As part of our ongoing blog series, we will be sitting down and have conversations with a number of advocates in our local community. This week we speak to Morgan Koegel from One Girl.
What is your name and role, and what is your passion in life?
My name is Morgan Koegel and I’m the CEO of One Girl, a not-for-profit focussed on girls’ education in the developing world. With a job like that, I think it goes without saying that my passion is education. Over the course of my life I’ve had every educational opportunity available to me - not just the accessibility of secondary and tertiary studies, but parents who valued education and encouraged me to do well. On the other hand, I’ve worked in a number of roles that have enabled me to see the effects of missing out on an education: from students living rurally here in Australia, to the prison system where only 7% of men possess a year 12 or equivalent qualification, to my current role. In Sierra Leone, one of the countries we work in at One Girl, only 1 in 6 girls gets the opportunity to go to high school. That means a girl has a higher chance of being sexually assaulted than attending high school. The gap in my experience and the opportunities of those girls is the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning.
Why do you do what you do?
From a really young age, I was determined to find my voice and speak out for the causes that matter. I think a big part of this stems from my unusual upbringing: I grew up with two mums in middle-America in the early 1990s. It didn’t even occur to me that my family was unusual - after all, I was loved and supported and had everything that I needed to succeed in life. It wasn’t until one day on the playground that I saw things from another perspective when I heard a classmate say to another kid “that’s so gay”. I felt those words like a kick to my stomach - like I was being told my parents were weird or less than other parents. I was too afraid to speak up, to tell the kids how I felt, and that silence left a sick taste in my mouth. From that moment on, I decided that no matter what I was going to do in life, I was going to find my voice and speak out for what mattered. I was never going to let the things that are wrong or hurtful slip by. I’m so lucky that now, my role is all about speaking out. At One Girl we demand more for women - a better deal. We say that the statistics around girls’ education in Sierra Leone and Uganda aren’t good enough, and that we can do more to give opportunities to some of the world’s most vulnerable young women. I get to share the stories of the women we work with - stories of hardship and resilience and success - and that’s something that makes me deeply proud.
Are you a feminist and what does feminism mean to you?
Yes. For me feminism as a concept is simple, and people shouldn’t need a personal experience to see the logical case for equality of the sexes, but I have experiences which have highlighted the importance of feminism to me and those around me. One that stands out in my mind happened about 3 years ago now as I was walking to work on a Sunday morning. I was listening to my music and watched as a car saw me, turned around and drove up to the sidewalk. The driver gestured me over and I pulled out my headphones. He asked me for directions, and as I searched through my phone for the address he gave me he asked a series of questions about where I was going, where I lived and what my name was. When I looked up, he had unzipped his pants and was masturbating in the car in front of me. The thing that stands out to me about this memory is not that it’s particularly unique - it’s one of many examples of sexual harassment I’ve experienced over my life - but the responses of those around me. By nature I’m stubborn, and I like to do things how I want to do them, but the automatic response from people around me was to change my behaviour - don’t talk to strangers, don’t walk to work, and so forth. I get why this was a suggestion and that these people only wanted me to look out for my own safety, but deep down I feel rage at the suggestion that women’s behaviour should have to be changed to make room for a man’s bad behaviour.
If we talk to our daughters about protecting themselves, we should be talking to our sons about consent. More than anything though - the response to this event that stands out to me is that of my partner. He was horrified when this happened - and shocked. He identified for me a form of privilege that we don’t think about very much - as a man, he has never been accosted by a stranger, or sexually harassed, or felt like he needed to change his behaviour while outside (such as not listening to headphones or walking in highly lit areas). Fundamentally, he has never felt unsafe while going about his daily life. This is a huge difference in the experience of men and women everywhere, and one that took a crappy thing happening to me to bring attention to for a lot of the men in my life. We have so much work to do around the world when it comes to feminism - but one of the first hurdles is breaking down the barriers that prevent us from seeing privilege, and committing to fighting for feminism not just for ourselves but for others as well.
What do you think is the most pressing social problem today (globally)?
The UN has said that it will take 500 years to reach gender parity worldwide, but there are millions of girls who can’t wait for that to become a reality. At One Girl we work in countries where girls as young as eleven can be sold into marriage, many women experience female genital mutilation and school is a possibility only for a lucky few. The stories we hear are often shocking and horrifying, and we know that those are just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, there are over 60 million girls around the world who are not in school who should be. Education is a game-changer for women. We know that an educated woman has fewer, healthier children and that she is able to increase her income by 15-25% for every year she’s able to stay in school. These are statistics of hope and tell the story of why we do what we do at One Girl. Education changes everything, and we fight for that opportunity for every woman.
If there was one resource you think everyone should view, what would it be?
Girl Rising is an incredible film about the power of education to transform the lives of girls and their communities. You’ll have to bring tissues, but you’ll walk away feeling inspired and empowered to go out and make waves!