This March 8th, as the world converges to celebrate the 100th anniversary that acknowledges inalienable human rights to females, I inquire how this translates for me, Jamaican by birth, African by ancestry and Universal in outlook.
In a riveting exchange with the first African woman to be chosen as a Special Representative to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, we concluded that a century later, we are still demanded to work that much harder for our accomplishments to be [begrudgingly] acknowledged by both men and women. I hastily add that this concurrence emerges from a place of conscious awareness rather than from victim-hood.
Throughout my upbringing, I was encouraged to be the best that I could possibly be. Being an only child, I never experienced the issues of sibling rivalry, and having attended an all girls’ school throughout my formative years; it never dawned on me until I entered the professional arena that I may be treated differently on the basis of my biological composition. Here the biological became juxtaposed against the cultural as well as the political. The treatment meted out to females was driven by the other’s cultural norms and attitudes, and ‘gender mainstreaming’ drove the political vehicle.
A strong advocate against injustice, initially I was outraged by this sort of largely ‘subliminal’ discrimination. The idealist within me could not reconcile that this sort of discretionary treatment could possibly exist within the hallmarks of humanitarianism. As I continued to climb the professional ladder, things deteriorated.
Refusing to succumb to the linear projections of others, I made a conscious decision to embrace, cultivate and respect my feminine approach to bureaucracy. Rather than become a victim or worse yet a ‘wanna be’ male, I chose to lead from the heart. Clearly this recipe continues to work given that I am still ‘on the ladder.’
Presently, life finds me in the heart of Africa; the Central African Republic (CAR) to be precise. Each morning as the sun rises and I stare out my window, I see women of all ages laden with baskets heavier than their body weight striding gracefully towards the markets. The younger ones may even have a baby tied to their backs.
When I drive through the markets en route to work, it is these same women that I witness harking their produce that they awoke during the darkest hours before dawn to pick. And at mealtimes, the women head home to prepare some semblance of nutrition to feed their families from their daily earnings. This scenario is by no means limited to CAR and in fact, is largely representative of the [un-defined] role of women as being the economic backbone of lesser developing countries.
Yet in many of these countries, families are forced to choose which of their children to educate and most often, the choice is clear: send the boys to school while the girls stay behind to tend the fields and take care of the household. The subsequent vicious cycle of their lack of education has many of them becoming mothers before they are adults.
In Jamaica, there are a startling number of single family households, the bulk of which are financed and run by women who wear multiple hats – mother, daughter, sister, bread-winner and community leader, struggling to survive within a society where patriarchal norms and practices reign supreme. In addition to juggling these multi-faceted roles, many continue to invest in themselves by way of further education, health and wellness and seeking spiritual sustenance – the latter I suppose to give them the strength to ‘carry on.’
100 years later, as females, the givers of Life, it is time for us to step up and claim our rightful positions within our respective societies.
How do we do begin?
Rather than perpetuating the divide, it is in our interest to help our communities to appreciate and embrace the fact that we are human, absolutely. Given the reality that we are incapable of reproducing without the other is a sound vantage point. As women, many of us are taught from a very early age that we must act and behave in a certain manner that is ‘lady-like.’ The connotations surrounding this are pervasively submissive and subservient. Too many of us value our worth against our attachment or lack thereof to a male.
My appeal on this International Women’s Day is for us to continue to create feminine ‘centrarchies’ where we are able to heal, grow and honour the women that we are. The universality of this notion calls us to collective action to support those amongst our clan who are abused, molested, marginalized, raped, objectified, victimized, ostracized and ridiculed and to celebrate those amongst us who are moving, shaking and transforming.
Together, let us join hands and hearts and share the blood, sweat, tears and laughter of the Divine Feminine. She lives within each and every one of us human beings.