International Womens’ Day is fast approaching and the theme in 2017 is one we can truly get behind: Be Bold for Change. We spoke to the boldest woman we know about being bold, driving action and creating a more equal world for women and girls around the world – Geraldine Cox.
My life is full of bold decisions – some that changed the course of my whole life. The number one bold decision that I have looked back on time and time again as a pivotal point in my life was when I found out I would never have a baby. Crushed, I decided go the opposite direction and joined the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1970 for an international life I was not prepared for. What I learnt and experienced in other countries, cultures and religions, is invaluable to me understanding the people and country I now live and work in.
Sometimes, being bold is the last thing you feel like doing. The world is screaming at you to act but all you want to do is curl up in bed with a nice gin. But it’s these moments when your action is truly needed. During the Cambodian coup of 1997 I was urged to leave Cambodia and fly to safety on the Australian RAAF evacuation plane. I didn’t feel safe, I wanted hide, but I couldn’t leave the children there to fend for themselves. So I stayed. Staying with the children changed my life and showed me that they were my destiny. It changed their lives too and I’m immensely glad I was bold enough to make that decision.
Even I’m surprised at my own actions sometimes! One night in Phnom Penh a thief on a motorbike pointed a shorn off shotgun at me on the driver’s side of my car, trying to make me stop. Not knowing what to do I decided to go with my instincts: I felt that if I refused to give him eye contact or admit I knew he was there, it would stop him from harming me. I turned the music up on the car radio and continued driving, singing along. It worked. He followed me for a bit, but didn’t make any moves to harm the oblivious foreigner with the red hair and loud music!
My favourite quotes are all about being bold and fearless. They don’t leave any room for meekness or indecision. My best is:
“Don’t waste your precious time and energy worrying about the things you cannot change.”
There’s billions of children in the world that need to be help. But here, in Cambodia, right in front of me, are the ones I CAN help. And that is what I will do.
Of course, being outspoken, adventurous and bold has got me into trouble a handful of times as well… When I was working for the Australian Ambassador in Bangkok in the early eighties I got into an awkward situation one night. It was a special fancy dress social club event on a Friday night and I wore a black stretch body suit with suspenders and fishnet stockings, with bunny ears and a white cottontail – similar to the Penthouse bunnies. I looked a treat, I can tell you – but not the most professional. Unfortunately, the Ambassador had to come and get me to respond to an urgent message from Canberra and I had to walk back to my office down a long hall with the Ambassador walking behind me. I still do not know whether he was shocked or amused!
For women and girls in Cambodia, it is hard to get ahead. Change seems to take so long and accomplish so little. Girls are expected to marry early, have children and no thought is given to their wants, their needs, their dreams. To these girls I always say:
You are special. You are a unique individual capable of reaching your dreams.
If I say it enough times, to as many girls as possible, who knows what they women of Cambodia can achieve in my lifetime and the next?
Investing in the education of girls is the best economic decision a developing country can make. It’s a bold action, but one that bears out with huge rewards: girls with an education have smaller, healthier families. They gain employment and boost the economy more than any other social group.
On March 8, wear bright, bold Sunrise orange to your office or school, ask your colleagues and friends for a gold coin donation and help champion education for women and girls in Cambodia.