I have long struggled with the role I play in Freedom Tree; leading and building a non-profit organization has not always been met with applause. I was once told by a well-meaning man providing career advice that I was not meant to lead an organization, because women play the ‘number 2’ role well but not the ‘number 1 role’. He thought I would be better suited as an administrator. Sadly I believed it, as my insecurities got the better of me.
The trouble with being a woman is, well, being a woman. And I’m lucky – I live in the West in a society touted as being progressive. And yet our culture continues to display many gender inequalities.
Women are vastly underrepresented in leadership roles;
- Women directed only 5% of 250 major films in 2017
- 84% of front page articles are written by men in 2017
- Only 18% of government ministers worldwide are women as of January 2018
- As of today, women hold only 6% of Fortune 500 company CEO roles.
It does not get better in personal lives:
- Women have 1 in 4 chance of becoming a victim of Domestic violence
- 1 in 3 women have been raped or sexually assaulted
The truth is even though humanity has evolved, our ideas of gender roles are still evolving. We are products of a society that has taught that men are more important than women. When in reality a blend of leadership that has both genders is far more balanced, effective and holistic.
The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be instead of how we really are. To combat this, we must raise our sons and daughters differently, not just to be play the predetermined roles of gender, but to be whoever they were created to be. We teach boys to be ‘tough’ invulnerable, we allow them to ‘play rough’, wheras girls are chided for doing the same thing. Boys are also victims of socialization as they are often maligned if they display qualities mostly associated with what society has deemed feminine.
I have been told many times ‘Men don’t like women who are too successful’. And have succumbed to that belief system by imposing limitations on myself, playing mental gymnastics in my head of how far I can go and what I can and cannot achieve. Its easy to say I could have been different, resisted perhaps however we are all products of our societies. And it takes a great degree of energy to go against the grain.
What if boys are girls were truly free to be whoever they are to be? I dream of a future where this is so, and that future is now. I dream of the 90 something children we have in our scholarship program at Freedom Tree, that in 15 years time when those children are in the workforce they are not limited in what they can do and where they can go, because in raising them we have focused on their ability, not their gender.
As for me, each day I learn to be more of myself. I am choosing to not be apologetic in all of my femaleness, to not shrink back in my abilities and gifts for fear of intimidating others.
So today as you go through your day, ponder on this; culture does not make people, people make culture. So what are you creating today? Can you honestly tell your daughter as you tuck her in to bed that she can be anything she wants to be?
Be part of the change. Be the cool aunt or uncle who buys a chemistry set for their niece or a play stove for their nephew. Be the person on the bus that stands up when you see a woman been harassed. Because our voices are louder when we raise them together.
Happy International Women’s day!