Gender Equality: Balance of 2016 and Priorities for 2017

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call-to-women

Another Solar year is almost finished and it’s time for making a balance of achievements regarding gender equality in the personal and global spheres and to set some guiding priorities for the year that starts.

Take some time to reflect on what you have achieved in your personal life this year in what regards your empowerment as a woman. Where are you now compared to the previous year? What are the new understandings you have? What are the new tools to deal with situations and people you have acquired? What are the actions you took that contributed to your empowerment and human development? Who was there supporting you in your development? What are the weaknesses you still need to work on? These and other questions can guide you into the new year with a sense of achievement and power that arises not from having all answers right, but from the feeling of being in the right path towards your own development and freedom.

In terms of the achievements attained this year on gender equality at global level UN Women identifies some important ones in spheres as diverse as fight against gender based violence, work, sciences, sport, child marriage, legal, political, media, etc.. While these are all important achievements let’s bear in mind that new laws and policies must be implemented and that numbers are a ‘quantity factor’ and very often hide a (lack of) ‘quality factor’ that must be developed as a second step. And also remind ourselves that the path towards equality takes ages to build and few seconds to destroy thus requiring all our attention not to move backwards.

And what’s next? Is my wish to write some lines on what I believe are some priorities on the gender equality movement for the next year.

Priority number one is to bring more men into the movement. Gender equality is still seen as a women’s issue and this must change, because otherwise it would be called ‘women’s equality’ instead of gender equality. Gender refers to all possible genders in the gender continuum and therefore the gender equality movement must be inclusive of all people. The fact is that, despite their gender, all people are oppressed by gender roles and stereotypes. Some genders, namely men, feel to have more privileges, and indeed they do have. But men are actually excluded from very important spheres of human life, for instance emotional life, care and love work, and they are expected to fulfil certain impossible expectations, like being the number one provider, being always strong and right, taking right decisions alone, and so on. Moving towards more balanced notions of masculinities is certainly a priority already acknowledged by few men. Now the effort must be for these conscious men to take a leading role on supporting other men towards this understanding and practice.

A second priority should be to work towards community by bringing the different gender movements and groups to work more closely together, cooperating towards the achievement of common goals. The separation and division between LGBTQI, white women’s movement, black women’s movement, men’s movement, and do on, is a weakness that should be overcame in order to make a stronger movement that works cooperatively with a long-term perspective. Working towards community will require an effort from the different parts involved, the effort of getting to know and accepting each other, the effort of integrating all views into a more complex and hence truer picture, the effort of setting common goals and defining a strategic plan of concerted actions. Diversity will be a great asset of this wider community as many roles must be fulfilled and many different actions must be taken to implement this common strategic plan.

A third essential priority is to free women and other groups being discriminated against from the burden of having to take the responsibility alone for their own empowerment and rights. As a woman I feel often tired of constantly being asked to deal with my stuff, to deal with sexism, to excuse it, to relax, to give time, to understand. I say ENOUGH! What about asking sexists to deal with their own stuff and take responsibility for their behaviour, making an effort to open their narrow mind and embrace otherness into their egocentric world? Why not starting empowerment groups for sexist people, instead of asking women and other groups being discriminated against to empower themselves with no effort and commitment from the other side? If we for once change the concept of victim and weakness, we would actually see many men and sexist, racist, and other ‘ists’ for what they really are: human beings in pain and in need of help to become more human and loving, in real need of help to embrace reality in its complexity, to see the Earth as friend and not as a resource to exploit, to get out of their ego prison. I pity those who need to put someone down to feel better, I truly do.

In the era of ‘pseudo-communication’ it becomes necessary to ask from all media more responsibility in the fulfilment of their role in contributing to end gender inequalities. This is thus the forth priority I identify for the year 2017, to have media taking an active role in creating greater gender equality. This would pass through simple actions: having more non-sexist women in the top management of media organisations, women who have the courage to be inspiring leaders by designing and implementing concrete measures towards gender equality, for instance stop using gender stereotypes in adds and stop using women’s bodies as a ‘sell everything sort of object’, develop creative ways to promote equality in the media, create tools that can track and delete sexist and other forms of hate speech from digital media. These are few that come to my mind as I write but certainly many more could be set up. It is crucial that all stakeholders assume their responsibility in creating a world free from discrimination and oppression.

It is essential that human beings uplift their consciousness to a higher level, stop using cynicism as an excuse for not being whole and coherent, putting their efforts in bringing the institutions they lead towards a next level.

I final priority comes in the form of a Call to Action for Women to assume their leadership in a local and global scale towards a world shaped by alternative values and ways of doing and being. I want to call it a feminine leadership approach, which brings greater value to care and love, to bonding and community, to cooperation and communication, to being coherent and integral, to create a different set of priorities, that is about equality and empowerment of individual differences, acceptance and complementarity. I have this dream of seeing women of all ages taking the lead in their local communities and shaping different and human places of empowerment while simultaneously creating learning contexts for other women to take the lead, showing with their actions that it is possible to be and act differently, to be happy and to be whole.

So allow me to close this post with this open and warm invitation to all Women to own their great power and let their inner leader to surface and shape a true world community!

On honouring Women’s Courage

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photo-1461709444300-a6217cec3dffEvery time I open my eyes and see the light of a new day, I feel inspired. I look around and within me and see the images of all the great Women who compose my life now and in the past and in the future. They shine through the distance of miles and cross all boarders of space and time that are(n’t) between us. Women in my life live within me, I am them, they are me, same flesh and bone, same soul and heart. Together we are stronger.

I feel inspired by their Courage of being and living. Courage to challenge the status quo and elegantly move behind mental and real barriers in a men’s world. And because Courage is not the absence of fear, but the action despite the fear, I admire all of you, Women in my life. Every day each and every one of you, bravely and wholeheartedly overcome your fears, build your personal power, our Women’s power, advancing another step in the path towards deeper equality.

I honour your Courage my beloved Women friends and I dedicate my life to you.

To you who dare to raise your child alone in face of an absent father, assuming the responsibility of love and education. To you who daily care for those who come from far away fleeing war and trauma, facing your own trauma and your own flee. jean-michel-basquiat_a-painting-by-him-used-posthumously-in-a-1993-poembook-by-maya-angelou-called-life-doesnt-frighten-meTo you who left an unfulfilling job to search for your soul and for your joy. To you who look cancer in the face and say yes to life, once and once again. To you who fly like a butterfly with your babies in your stomach, dancing graciously the dance of life. To you who work night and day to bring money home, you who raised me to be this Woman writing this words. To you who dared to challenge costumes and, with two kids in your arms, divorced an unfaithful man. To you who were silent and humble, allowing your man to shine. To you the queen making your dream come true. To you who love your body despite all the hate around Botticelli women. To you who left your comfort and travelled far away in search of professional fulfilment. To you who live in the dark shining all your way through. To you who faced violence and got out of it by yourself. To you who said enough to an unfulfilling relationship to walk life with a smile. To you who love with maternal love all of us, while waiting to be a mother. To you you survived family addiction and transformed your pain in strength. To those who died so that us, Women of today, may enjoy all the rights we do. To those who fight every day to make sure we may enjoy full equality one day. To those who will take the future burden and joy of activism and keep the memory alive.

photo3Sometimes I feel scared of my own internalised sexism, that taught me subordination and lack of confidence. I fight every day, I fear every day, every day I challenge my mind and other people’s minds. I struggle so that I am respected and seen through the lenses of equality. I feel the danger, the anger and the punishment, it seems small, comes silently, subtly loud and evident to my soul. It is painful and I feel my own pain like electricity through my body, drowning me of my best energy and joy, distracting me of important things.

And every day, I am Courageous, I am powerful. Because, “life doesn’t frighten me“!

 

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me
by Maya Angelou

Shadows on the wall
Noises down the hall
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Bad dogs barking loud
Big ghosts in a cloud
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Mean old Mother Goose
Lions on the loose
They don’t frighten me at all

Dragons breathing flame
On my counterpane
That doesn’t frighten me at all.

I go boo
Make them shoo
I make fun
Way they run
I won’t cry
So they fly
I just smile
They go wild

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Tough guys fight
All alone at night
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Panthers in the park
Strangers in the dark
No, they don’t frighten me at all.

That new classroom where
Boys all pull my hair
(Kissy little girls
With their hair in curls)
They don’t frighten me at all.

Don’t show me frogs and snakes
And listen for my scream,
If I’m afraid at all
It’s only in my dreams.

I’ve got a magic charm
That I keep up my sleeve
I can walk the ocean floor
And never have to breathe.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

On self-confidence and the sense of entitlement

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ce173d37d4057a8aa12a36c2cafc18c9Today I have challenged myself to write about self-confidence, and I say challenge because this is a subject that has been living with me since I can remember, with increased awareness of the impact it has in my advancement as a woman and a human being.

I find it useful to start by understanding the meaning of self-confidence. Neel Burton, in a blog called Psychology Today, describes self-confidence and self-esteem in a simple and understandable way: self-confidence is about trust in our hability to successfully or adequately interact with the world, it is about capacities. Self-esteem is about the cognitive and emotional appraisal of our own value, it is about self-love, and is as important as to determine our interaction with ourselves, others and the world. Burton also makes an interesting reference to courage as complementar to self-confidence: while the second is useful in the realm of the known, the first is what enables us to move in the realm of the unknown, uncertainty and fear. As Scott Peck puts it, courage is the effort to overcome fear, it enables action that expands the self and/or the other, it is an act of self-love.

This being said, I would like to explore some of the factors related to self-confidence. From a psychological perspective self-confidence requires important ingredients during the development process and socialization of a child, namely:

  • Sense of being loved and feeling a person of worth
  • Havig our self-expression -opinions, ideas and creations- appreciated and valued
  • Being recognized for our individual and special capacities and talents
  • Being seen and recognized by meaningful people in our life
  • Having our sense of dignity protected

All this happen in the familiar milieu, but is also shaped by other external experiences that may be brought home, shared and reflected together with parents or other reference figures. I am not sure whether all these factors were always present in my life when I was a child, but I clearly remember to be humiliated by a close family member, which I admired and appreciated, who dared (probably driven by ignorance) to diminish my appearance and my intelectual capacity. This happened in an age when I was unable to understand that this person had no right to act that way, that this person was wrong in his words, and it deeply affected me throughout life.

Yet, to fully understand self-confidence (and the lack of it) I believe it is important to look at it from a gender perspective. The situation above described is a good starting point as it was clearly shaped by patriarcal thinking. It is clear to me that dominance and power determined the interaction between my young self and the referred male.

How many of these interactions does a child (all genders) goes through in their life?  And in which ways does this influences people’s lives as grown ups? I am convinced that this type of situation deeply affects self-confidence as it creates that feeling of being not good enough, not skilled or smart enough, not beautiful enough. And considering that our women’s lives are permeated by thousands of images that portray this same message, I feel it is quite “normal” to be lacking self-confidence.

Unfortunately is not easy to find literature that enlightens our spirit on the gendered dimension of self-confidence. Consequently and out of self-love and pure desire to develop myself spiritually I have been reflecting on my own experience, observing other women and men around me, to grasp and comprehend what else is at stake when we talk about self-confidence. The first observation, well know to most of us, is that men in general show a strong self-confidence in their words and actions, despite the fact that very often they don’t feel it, they just fake it, or it just comes easy to them because they are used to be listened to and to have their words acknowledged by others. I have also come to realize that some women that seem to be self-confident, deep inside are not, they fake it as men do, mimicking their behavior, their words and sometimes even their aggressiveness.

I have also come across young women who talk and behave in a very confident way, and that is authentic, they really feel that entitlement… And this word, this feeling of entitlement was an AHA! moment to me. That word stayed within me. I carried it for days and weeks until I could finally realize what was actually blocking my self-confidence, that ungraspable part of the complex set of factors. This inability to give things a name is the hardest part. It is there, present, influencing you, but until you name it you can’t fully understand it, and thus you can’t fight it and change it.

I have finally come to realise that I have always been waiting for other people to recognize me and to allow/support me to do things. I mean, I have always done things, the things I love, but always feeling inner concern and fear of not being good enough, of doing a mistake. Still I was doing them, but not as good as I know I can. I have always received this external recognition, I have a bunch of friends and colleagues telling me how good I am in what I do, but I have not been able to tell it to myself so far. And I could not realise why until now.

The truth is that, until we recognize our strengths and capacities, until we tell ourselves how great we are, and therefore entitle us to accept a promotion, to do what we love, to express our thoughts and ideas, things will not change, self-confidence will be lacking to a certain extent. Because there is no one better than another, as human beings we are all entitled to self-expression and to do things and to decide. And as we do, as we decide, we will realise our potential and our greatness and have our self-confidence reinforced.

I strongly believe in the influence exerted by patriarcal system on this need for an external person to recognise and entitle us. In a system based on strong hierarchies, power chains, a binary framework of opposites which assume positive (male, rational, strong,…) and negative (female, emotional, vulnerable, …) values it is easy to fall in the misunderstanding so well put by Roman Krznaric’s:

A lack of confidence is at heart a misunderstanding of the way the world works. It’s an internalized feudalism, which imagines that only certain people — but not oneself — have the right, preordained, to get certain things.

In this world where women and minority groups are not named, and therefore not seen, it is easy to fall in the trap of giving to other people the power of entitlement, that is also a power over our lives.

To reclaim this power is crucial to increased self-confidence and to live joyfully, and it is key to women’s advancement and thus to the advancement of the World.

 

Living in a Women’s World

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City of Women, Cartography by Molly Roy in

City of Women, Cartography by Molly Roy in “Nonstop Metropolis” by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

I received this great article in my e-mail inbox yesterday and my first thought was to share it here: City of Women (by Rebecca Solnit, The New Yorker).

It activated my imagination and I could visualize myself in this brand new World, more of a Women’s World, more Human and inclusive of diversity. I imagined myself going around Lisbon and walking around streets named after great Women, those who HIStory has forgotten and deleted from our HIStory books and therefore also from our memories and souls.

And I imagined more, I imagined myself living in a World that is shaped differently, not shaped by patriarchal thinking, not a disheartened World. In my Women’s World difference is seen as a strength and it is valued by its creative potential and individuality, and in itself this acceptance and honoring of diversity is a key feature that enables many voices to be present and to shape what happens and the way it happens. It allows for individual expression at the same time that it paves the way to a world of possibilities and creativity.

To close with a quote on Hope, from the same great author who wrote the article, that reminds us of the importance of being hopeful in a World full of tragedy but also full of great achievements and movements for social transformation:

Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to through away. (…) It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I am interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. (…) Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others.

For more on this subject check this great post on Brain Pickings.

An unexpected couple

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grandmotherToday I want to share with you the story of a rather unexpected couple I know closely and that is, in a way, the confirmation of my last post on the importance of Sisterhood for women’s empowerment and happiness.

This couple, or partnership, as you may prefer, brings together two divorced women, one in her thirties and the other in her eighties. The first is actively engaged in social entrepreneurship, non-formal education and change, and is a freelance (sometimes) quite lost in the world. The second is retired and her main occupation is to build some new and empowering stories about her past, to be worried about everybody else in the family, and to complain about the loneliness and the body pain. These two women share the same living space and sustain each other through life situations that, as you may imagine, are quite diverse. They are actually a great match, not entirely free of arguments and conflicts, but so far they are doing quite well.

This kind of alliance, not so rare anymore I believe, has led me to some reflection on the values that drive people’s life nowadays, specially around the subject of time, love, intergenerational dialogue and rest/leisure:

Time to love, time to dedicate attention, time to be and to rest. Why society’s definition of success seems to be determined only by the amount of time people expend doing (a certain type) of work? What is work? How can we humanise work? Aren’t there any other measures of a person’s worth, that value other components of the human being?* How to love and how to fulfil the ‘love is as love does‘ maxim? And how to apply these principles and values in a relation with a old grandmother with her vulnerability and stubbornness, with her own way of being and (not) doing things?

On the other way around this situation has a lot to do with gender and gender equality, this mutual care and respect for each other that is Sisterhood. This partnership has been of utmost importance to a woman who is building her economic independence. And despite the refusal and frustration it often creates, I am convinced this is a win-win situation for both of them, from all perspectives.

It also reinforces the realisation that normality is a painful and unrealistic goal to aspire to, because the only normality that exists is our individual normality: What makes me feel good and happy? What is the best version of myself? What do I want to achieve? Who I want to be?

On the top of it, to live with the grandmother also represents an exceptional life experience, and the greatest and deepest intergenerational exchange one could ever wish for. To accompany a grandmother in her getting older is simultaneously tough and beautiful, it reveals a lot of who we are and is a mirage of how we will be. No time for hiding or lying, in front of you the wane we all will be subject to. No matter what, oldness is awaiting everyone who will have to joy (or else…) of a long life.

* Check this post for a great reflection on this subject.