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Cynthia Arvide – WNN Features

Author Isabel Allende at home 2011

Surrounded by beauty, author Isabel Allende enjoys a time of day when the light is soft and quiet as she sits by her window at home 2011. Image: Isabel Allende

(WNN) Mexico City, MEXICO: In a charming and witty speech titled “Stories of Passion,” author Isabel Allende expressed her thoughts on the conflicts women face today worldwide after generations of human rights battles and the invention of the birth-control pill. Stories that bring ‘changing the world for the better’ into focus is only part of the message.

The Chilean-American author was invited to give a speech on March 7th as part of the Congress entitled, “The intellectual experience of women in the 21st Century,” celebrated in Mexico City and organized by Mexico’s National Council for Culture and Art (CONACULTA).

As Allende arrived she quickly advised the audience: “I did not prepare a lecture. I’m here to tell you a few stories, which is the only thing I know how to do.” Those stories focused on her lifelong awareness and condemnation of the inequalities and violence that affect women around the world, as well as some inspiring examples of the efforts made by a few to change that reality.

Borrowing a quote from the Dalai Lama, Allende began by saying that hope for peace lies in the hands of women; “for the first time in history, there are millions of women like you and me, educated, with access to health and resources, who are connected and willing to change the world… It’s not about changing the women so that they fit in the world, but changing the world so that it fits women,” she said to a large, mostly female, crowd.

Declaring herself both a ‘feminist’ and ‘feminine’ in one breath, “because one does not exclude the other,” Allende explained why she started a foundation to help the world. It was and is an effort to help build the kind of world that Allende has always wanted. The idea for her organization came after the death, in 1992, of Allende’s 28-year-old daughter Paula, a strong young woman who was passionate about changing and helping the world as a volunteer.

“My husband and my friend Deborah decided I was depressed and that I needed a change, so we traveled to India. There, our car stopped in the middle of a rural road and we ran into a group of women. One of them insisted on giving me a small bundle… As I realized that inside there was a newborn baby, our driver rushed and returned the woman her child. When I asked why she would want to give her baby to a complete stranger the driver said something I cannot forget: ‘It was a baby girl. Who would want a girl?’. Right then and there, I knew what I would do for the rest of my life. I couldn’t help her but I would help others like her,” outlined Allende.

In many parts of the word it is considered a disgrace to have a baby girl while having a boy as a blessing. Through history, there have been millions of gender-selective deaths. The term ‘gendercide’ was used to describe the term first used by Mary Anne Warren in 1985.

Today this term has been used most notably, along with the term ‘femicide’ in third-world countries, particularly in India and China. “Women are the 51 percent of humanity and yet we own less than 1 percent of the resources’, said Allende. “The least developed countries are the same in which women are the most oppressed. But give a woman education and resources and she will not only improve her direct family’s situation but her community as well.”

Supporting non profit organizations dedicated to providing women and girls with education, reproductive rights and healthcare, as well as protection from violence, exploitation and discrimination, the Isabel Allende Foundation supports three separate programs. The Esperanza Grants, the Paula Scholarships and the Espíritu Awards have helped over 35 organizations with funding that has ranged from $1,000 to $5,000 (USD).

The Paula’s Scholarships are granted to students who would otherwise be unable to afford higher education. The Espíritu Awards were created in 2001 to honor and support ‘compassionate action.’

Compassion is what Allende is bringing to women who usually fall without anyone around to pick them up. She’s helping pregnant homeless women find shelter so their childbirth can be safe and without fear for the mothers. The Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP) gives emergency support to over 3,000 mothers, and their families, many who have suffered under severe domestic abuse. Others have suffered silently for years from overuse and addiction to illegal drugs, a condition that can be very dangerous for women with a baby.

“Eight years ago, I told my daughter what to tell her preschool teachers if they asked where she and her mommy lived. ‘We’re city camping’ I instructed,” said Carrie Hamilton, a single mom who was helped by the Homeless Prenatal Program years ago.

“We lived in my minivan then,” continued Hamilton. “We had no family support or health care, mainly because I had been addicted to drugs for years. The only time I sobered up was when I was pregnant with my daughter.”

“After a few years of this, we moved out of the van and into an SRO hotel. I was still doing drugs. But another pregnancy was a reality check, as it can be for many addicted, homeless women. I’d been raised around addicts and made bad decisions,” she added. “But pregnancy meant I was making bad decisions for someone else… I got us into a family shelter and quit drugs.”

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