DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/27 March) — On the 100th anniversary of the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, I would like to offer my personal reflections coming from my more than three decades of organizing women. These are some of the important things I have learned in my work to help women to empower themselves. Part of a speech I made at the “International Conference Celebrating Mountain Women” held in Bhutan a few years ago, I want to share it with you because I found it amazing that these ideas resonated so much with the women gathered there from the Alps, the Himalayas, the Andes, and the Cordilleras. I list the 10 qualities of an empowered woman. You may wish to add your own to this list.
First, an empowered woman lifts up other women. There is e
nough for everybody. Sometimes women tend to fight for the little piece of the pond. I say: enlarge the pond so that we can ALL play!
Second, an empowered woman inspires other women and mentors young women. Libby Roderick has a beautiful song entitled, “Inspire Me.” The song goes:
Everybody needs someone to show them what is possible
Everybody needs someone to go as far as she can see
I need to stand up on the shoulders of giants
I need a woman who’s as big as me.
When I was a little baby sittin’ on my Mama’s knee
I looked around to see just what the future had in store for me
I needed to see women who are living without limits
I needed to see women making history.
So I said
Give me a woman who can climb the tallest mountain
Give me a woman who can swim across the widest sea
Women need women who lead lives of boldest daring
Tell me their stories, they inspire me.
Third, an empowered woman never feels guilty. Why? Because it is a useless feeling. It has been used against women for so long (can you imagine, all the way to the Garden of Eden?). Women are made to feel guilty that they are neglecting their family because they go out to work (never mind that her family would probably not survive without her income); that they are loose women because they like a good time; that they are a liability as workers because they get pregnant and have to take maternity leave; that they are not “ladylike” because they speak their mind and show their brains; and so on and so forth. I tell women this: develop a conscience; know what is right and what is wrong; sharpen your moral compass. But after you have decided on a course of action and you know it is right, DO NOT allow others to make you feel guilty.
Fourth, an empowered woman does not try to be a superwoman. That’s only for comic books or the movies. There are only four differences between a woman and a man: (1) what is between their legs; (2) their chromosomes: she has two XX chromosomes and he has an X and a Y; (3) their hormones: at certain times of their evolution, she has more estrogen and he has more testosterone; and (4) she can carry a baby in her womb and he can’t. But the world thinks that because of these four differences women can hold a 9-5 job or work in the fields; sell vegetables and chickens in the market or longganisa in the office; take full responsibility for home and children; be a dakilang volunteer in the parish, the Girl Scouts and the homeowners association; and when husband comes home, smell sweet and look sexy as though they didn’t do anything all day!
Fifth, an empowered lives the truth of the saying: don’t agonize, organize! If something is wrong, the empowered woman does not bellyache. She sees it as an opportunity to gather others to right a wrong, to light a candle, to wipe a tear from a child’s eye, to make the world a little more clean, more honest, more caring.
Sixth, an empowered woman honors diversity. When society does not consciously manage the reality of distinct identities among various groups and peoples, conflict and war can result. When managed well, it can lead to increase in productivity, harmony, peace, and a rich collective life. An empowered woman blesses diversity as humankind’s greatest asset.
Seventh, an empowered woman has the capacity for intelligent rage. Empowered women feel a sense of outrage against injustice and oppression, a sense of outrage that leads to political action. An African-American writer and law professor, Patricia Williams, has called it the “gift of intelligent rage.”
Eighth, an empowered woman knows and claims her rights, not just her obligations. Women have been trained since childhood to subsume their welfare to the welfare of others, especially their family members. When we become adults, this sense of duty is so strong that often it is difficult to claim our rights. Equality and non-discrimination form the cornerstone upon which all human rights are constructed. An understanding of these concepts is central to the exercise of the social, political, economic and cultural rights of women and girls.
Ninth, an empowered woman claims power. There is tremendous resistance among many women to claim power. It is because power has always meant control, domination and manipulation. And this kind of power, most women will not claim. In my decades of work in the women’s movement, one of the most important lessons I have learned is that “in the beginning is the word.” It is important to NAME what we want or don’t want. To me, one of the most powerful words of the women’s movement has been “personal is political.” It taught me (as well as others) that such issues as domestic violence and rape are not private, domestic issues but issues of public policy and accountability. In order for women to claim power, we have had to come up with a new definition and I would like to offer this: power is the potency to act for what is good. The operative words are “potency,” “act,” “good.” If that is what power is, would women claim it? We certainly would! In positions of power, women (and men of good will) who hold this kind of power will make the world “less brutish, less dangerous, less ungiving, less unreasonable” as some once wrote about the goals of Mary Robinson, the remarkable former President of Ireland.
Tenth, an empowered woman says: no more waiting! There is a “fierce struggle to re-create the world”, in the words of the Brazilian educator, Paolo Freire. Empowered women know their energies draw them to that ennobling struggle. [This piece is from the March issue of OUR Mindanao, a publication of the Mindanao News and Information Cooperative Center. Ms Irene Morada Santiago is Chair and Chief Executive Officer of the Mindanao Commission on Women. She was a member of the government peace panel in the negotiations with the MILF from 2001 to 2004]