“I defied expectations from an early age”

Girls' education

On Friday, March 4, alongside my fellow Global Youth Ambassador Aya Chebbi, plus Hellen Griberg and Eleanor Gall from the Theirworld team, I was given the honour of representing A World At School for the #RewritingTheCode launch.

The campaign aim is to change embedded values that hold girls back and limit them from reaching their full potential.

In partnership with Facebook, Kano, Codecademy and Africa Gathering, Theirworld Code Clubs have been set up in Kenya, Uganda and Senegal – low-cost pilot programmes which are expected to reach up to 700 girls and young women aged from seven to 24.

Marieme Jamme of Africa Gathering later applauded her for taking an approach to international development which recognises the importance of partnering with local groups.

Graphic designer Niamh Deehan – who came up with the concept of using the symbol to tackle attitudes that stop female participation in technology – was also in attendance to see her work come to life.

You can view her DandAD competition winning entry here to be inspired by the power of an idea: how it can grow from something inside our minds and turn into impactful actions that sow the seeds for change.  

Nicola Mendelsohn, VP of EMEA at Facebook, gave a hilarious anecdote about women’s hair being too much of a focus, while making a serious point about how gender inequality is something we need to address in the 21st century.

Sara Pascoe shares the #RewritingThe Code message

Comedian Sara Pascoe boldly encouraged us to be proud of our womanhood and not conform due to external influences. Paleoanthropologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Ella Al-Shamahi advocated for the largely under-reported crisis in Yemen.

Lyndsey Scott had a powerful message centred on her determination to establish herself as a model and actress who is also an app developer. She overcame undeservedly harsh criticism online from people who decided, based on prejudice, that she did not belong in the tech world. She said: “I had to prove I was the best just to be good enough.”

Earning the #1 spot for iPhone answers in programmers’ forum Stack Overflow, she worked harder than most to be taken seriously – something others take for granted without stereotypes blocking them.

I also had the privilege of being on a panel chaired by Facebook’s Head of Partnerships in Latin America, Francesca de Quesada Covey. Facebook Engineering Manager Gemma Silvers and Tamara Rojos – Creative Director at English National Ballet – both touched upon how they as leaders have noticed female colleagues not using their voice in the workplace.

Jameela Jamil at the Facebook event in London

Deborah Armstrong, Executive Vice President of Fox International Channels, referred to her own experiences of defeating “imposter syndrome”, inviting the audience to put up their hands if they struggled too.

Jameela Jamil described how she has defied expectations from an early age, constantly being told “no” but never letting disability and discrimination stop her from becoming a presenter, model, DJ, actress or launching festivals and clothing lines.

I talked about the kind of environments girls thrive in, ones where they feel safe to learn by exploring their creativity.

To top it all off, Laura Mvula’s music matched the mood beautifully, exquisitely expressing emotions in Sing to the Moon and Phenomenal Woman, which made me feel like anything is possible when we work together.

Trying out the Kano computer kits after the main event

Closing words came from Catherine Flynn of the Global Business Marketing department, thanking everyone involved.

After the main event, Aya and I got to practise what we had been preaching by making computers using the Kano kits ourselves: it was BRILLIANT fun!

It really hit home for me, when the founder explained his startup’s origin and ongoing philanthropic initiatives, how amazing the cycle of entrepreneurship can be, especially in this context where a product enables potential through access to opportunity that in turn allows people to create services that meet a need in their community.

If you haven’t already, please join in today: share online how you are #RewritingTheCode in your own life or which values you want to see changed for vulnerable girls across our world – raising awareness of this campaign will give them the chance of a better future.

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