by Judy M McCutcheon
My friend sent me a link to register for a women’s networking event. I ignored the link. She sent it to me about three times, and I ignored it. She called me asking me to go with her, and I gave her a non-committal answer, and I did the same thing every time she asked me about it.
Eventually, she told me I have no choice; I was going even if she had to pick me up. Even though I am very much pro women, I am reluctant to attend these types of events because they end up being only talk shops. The women I’ve met here who talk about female empowerment and wanting to help each other get ahead, have been nothing but hypocritical. They say it, and in the same breath, they are either berating another woman for what she is wearing or doing something equally evil to prevent her from succeeding. I did go to the event albeit reluctantly, and I must confess that I was very happy I decided to go. As I listened to the women share their stories and their fears, I was heartened to discover that these were authentic women. Women who were not afraid of talking about their struggles with parenting and how hard it is to reconcile being a parent and climbing the corporate ladder. We shared about how difficult it was, being at the top in a male-dominated arena. We even pondered the question of why some women take on a man’s persona as they climb to the top. It was a refreshing and much-needed conversation.
We know that the empowerment of women and girls is a key factor in economic growth and stability, as well as it aids in a country’s social transformation. President Barack Obama said, “when women succeed, nations are more safe, secure and prosperous.” Kofi Annan, the 7th Secretary General of the UN said, “there is no tool for development, more effective than the empowerment of women.” So where are we with all of this, why then is this not happening in our societies? The stark reality is that we continue to battle the greatest moral tragedy of our time – violence against women and girls. Every week I read the newspaper there are stories about sexual crimes against girls and women. Last week alone two men were charged for sexual assault against the same 12-year-old girl. Some teachers and male authority figures abuse their authority by forcing themselves upon our young girls. Women are being raped by men in authority and they are afraid to report it because we have a history of blaming the victim. Some actions are being taken, but we need to be more upfront and personal with this issue if we are to see a greater reduction of violence against women and girls.
Ladies, there is much work to be done in teaching our boys how our girls should be treated. Men, there is much work to be done in showing our boys the right examples. So many things we take for granted, a seemingly innocent yet derogatory remark about a female in front of a boy child teaches him that girls can be treated poorly, and that same remark in front of a girl child teaches her that she’s inferior. We need to do much better than we are doing currently. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. The Huffington Post recently reported on a global survey on women’s empowerment. The survey found that the single most important issue for young women is violence against women and girls. What this survey has highlighted is that even though there are many pressing issues for women such as careers and income, violence against women and girls is a very urgent issue and more deliberate actions are needed. But here’s the thing, we cannot wait for others to take action, we have to be the change we want to see, we can take small steps every day towards the empowerment of our tribe. I have a female friend that I am very proud of. She started a business about two years ago, and I called her recently to tell her that I am very proud of how far she has come. She was really happy, but she said that it’s a pity more women don’t lift other women up.
We don’t need to do big things to show that we support each other. A simple, genuine compliment, lending support to a colleague that you see struggling, supporting your female boss. Ladies, as you climb the corporate ladder, remember to bring a sister along with you and when you get there to treat your female employees fairly and with respect. You must behave in such a way that others would want to emulate you. At the session, we spoke about finding the right work-life balance. I personally believe that we will never find that balance, what we have to do is blend the two to create what we want. Define what that looks like for you and seek it. It is important as we take this journey that we remember people will only do to us what we allow them to, therefore, teach people how to treat you. Stand firmly for what you believe in, speak up against injustice and violence against women and girls, don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard. You cannot create history simply by being seen; you must be heard.
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Judy McCutcheon is a partner in the firm Go Blue Inc, a Human Development Company. www.goblueinc.net