On being a woman
Exactly 3 weeks ago, one snowy winter morning, I sort of…. Well ‘came to’. I realized something had been ailing me for a while. Something I cold not even articulate but knew was not right. Had you asked me that day if I was ok I would have said ‘yes’. If you had dug deeper I would have pontificated and said “I feel somewhat like I’m not myself, something does not fit”. Over the next few days I came to the conclusion that I was wearing a mantle that did not fit. I was living, doing and breathing from something other than the core and essence of who I was, I am a woman.
A few months ago I stated I was on a journey ….. asking the ‘why’ questions. I still am. This week I explore the role of women on this journey. When I started Freedom Tree I set out on an expedition, a glorious and noble quest; “to free the oppressed, mostly women and children”. Little did I know I needed freeing just as much as they did. I myself needed freedom to be me, freedom to express myself, to be who I was created to be – a woman; and to do so without feeling less than and out of place. Because in a world that is still constantly evolving, the role of men and women still causes much confusion.
When we work in villages in Sierra Leone one key factor is engaging the community as a whole, so that men and women work alongside each other to solve the problems they are faced with. The empowerment of women is our primary concern, but our methods are far more effective when we are able to engage the two sexes alongside each other. When it works well its nothing short of glorious. In one village the men themselves asked for the birthing clinic for the women, and promised to provide the labour themselves which they did very well. The women gave voice to the project by pointing out that the clinic could be built but we needed to take care of the medical staff. They recognized that not doing so would discourage needed workers to come to that remote area to work. Today the birthing clinic thrives, completely sustainable and providing care to thousands.
A few days ago I sat in a boardroom with a handful of other women, from all walks of life but all in senior leadership positions. Two of who led on a nationwide level in government. We discussed what needed to be done to increase the empowerment of women in Canada and increase the quota of women in leadership. It was then that it hit me; our strategies and ideas were no less different from what we employ in Sierra Leone in a remote village. What everyone said was that women needed to be permitted to lead alongside men, and like a woman not be do so like a man.
I wonder what would have happened differently if women were involved in the ‘Scramble for Africa?” Would they have pointed out that not dividing the land along ancient boundaries would have catastrophic consequences? Would they have found ways to advance through partnership rather than domination? And so I realize that part of the problem we try and solve is not just the inequality of the genders of the people groups at the village, but the consequences of the actions of the colonial group prior that definitely did not employ the powers of both genders.
And so this week I wear my new mantle, long awaited and with hesitation as I haven’t worn it so well in the past. It fits, like a beautiful wool coat, heavy enough to shield me from the elements, light enough that its comfortable and most importantly pretty to look at.
Happy International Women’s day.