By Chadia Talib:
In Women’s Empowerment…Don’t Push Us Around, (February 2013); I focus on the ideology of patriarchy and its undesirable consequences on women’s rights and freedom. The practice of down-grading our being, is as old as the human race itself. There is no known time throughout the history of humankind during which women, in any community, experienced a life unfettered. That being said, women must take some responsibility – minimal as it may be – for the many entrenched and perennial problems that we face every breath of our existence.
This is not to blame any of us for our participation in the patriarchal-structured world, for there is no way we can live otherwise, but for what is clearly our lack of interest in fighting our own course.
How long can we continue to tread the snail pace, with all the tools at our disposal? For how long can we as women, allow erroneous and twisted societal norms to hinder our progress, and tradition to define our destiny? Many of us suffer in silence because we believe there is no way out of it. For some of us, the mere discussion of our feelings, our pains, our troubles, even with other women, is taboo in our own conscience. By allowing this to go on and on, we solidify the status quo and accept, as natural and as right, our place in the chain of doom. The only answer to all of this is a resounding No!
Some of us, women, are perpetrators of abusive actions against other women, though, not the kind of beastly behaviors common of some men abusers. Women abuse other women in so many ways. In the workplace for example, some women managers, without justifiable causes, victimize their junior female workers, causing them much trauma. Such abuses are no less painful. Some junior workers, on the other hand, show little respect for their female superiors just because they are women. How many times have we not heard a woman say she prefers a man to be the president or the manager, etc.? Abuses of women by other women, take place everywhere: in college campuses, in gatherings and even within our localities, causing emotional pains on their victims. We must ensure we stand up against such behaviors.
Our role in every aspect of nation-building and sustainable growth is no less important as men’s. Our role in every history has been nothing less than success, and we should not relent any longer to help improve conditions from the local to the global.
Society’s mindset of womanhood is skewed. We must work towards changing that prejudicial perception. The first step is ciphering our self-worth, our values and how we can use those qualities to enhance our communities and the world at large. We must know it is our right to be heard at all times, and to express freely, our feelings, our needs, and our opinions whenever we choose to do so. The responsibility is ours, and we must be ready to make the necessary change; to come out of the cocoon in which we have been trapped just because we are who we are, women. We must step out of the shadows and say to the world, ‘this is me!’
As human beings, we have what it takes to define the real ‘us’; that vision and resourcefulness that drive our mere humanity. Every woman has to have a vision of self, a vision of who she actually is; the vision to un-tap her God-given strength and ability.
We must be determined. We must persevere and believe in ourselves, that is; our skills and values. All of this should empower us to step out of our comfort zones and break down those walls of uncertainty and fear, of doubt, inhibition and self-pity. We need to be futuristic-oriented and to try to develop definite ideas of a preferred destination and a strong desire to communicate and portray ourselves as equal to our compatriots of the other sex.
A number of studies have negatively portrayed us as the so-called weaker sex, mainly so because of the way we express ourselves emotionally. It’s all part of society’s skewed thinking of who we actually are. Scientific studies, on the other hands, have proven that one of the differences of the male and female sexes, by way of emotional responses, is nothing other than biological. That does not qualify or disqualify us as inferior to men in anyway. It only tells us that we as women react differently and that should not hinder our progress and our will to join the mainstream.
Much progress has been made since the signing of the United Nations Women’s Treaty. We, women, however, need to do more to meet the Millennium Development Goal, which promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment.
My personal experience as a married woman and of the Muslim faith, a faith observed in my family circle with some level of orthodoxy, has been one of a holdback for years. I gave 30 years to marriage, nurturing a home and trying to be the ‘perfect wife,’ as demanded by culture and tradition. But there has always been the burning desire in me to listen to my inner voice, a desire that urges me to make a difference and reach out to our womenfolk. The problem, though, was that I first had to make a change in my own life if I should reach out to others. However, discussing my feelings with my family was met with strong opposition. There was the constant reiteration that ”women should be seen and not heard.” I was determined to break the taboo. My reaction has always been a composed, non-aggressive but assertive and determined voice of No.
My urge has always yearned to feel fulfilled, productive and alive. That was a big step forward, but I was determined, and I was able to tear down the walls of co-dependency and relationship addiction. I stepped into a future of growth and personal transformation. I decided to turn my attention inward and listen to my heart and go for what I believe in, express myself and be heard! Culture and traditional taboos are transformed into ‘Me’ and ‘Now.’
Millions of women are suffering in silence, holding back in fear of making that first step and in fear of being judged by their families and communities. Why remain silent and continue to endure that which will lead to more pains, anger, frustration, resentment and eventually depression? Such feelings can overshadow our mortality, our career and our personal relationships too. Empowering ourselves as women is our basic right. It is a God-given right. No one, not even ourselves, should take that away from us.
We should increase our capabilities to make purposeful choices and transform those choices into beneficial outcomes. But whatever move we make should be done within the context of the love that defines our relationship with our family, our loved-ones and our homes.
Cultivating a positive attitude goes a long way in empowering ourselves. It starts from within. It should start by telling that negative voice within, ‘I can,’ and ‘I will.’ But we must break free and make the necessary sacrifices that most men make. We must step into the social structure that our men folk have dominated for too long. We must develop and cultivate the appetite to be who we are. We need to push for opportunities and volunteer for the hard assignments that come with empowerment. We have to balance that commitment with our home responsibilities and bridge the gender-gap.
Every government that is serious about development has an answer: Involvement of the women component. We as women must push to sit on the other side of the boat to row the paddle of government, of unity and of sustainable growth. It’s time we stop blaming ourselves for the shortcomings of society. It’s time we take the lead. I am confident if we do, our men will come along.
For the first time this year, Sierra Leone observed International Women’s Day by declaring it a public holiday. That says a lot. Women are being urged into the public domain and being accepted and called on. Can we afford to lose the opportunity? Do we want to continue to hold ourselves back?
Chadia Talib is a writer, women’s right advocate and entrepreneur. She lives in Bo, southern Sierra Leone.