This is the transcript of Dr. Ginie Servant-Miklos' inauguration speech in Lusaka, on May 28, 2022.
Friends of FairFight,
Supporters of women’s rights.
Today marks a very special occasion: the opening of the sixth programme of the FairFight Foundation here in Lusaka, in collaboration with Girl Kicks Zambia represented by Nayombe Martha Muliyunda and the Kwok Meil Wah Foundation represented by Prof. Stephen Chan. He is not here today but we salute him from afar.
What are we celebrating today? Ostensibly, we are welcoming the opening of a new karate school in Chibolya, where girls from the most precarious, underprivileged backgrounds can learn karate and self-defense with Sensei Martha Muliyunda, the highest ranked female karateka in Zambia, and now the only woman in Zambia to run her own karate school. We are grateful to the very generous donors who provided the funds for the equipment, the rent, and the running costs of the dojo. A special mention to our friends up in Scotland, to Matthew Last from HDKI, to Lu Ann Sieber in the USA, and to the other sponsors who wish to remain anonymous. We are applauding the fact that these girls will be returning to school with the support of the Kwok Meil Wah Foundation. Watching girls put on a school uniform, in some cases for the first time in years, fills out hearts with joy. Thank you, Stephen Chan, for your steadfast support. These are all great achievements, and we can be proud.
Today, we are also celebrating the success of a model: the FairFight approach to women’s empowerment. Seven years ago, we arrived in Zimbabwe with bags full of karate equipment and the dream that we could build a lasting road to improving women’s lives through martial arts. Our idea was simple: find local martial arts leaders who care about women and girls, give them the tools, the guidance and the support they need to run women’s programmes in their community, bring the community on board by working with local schools, associations and community groups, and watch the girls grow. Thus, the first FairFight dojo was born, in Marondera, Zimbabwe. A year later, we opened our second dojo in Varanasi, in India, showing that the FairFight principles could work in a completely different cultural context. Being a pioneer is always challenging, a few difficult years ensued. We climbed the steep end of the learning curve. We had to learn everything from scratch: how to you work a model across such different contexts? How do you do justice to the stories and lives of such different girls? How do you bring new people on board while staying true to your values? How do you make sure you have enough to pay for your dreams without letting the money cart lead the idea horse? It was hard, but we learned. We built a fantastic team of volunteers from all over the world, and I would like to take a moment to thank those volunteers from the bottom of my heart. We are here today because of you. You built FairFight and I believe the world is better off for it.
So we learned. And then came COVID. But we had already done the hardest part, we already knew who we were. Where so many charities fell apart in the pandemic, we thrived. Since 2020, we doubled our number of volunteers, doubled our fundraising, and most importantly, we tripled our number of programmes, from two to six. Three programmes in India. Two in Zimbabwe. And now, one in Zambia. We inaugurated a new scholarship programme for high schools, then another one for universities. Our girls became medical students, trainee nurses, masters students... they won national and international karate medals, became team captains, and won sporting awards. Most importantly, they look out for each other. During the pandemic, our ambassadors of change delivered food door to door to their community in Zimbabwe and India. When one girl succeeds, she holds her sister’s hand so she can succeed in turn: help with school work, with finding jobs, with applying for university... and so, our dream takes on a life of its own. FairFight is no longer just a charity. It’s a template for how we translate the core values of martial arts into real world change.
Finally, today, I want to celebrate the living embodiment of an idea: the idea that we, women of the world, black, brown, white, are our sisters’ keeper. For centuries, patriarchy held us down, divided and conquered by the twin forces of racism and class oppression. Too long has the feminist movement torn itself apart. Today, rich, white women purchase expensive handbags and fancy two-piece suits in the name of feminism while ignoring the plight of their black and brown sisters. In response, some black women, understandably dejected, proclaim that white women cannot be feminists. Nobody wins in this scenario. The fight for women’s rights can only be won when women come together to fight oppression. United in solidarity, we are our sisters’ keeper. United in solidarity, we can move mountains. I have seen a chain of 8 women link arms across the world to get one girl from poverty in Harare to medical school in Lusaka. I have seen the wonders that happen when you take a girl by the hand and say loud and clear, I will not let you go. Commitment and solidarity lies at the very heart of the FairFight ideal.
Before I close, a word to our brothers, and the gentlemen here present: you are also called to this fight. Women’s rights isn’t just a women’s issues - we all win in a fairer, more just world. Empowered women bring home more money, raise better educated children, live longer, and healthier lives, can lift their whole families from poverty and provide role models for the next generation of boys and girls. Brothers, we need you too. We need you to tell your daughters that you believe in them, we need you to take them to school, take them to the dojo, and encourage them to soar. We need you to stand firm against other men who fear equality, to show them what they have to gain from a fairer society. We women can go far, but with you, we can go further.
The dream lives on, the model shines bright, and here we are, on this day May 28 2022, I proclaim the FairFight Zambia programme, officially open.