I was disheartened to wake up on International Women’s Day 2015 to see my Twitter feed littered with negative statistics on why gender inequality is still an issue for women today. While I don’t deny that this is a pressing problem I and my fellow ladies face on a daily basis, I feel like today should be as much a celebration of female achievement as it is a platform to create discussion about the changes that are yet to be made.
I feel compelled to remind you of the amazing things women have done throughout history, but that would make for a post longer than WordPress could probably handle (and no doubt it would takes years to collate). So instead, I want to make today about reflecting on the women I’ve met in the last ten years – women who have inspired, challenged and changed me – and I urge you to do the same. Below I’m going to share with you just three of these great ladies in the hope that they can inspire you to Make It Happen (this year’s IWD theme) too.
Five-or-so years ago I met my mother as she is today. That’s not to say I never knew her before – she of course gave birth to me, brought me up in a loving home and has always been there for me throughout my life. But it was the year she divorced my father after a long and difficult break-up, during which I watched her break then slowly try to rebuild the fragile pieces of her heart, that I saw the extent of her strength. After all the hurt, she renewed herself. The ground beneath her feet wasn’t (and still isn’t) entirely stable, but her resilience meant she would move with earthquakes that shook her life every now and then. She didn’t just ‘muddle through’ these hard times. She took life by the horns and lived it to its fullest. We had adventures in Kenya, went backpacking in India, and even rode to the Channel Islands on the back of her motorbike.
Despite the pain of the past, today she is the contented, ambitious, independent woman I have always endeavoured to be, and her love and compassion will continue to teach me no-end of invaluable life lessons.
Judy, the Women of Umoja
From 2012–13 I spent seven months travelling the world (digitally and physically) to meet women who live their lives entirely without men. In Kenya, before embarking on possibly the world’s least comfortable journey (and the biggest adventure of my life), I stopped off in a small road-side town called Archer’s Post, known as the ‘gateway to the Chalbi Desert’, as it marks the end of the tarmac road and the beginning of a perilous pot-holed journey toward the border with Ethiopia. There I met the Women of Umoja, a small but thriving all-female village set on the banks of the Uaso River, and instead of telling you why they’re inspiring, I’ll show you:
Sister Stephanie, a Carmelite Nun
I was astounded by the sheer contentedness of the Carmelite nuns I met at the Quidenham Carmel in Norfolk, and Sister Stephanie in particular took me by surprise. We only briefly spoke one afternoon, when she broke her vow of silence to help me with my project on all-female communities, but her words and her manner stayed with me forever. She was the youngest nun in the Order at 31 years old. She had previously pursued a successful career in the charity sector. She had drive and motivation; ambition and intelligence; she looked young and beautiful, even – or perhaps more so – beneath her habit. Her former life was much how I imagined mine would pan out: full of hard work, good friends and healthy challenges. Now, she lives in silence in a Catholic convent in the middle of the English countryside, praying for the fortune of others.
Her life had taken a 180-degree turn – a terrifying and bold move, far removed from the ideologies and actions expected of young people today – and it was the conviction with which she told me about her journey to God, and the candid tone in her voice, that struck me so deeply. She probably doesn’t know it, but she taught me to make peace with my instinct, and follow it no matter what.
You can read my full exploration of all-female communities here: No Men Allowed.