020—when school went online for my kids, then 9 and 12, because of the global COVID-19 pandemic—life stopped in so many ways.
I tend to be more of a hands-off parent, and instead I found myself over organizing and overthinking. I was at a point where I was feeling like my kids were beginning to exercise their independence. So, by the end of summer 2020, I decided to apply to grad school.
I knew that I wanted to learn formally about global policy. Running World Moms Network for over a decade increased my knowledge and enthusiasm for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and I wanted to learn more to help the planet move forward and make lives easier and more fulfilling for people, especially women and girls.
I live in New Jersey, so I was looking at schools only in that corner of the U.S. to accommodate my family life. In nearby New York City, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) was the dream. The school was created by the same founders as the United Nations, originally as a school for diplomats. It is also ranked as the number one school in the country for international affairs. I wasn’t planning to start school until September 2021, or maybe even Janury 2021, the earliest. However, before I knew it, I was in conversations with SIPA’s admission’s department, and they asked, “Why don’t you apply now?”
NOW??? How could I apply now? I hadn’t written a resume in over a decade. I also would have to write the essays and find 3 people to recommend me. And then there was even a video interview part of the admissions process to prepare for! The admissions counselor had just invited me to a challenge, that I didn’t even know what the result would be. After all of this, would they even admit me?
Why did I think I’d need 6 months or a year to prepare my application? (You don’t.)
So, I put the pedal to the metal. I found three people to ask recommendations from. Now I had transcripts to get from Villanova University. It’s been a long time since I graduated! It’s all online now – it was so easy to do. Next, I had to work on the essays.
My kids and husband understood that I was now on a mission, one that seemed to excite them, too, and they left me to it. Iced tea and snacks were quietly delivered to me by kids as I hashed out my application in front of my computer.
Before I knew it, my application was in. Then I waited. Then, I found out that I was accepted! I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it work at first – the money, the commute to New York City, getting coverage for the kids when we needed it, etc. But I made a plan. My first year, beginning with the Fall 2020 semester, wound up being virtual during a very still unknown part of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fast forward to Fall 2021, and I was volunteering on a Zoom panel for new students, had already lobbied the EMPA administration about a possible new degree specialization, and was now starting my classes in person.
If I said it was all easy, I’d be lying! I’ve had to make other things in my life as easy as possible in order to survive – give up volunteer positions, order take out more often (the kids don’t mind), or make appointments closer to home to fit them in. My husband and kids had to pitch in more at home, too. It’s all still not enough, but this stage of my life will only last until graduation.
Now in my Spring 2022 semester, I have only 5 out of 15 classes left to take, and I am halfway through 2 of them. I am not entirely sure exactly what the future will hold yet after I graduate, but I have some ideas, and I am learning soooo much – economics, global trade and development, global energy policy, policing in the 21st century, strategy, management, statistics, social welfare policy, social justice movements, nonprofit finance, social enterprise, etc. I plan to be on the planet for a long time!!! At 45 I’m not done — I’m just getting started again. The skills and knowledge and connections that I am making at SIPA will, no doubt, help me work towards improving life on the planet for those who need it most for decades to come. So, right now was the right time!
Jennifer Burden is the Founder and CEO of World Moms Network, an award winning website on global motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. World Moms Network writes from over 30 countries, has over 70 contributors and was listed by Forbes as one of the “Best 100 Websites for Women”, named a “must read” by The New York Times, and was recommended by The Times of India.
She was also invited to Uganda to view UNICEF’s family health programs with Shot@Life and was previously named a “Global Influencer Fellow” and “Social Media Fellow” by the UN Foundation. Jennifer was invited to the White House twice, including as a nominated "Changemaker" for the State of the World Women Summit. She also participated in the One Campaign’s first AYA Summit on the topic of women and girl empowerment and organized and spoke on an international panel at the World Bank in Washington, DC on the importance of a universal education for all girls. Her writing has been featured by Baby Center, Huffington Post, ONE.org, the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life, and The Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists.” She is currently a candidate in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs in the Executive Masters of Public Affairs program, where she hopes to further her study of global policies affecting women and girls.
Jennifer can be found on Twitter @JenniferBurden.
Each year on December 10, people all around the world celebrate Human Rights Day. The date was chosen to honor the United NationsGeneral Assembly‘s adoption on 10 December 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global statement of international human rights principles. The UDHR was the first international document that spelled out the “basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all human beings should enjoy.” The UDHR has been translated into more than 500 languages and dialects, making it one of the most translated documents in the world.
The theme for 2021 is EQUALITY – Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights. The official slogan is “All Human, All Equal”.
“This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to ‘Equality’ and Article 1 of the UDHR – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
The principles of equality and non-discrimination are at the heart of human rights. Equality is aligned with the 2030 Agenda and with the UN approach set out in the document Shared Framework on Leaving No One Behind: Equality and Non-Discrimination at the Heart of Sustainable Development. This includes addressing and finding solutions for deep-rooted forms of discrimination that have affected the most vulnerable people in societies, including women and girls, indigenous peoples, people of African descent, LGBTI people, migrants and people with disabilities, among others.”
Below are some ideas for simple yet meaningful ways that families can celebrate Human Rights Day by learning about the rights and responsibilities that we all share as human beings. For more ideas, check out our previous posts:
“We’ve combed through the episodes to make sure they’re free of profanity, graphic references and other adult content. (Although talking about race and racism is always complicated, so parents, use your judgment here.) Our episodes never have all the answers, and we’re hoping these will open up space for some good old-fashioned dinner-table discussions.”
“Developed in collaboration with United Nations agencies, civil society and other organizations, YUNGA Challenge Badges aim to raise your awareness, educate and motivate you to change your behaviour and become an active agent of change in your local community.”
9. Make your own human rights meme!
Use this year’s Human Rights Day theme and brainstorm with your kids to come up with a meme. Use any free online meme generator to create your own meme. For inspiration, check out these take action memes.
10. Talk to your kids about how important they are to making the future better for all of us!
Jennifer Prestholdt is a lawyer and the Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, a volunteer-based human rights organization that works locally, nationally and internationally. Her work in human rights takes her around the world, but she spends most of her time in Minneapolis, MN, where she lives with her children (two sons and one daughter), her husband, an elderly cat and a dwarf hamster.
As Jennifer’s kids are now all in school (1st, 4th and 6th grades), she is finally finding more time to do the things that she used to love to do, especially running, writing and knitting. Jennifer loves to travel and has had the dubious distinction of having been accidentally locked in a bathroom on five continents so far. Australia and Antarctica await!
In January 2011, Jennifer made a New Year’s Resolution to start writing about her experiences in order to share with her children the lessons learned from 15 years of work in human rights. The result is her personal blog, The Human Rights Warrior. The name comes from her son Simon, who was extremely disappointed to learn that his mother is a lawyer, not a warrior.
Last month, my county had its 32nd Annual AIDS Walk to pay tribute to those who we have lost, and to support those who are living with HIV/AIDS. Whenever I receive an invitation to this event, I remember a news story I did a decade ago about how child marriage and HIV have common drivers, and what UNICEF was doing to combat child marriage and HIV/AIDS.
Some of the factors that put girls at risk of child marriage also place them at higher risk of HIV infection. These include poverty, low education attainment, and gender inequalities, especially those that limit girls’ ability to make decisions about their own health.
And this year, there is one more factor—COVID-19.
With 25 million child marriages averted in the last decade, UNICEF issued a warning earlier this year that these gains are now under serious threat: 10 million additional girls at risk of child marriage due to COVID-19.
According to the UNICEF analysis, school closures, economic stress, service disruptions, pregnancy, and parental deaths due to the pandemic are putting the most vulnerable girls at increased risk of child marriage.
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, 100 million girls were at risk of child marriage in the next decade, despite significant reductions in several countries in recent years. In the last ten years, the proportion of young women globally who were married as children had decreased by 15 per cent, from nearly 1 in 4 to 1 in 5. This is the equivalent of some 25 million marriages averted, a gain that is now under threat.
“COVID-19 has made an already difficult situation for millions of girls even worse. Shuttered schools, isolation from friends and support networks, and rising poverty have added fuel to a fire the world was already struggling to put out. But we can and we must extinguish child marriage,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a statement.
And the AIDS Walk just reminded me of what these girls have to lose if we do not act urgently – their education, their health, and their futures.
Here is the situation on our hands. When a girl turns 12 and lives in poverty, her future is out of her control. In the eyes of many, she’s a woman now. She faces the reality of being married by the age of 14 and pregnant by the time she’s 15. If she survives childbirth, she might have to sell her body to support her family, which puts her at risk of contracting and spreading HIV. Definitely not the life we would imagine for a 12-year-old.
There is a solution. Imagine rewinding her to age 12. Have her visit a doctor regularly, and help her stay in school where she’s safe. Then she can use her education to earn a living, avoid HIV, marry and have children when she’s ready, and raise happy and healthy children like herself. Now imagine this solution continuing for generation after generation.
COVID-19 is profoundly affecting the solution and the lives of girls in poverty. Pandemic-related travel restrictions and physical distancing make it difficult for girls to access the health care, social services and community supports that protect them from child marriage, unwanted pregnancy and gender-based violence. As schools remain closed, girls are more likely to drop out of education and not return. Job losses and increased economic insecurity may also force families to marry their daughters off to ease financial burdens.
Worldwide, an estimated 650 million girls and women alive today were married in childhood, with about half of those marriages occurring in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India and Nigeria. To off-set the impacts of COVID-19 and end the practice by 2030—the target set out in the Sustainable Development Goals—progress must be significantly accelerated.
“One year into the pandemic, immediate action is needed to mitigate the toll on girls and their families,” added Fore in the same statement. “By reopening schools, implementing effective laws and polices, ensuring access to health and social services—including sexual and reproductive health services—and providing comprehensive social protection measures for families, we can significantly reduce a girl’s risk of having her childhood stolen through child marriage.”
Is child marriage a common problem in your part of the world? What can those of us who live elsewhere do to help?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit: Raphael Pouget/UNICEF.
I underwent breast surgery last Monday and, as a mother of four, aged 12 to 2, I was terrified. Terrified not to be able to make it, terrified to be left with terrible injuries, terrified of being left with a disability. This terror was because I live in one of the poorest countries of the world, Madagascar. Healthcare is not a priority here. I was maybe supposing that the surgeon and his team would not be as skilled as expected, or that we will have a power cut during the intervention (which is so frequent here), or that we will lack drugs and treatment after the surgery, or whatever challenges linked to a poor health sector.
But everything went well, and here I am to testify it.
I feel shameful for all these fears and feel grateful for the miracle of being alive. I had the chance to be in a private hospital. An old hospital where everyone is full of respect for the patients and where old machines are being maintained alive. Nonetheless, I feel lucky because I could afford the surgery and the treatment. I feel privileged to have a job even if I don’t have medical insurance, to pay for my healthcare. This is not the case for everyone and I bet this health scarcity also strikes elsewhere in the world. Every day, I hear a lot of horrible stories of mothers, who couldn’t give birth to their children safely. It was because they were located far from a medical center. I also hear stories of death, because they had no money at all.
In Madagascar, the ratio of physician to patient is one for thousands of people (if you are lucky).
In rural areas, you have to walk twenty kilometers (sometimes more) to reach the nearest health center. Here, a nurse, deprived of medical supplies and drugs will wait for you. You can lose your life for a small injury that can be treated in 10 minutes in developed countries. This is not fair, and I’m deeply introspecting about it while recovering from my wounds, in my privileged scarcity.
Then I remembered I had to write an article for the World Moms Network. I couldn’t do so in time, because of the above-mentioned reason. September 15th was International Democracy Day and I wanted to write about it. I also wanted to write about peace as September 21st was the International Day of Peace. But there won’t be any peace in the world as long as some men and women, of all ages, cannot afford decent healthcare. I feel that democracy is unreachable if you don’t have healthy bodies and minds able to claim for more justice, more accountability, and transparency. These big words will remain illusions if we don’t take care of the human part of the story first.
Therefore, I would like to dedicate this post to SDG #3.
To ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages is at the core of any struggle. I’m not only pledging for my country where only less than 15% of the national budget is dedicated to healthcare, even during the pandemic. I would love to see a worldwide move towards better healthcare for all. Let us build a world where we take care of everyone, no matter his/her age, origin, or finances. Among others, this dream implies providing access to medicines and vaccines for all. It means supporting the R&D of vaccines and medicines for all; increasing health financing and health workforce in developing countries. It needs political will and commitment and it needs the support of all stakeholders, at all levels.
But SDGs are also dependent on one another. And the attainment of SDG #3 also requests the achievement of all the 16 other ones. Abolish gender discrimination; Improve the skills of health workers – and this means, equal access to education for all and provide energy for hospitals to function properly. Make the 2030 agenda a top priority everywhere in the world and achieve it by all means. I’m surely not the one who thought of this in the first place. I don’t have any pretension to being the one who will unlock hearts and minds for better progress regarding SDGs. My personal situation is nothing compared to the world suffering, from wars, starvation, and all kinds of injustice. I’m just a worried mother who took conscience of the scarcity of life and who is wishing for the better.
Kudos to all health workers around the world; thank you for your commitment and dedication to serving humanity.
Kudos to all moms (and everyone) who are struggling somewhere. Hope lies in our hands, we all can act for things to improve. Heads up soldiers of good!
Which SDG are you passionate about and why?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by our contributor in Madagascar, Ketakandriana Rafitoson.
Image credits: The Author and the #UNSDG website (used digitally based on their guidelines).
In 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda includes 17 goal, known as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), which are an urgent call to action by all people from all nations for the betterment of humanity and the planet.
The United Nations General Assembly (#UNGA) meeting is happening in New York City this week (September 21-27, 2021). In recognition of UNGA, some of our World Moms chimed in about which SDG resonates most with them and why.
What SDG Means the Most to You and Why?
Tes in The US says: I believe that all the SDGs are important but for me, SDG#5-Gender Equality, is what I am passionate about. Being Filipino but raised here in the United States, I have witnessed a country with its share of inequality. While inequality does exist for girls and women in jobs and education, I am grateful and lucky to be able to fight against it and advocate for girls and women through the opportunities presented to me on a daily basis.
Nitsana in Israel says: I remember how impressed and excited I was about seeing the list of SDGs. You can’t fix something if you don’t have a goal. A goal is the first step for having a plan, and with a plan, everything is possible. I love them all but I think the ones that touch me most deeply are ending poverty and hunger. There are several reasons I see these as the most basic and important. First, it should be our primary goal to make sure every human is cared for in the most basic sense, that he/she can live a life of dignity. I want to live in a world where everyone is cared for. Also, once the population of the world is out of “survival mode,” anything is possible. It says something about us as humans that we make sure to care for others; that we set up systems where everyone can thrive. I have a lot to say about each of the goals but these, to me, are the first step.
Piya in India says: While all the SDGs are very important, my heart beats for SDG#5, Gender equality! As Director of VESLARC, I am privileged to be working in the domain of gender sensitization. We put an emphasis on mutual respect for several thousand students of the various schools and colleges of Vivekanand Education Society, in Mumbai, India. It’s a sad yet undeniable truth that there are major disparities, when it comes to opportunities for education, job openings, career progression, and pay scales, between men and women. SDG 5 is not only for empowering our girls and women. The “hidden” fact is that a culture that is strongly patriarchal is also “bad news” for its men. Peer pressure and the need to conform to stereotypes can diminish the sense of identity of our boys. We need to join hands to empower every young child—irrespective of gender or gender orientation—about their tremendous potential and help them shake free of limiting labels!
Kyla in Portugal says: For me, the two most important SDGs are Gender Equality and Quality Education, which, to me, go hand-in-hand. The saying goes: “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach the man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” I think the saying should say: “Give a woman a fish, you’ll feed her family for a day. Teach a woman to fish, you’ll feed a whole community.” I have long been an advocate for Girl Power and Women Empowerment. The path to achieving these is through education.
Simona in Spain says: The most important goal for me is Good Health and Wellbeing. My grandfather was a doctor. He used to say, “health is the 1 that gives value to all the 0s of life.” By that he meant that if (for example) you are rich but don’t have your health, you have 0, but if you are healthy and wealthy, you have 10. Nothing is worth anything if you are not healthy enough to use it or enjoy it. It also upsets me terribly that very often life-saving procedures or medicines are simply unaffordable to the vast majority of people. As someone who lives with medical issues which require me to take chronic medicines, I am painfully aware of this cost. I am one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to choose between necessary medicine and food but for many, that is the monthly struggle. People shouldn’t have to remortgage their homes in order to be able to pay for the necessary procedures and / or medicines and / or mobility aids they need.
Jen in The US says: It is difficult to pick just one, so I’m picking two of my favorite SDGs! #4 the right to a universal education and #5 women and girl empowerment. My ancestors who were immigrants wanted an education, but they couldn’t afford it. As for me, I wanted to study abroad, but couldn’t afford it during college. I think education shouldn’t just be for those who can afford it. Otherwise, the world misses out on so many incredible minds and ideas to move us forward! Also, education serves as a step out of poverty for so many around the globe, which makes it so important. And until women and girls are treated equally, I’ll be fighting!!
Purnima in India says: I think all of the SDGs are important. I cannot say that I love SDG #5 more because I am passionate about Gender Equality and want to see the well-being of my sisters across the world, rather than SDG #1 which is ‘No Poverty’. How can we achieve SDG #3, which is Good Health and Well Being, if we do not also achieve #1 and #2? So I think ALL of these SDGs are very important and feel for all of them equally. If we do not have peace in our hearts, and if we do not come together and make friendships and relationships and partnerships (SDG #16 and SDG #17), how can we solve SDG#1 through #5, or for that matter, any of the SDGs?! My personal SDG journey began at World Moms Network. When I started out, my contribution to WMN was just a hobby. Over the years, this sisterhood has given me serious life-goals. This is why I cannot pick just one.
Tell us what United Nations Sustainable Development Goal is most important to YOU. World Moms want to know.
This is a collaborative post for World Moms Networkfrom our global network of contributors. The images used in this post come directly from the #UNSDG website and are used digitally based on their guidelines.
World Moms Network is an award winning website whose mission statement is "Connecting mothers; empowering women around the globe." With over 70 contributors who write from over 30 countries, the site covered the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good.
Most recently, our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan was awarded "Best Reporting on the UN" form the UNCA. The site has also been named a "Top Website for Women" by FORBES Woman and recommended by the NY Times Motherlode and the Times of India. Follow our hashtags: #worldmom and #worldmoms
Formerly, our site was known as World Moms Blog.