How do we make women issues the issues of other women?
I have had a lot of time to think about the different issues women globally have to deal with. As we all know, the issues are many, from cultural barriers to unequal wages. When I received the opportunity to contribute to the women empowerment blog, I did not know what to write about, mostly because what I wanted to say did not sound as influential as the posts I had been reading. And although, for a moment, that excuse was good, that was not my truth. All our lives and experiences, when shared, can bring about a solution, a lesson and a change.
What is my truth? Until I left my country to study abroad I did not know what feminism was, or its role in the economic empowerment of women. To be honest, I am not certain that I know the definition of feminism; it is widely subjective and that has always made it somewhat difficult for me to understand, as I found out in my brief research. I went to an all-girls secondary school, I was raised in a predominantly female household and, therefore, I have not necessarily experienced any prejudices due to my gender. I was always told I could do whatever I set my mind to. The battle was never between male and female. The battle was between the person I was and the person I wanted to be in the future.
The older we get, the more blurred the world we live in seems to get. We know about unequal salaries between men and women, we know of the domestic violence suffered by many women, we know of young girls either denied access to education or attacked due to their desire to get one, we know how common rape is in wartime. We know of the many injustices, we see them on the news. My fear is that the fight for women’s empowerment is seen as too removed from people who have no experience of the numerous injustices that need to be put right.
I asked a few of my friends I went to school with, and those friends I met in my adult life about this, and most of us have not felt that we have been victims of prejudice due to our gender. Yes, there is the occasional stereotype of ‘one cannot aim too high in one’s career as one is female’, but many of the friends I spoke to have defied the stereotype and have gone further than expected. Maybe some owe it to the fact that being in an all-girls school trained them early on to be ready for anything the world was to throw at them, some owe it to their upbringing where both boys and girls were treated equally, while others are simply unstoppable forces. This, of course, does not mean we do not understand gender issues, we understand them very well despite not having directly experienced them.
The question is, how do we engage men and women who feel far removed from what they have not experienced or what they do not understand? How do we interrupt our places of comfort and shout: ‘Look, it is not only the fight of Iranian women, it is not only the fight of Guatemalan women, it is not only the fight of Pakistani women, it is not only the fight of Chad women, it is not only the fight of Malala, it is not only the fight of women’s organizations. If those women lose, we lose too. It is our fight too.’
I wonder, if someone had not spearheaded the cause of women, would we be just as courageous? Maybe if those women had not the courage to fight for the empowerment of women, to fight for a law that protected women, and had protested endlessly for equality, perhaps we too could have been the woman married to her rapist, the woman enslaved in sex trafficking, the uneducated woman, the woman with no access to family planning, the woman who has endured domestic abuse, the woman who possesses the right qualifications but will never get the position she deserves at work.
I raise the question, how do we engage women and men who are too far removed from the issues hindering the empowerment of women?