We celebrated International Women’s Day this month and it has become quite an institution, a national and international celebration of everything that is “WOMEN”.
To be honest, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with International Women’s Day (IWD). It’s a time for women to praise each other and be praised. To share our achievements, support each other and some amazing initiatives, and show how much we have impacted society. At the same time, I dislike the commercialization of what it means to be a woman, the fact that we still need to prove our worth and value, and the expectations of what it all means. As many have said before me “the fact that there even needs to be an IWD is depressing”.
In spite of my mixed feeling about this very important annual celebration, this month I am dedicating my blog to celebrating the women in my life who have paved the way for me. The women listed below have inspired me and shown me how to be a strong, powerful woman without putting any labels on it. These are just regular women living their lives not to prove a point, but are leading by example.
I have been blessed to come from a long line of strong determined women. It is a family joke that the “strong woman” gene is passed down from mother to daughter. My great grandmother and grandmother where both short in height but strong and powerful in personality, before it was even a feminist thing! My grandmother went into the family business as a young adult, and was a working mother, raising 3 daughters at the same time. She didn’t do this because she was a feminist or to fight for women’s rights. She did this because in her family it was just normal. My mum and her two sisters were also working mothers, raising families along-side working out of the home, studying, and volunteering in the community. Again these three women were not combining family and life work to be feminist or fly the flag for the feminist movement. They did it because they wanted to, chose to and were able to.
My female siblings, cousins and myself have been brought up and educated with these same values. Strong, powerful and determined, with the freedom of choice to decide our family-work balance, based on our needs and personal situation. None of us take this for granted. We are well aware that many women do not have the luxury of such choices, or families and spouses who support our decisions. And we are passing this message down to our daughters, to the next generation of women in my family.
My Best Friend.
I have known my oldest girlfriend since we were both 3 months old. We have been through everything together and despite living in different countries now, we still remain close. Over the years however our roles have reversed. When we were in kindergarten she was so quiet and shy that I used to have to ask the teacher on her behalf, if she could go to the bathroom. In high school I had the busy, active social life, and against my better judgement, left her behind. However, in the last few years my shy and quiet best-friend has been transforming herself. Partly life has demanded it of her, partly she has demanded it of herself. She now speaks at public events, is active in inter-faith women forums, and is a pioneer for stronger communal support for youth at risk – all this, while working full-time and raising a family.
I am in awe of her and everything she is. She is leading by example of how a woman in her community can be active and involved, take every opportunity to make a difference, speak out when necessary, and quietly but with total determination, affect change.
This month I traveled to New York to visit my cousins (on my paternal side). I have only one female cousin older than me and I got to spend some quality time with her on my trip. My cousin was married very young and by her mid-twenties was divorced with 2 young kids. She raised them herself, while working full-time in corporate Manhattan. She experienced and survived the financial crisis of 2008-9, rebuilding her business afterwards. In the last few years she decided to study for a PhD and graduated this passed Autumn, whilst becoming a grandmother for the sixth time. She achieved all of this despite her personal and communal situation. She was not seeking to pave a feminist path, nor to fly the flag for women’s rights. She did this because life demanded it of her, because she chose to stand strong, and to prove to herself that she could.
These women, epitomize for me, the way I choose to celebrate IWD – by celebrating the real woman. There are still plenty of women around the world who do not have the freedom of choice or rights, women that still live by men’s rule. And there is still plenty of misogyny and disrespectful behaviour against women in more “enlightened” societies.
However, for the many women who have the opportunities to live freely as they choose, we need to ensure the on IWD we are celebrating, promoting, empowering and encouraging these regular women to be authentic and connect to themselves in whatever choices they have made. Not because they want to raise the flag, nor make a point, fight injustice or because they want to be pioneers for the feminist movement.
These are just regular women, leading by example, quietly, determined and strong, setting an example for their daughters and their community, of what is possible.
They inspire me every day!