What comes to mind when you think about female empowerment? Do you think of traditional, oppressive societies from years ago? Do you think of women living in mud huts in rural villages? Do you picture naive, meek and timid girls getting bullied and harassed around the office by an alpha-male boss?
I think of you and I. I think of what’s needed now, in my reality. These reflections have come to me after observing a friend’s work on a female empowerment project in India, Kenya and Cambodia. I’ve never been more aware of my gender and the implications it has on my choices.
The fear of gender-based sexual violence is real in my head. Perhaps you may think me a little paranoid, but I think of it often. I feel the limitations it gives me in my mind, especially when it comes to travelling. I’ve so many dreams about what I’d like to do – hitch-hiking across Europe, couch surfing, trusting new foreign friends and not over-thinking. Yet a voice in my head always cautions me, reminding me that I can’t really do any of these because I’m a woman and my gender poses risks. People will try to take advantage of me because they perceive me as weak and vulnerable… and I fear that I maybe am, by virtue of being female.
History shows us that we’ve long been viewed as the disadvantaged group. Males have exerted domination onto us and we are still in a position where we are fighting for equality. I wonder how this has seeped into our consciousness and how it reflects in our actions. I wonder how it translates to our children. I think of this often when I see my nephews and baby niece. What messages do they receive about gender roles? What societal rules are they being taught from our families and institutions? What messages are coming through from the media?
From my experience, they do not have female empowerment at their core. We simply aren’t there yet.
I hear people say to my five-year old nephew, “Ejja (come on), don’t cry, you’re a big boy,” or hearing him say, “No, it’s pink, it’s for girls!” I wonder if my niece will grow up to love her body and herself. I feel obligated to get there first so that she can have a positive example when growing up – practising what I preach. One way we did this as a family was when my three-year old nephew asked for a baby doll for Christmas so that he could “take care of it like mama takes care of the baby”. We got it for him, with a bottle and a cot in tow.
I feel that we can get intimidated by the word “empowerment” or not understand it. We can empower ourselves and our fellow women, all day, every day, at any moment. Every time you look in a mirror, you can empower a woman. So often are we presented with chances to empower a woman and not take them.
People, especially women, hold their physical appearance to a very high standard. Ask yourself, “What does my body want from me?” It will likely want a little more kindness, a little more love and a little less judgement. Instead of buying into the business of criticising your fellow woman and ensuring that she never feels good enough, just stop. Take a step back. Think. Why not raise her up? Your mother, your sister, your niece, your colleague, your friend, your neighbour, your daughter – say to her what you’ve always wanted someone to say to you.
Yes, you are beautiful – and you are also so much more than that. You are capable, you are strong, you are resilient, you are enough, you are worthy. You are okay and complete on your own.
What if we didn’t allow ourselves to be manipulated into stealing each other’s power? What if we consciously and consistently gave it to each other? I would like to be part of a world where women are strong, fulfilled and unified. I’m curious to see what shifts would emerge from women all over the world feeling empowered.
It starts from you. Work on your own empowerment and see your energy spread to those surrounding you. Shine your little light on the world.
More from Eve: Can men and women ever really be equal?