Women’s Daywas created and first celebrated as Working Women’s Day. And then somebody hadthe brilliant realization that there is no such thing as a woman who does notwork, whether within the home or outside the home. It is curious to me that aman who is able to do many things is known as a renaissance man. But what do theycall a woman who is able to do many things? Just “a woman.”
This year,the theme for Women’s Day is “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.” It occursto me that ultimately women and girls are inspired by seeing other womenachieve great things. And women do great things every day: from running homeson tight budgets to running companies and countries. We are making progress,despite enormous odds against us.
Thestatistics about the condition of women in the world are still startling: weare still out-earned by men for doing the same jobs, under-represented ingovernment, we still do the vast majority of the work in the home, even if wehave outside employment; girls are even unwanted and drastically under-valuedin many countries.
Key to theimprovement of the rights of women worldwide is the inclusion of men in thedialogue about equity. Because the thing is: men are everywhere! And men seethe world differently from the way women do. So manydevelopment approaches in the world focus on empowering women to the exclusionof men. One of the main flaws of this strategy is that it downplays the challengefor men of adapting to a change in gender roles within their culture. It’s notjust male farmers and their wives – or even female farmers and their husbands! Ittakes men and women working together, acknowledging what each brings to theequation.
On a trip toSierra Leone in West Africa, I had an experience that reminded me how attitudescan change when women look to other women. I was accompanied on the trip by countrydirector Rashid Sesay, who is at least twice my size. While I may be his boss,I am clearly not the boss of him. In every village Rashid introduced me as hisboss, which elicited chuckles of disbelief from the women.
In one village wemet with a community group made mostly of women. After several hours of hearingtheir stories, we said our goodbyes and I started to get in the car. One womancame up to me and touched my elbow timidly. Shyly, she asked “Is it true youare his boss?” I was a little taken aback, but I played it off. “No, notreally,” I said to her. I explained in the local language that it was mostly atechnicality.
When we gotin the car and were driving away, Rashid reprimanded me sternly. He said, “WhenI introduce you as my boss I do it deliberately. It’s very important that youdon’t take it lightly. It is a fact. And it may not be important to you, butit’s important to these women. Because for them to see a woman as young as you,the same color as them, the same background as them, having accomplished whatyou have and be the boss of a man as big as me, it changes for them what ispossible in their lives. Because the only difference between you and them is aneducation.” This was an “Aha!” moment for me. While I had been busy watchingMichelle Obama and other women define what was possible for my life, others werewatching me.
So how do we “connectgirls and inspire futures?” We do so by looking for great women to inspire us,and by becoming inspiring women ourselves.