As women we hear and tell many stories. We carry these stories with us – ones that happened to us, to our mothers, sisters, friends.
My mother-in-law told me a story. She grew up in a small village in southeast Turkey. None of her older sisters went to school. When she completed primary school, she was expected to stay at home and help her mother, but she wanted to continue her education. Every day, she asked her father to register her. To distract her, he asked her instead to clear rocks from his fields. His plan didn’t work – she cleared every rock, and then kept asking. She went on to complete her education and become a teacher.
My grandfather told me a story. He met my late grandmother working in a melon field. He was 17 years old – a new immigrant from Morocco. She was 16 – a new immigrant from Libya. He liked the look of her and asked around to learn who she was. He was referred to her uncle, who asked “Do you want her?” (“As if we were in the market!” my grandfather added when telling me the story.) “Well,” answered my grandfather, “I would like to ask her first.”
A close friend told me a story. Her partner of four years was beating her up. Badly. Regularly. She told no one. The last time it happened, she felt certain she would die that day. Somehow, she managed to get away from him. Passers-by called the police and she was taken to hospital. He was convicted in court but is out on bail pending an appeal. He is still free.
Many of the most painful stories, remain untold.
Two and a half years ago, I became a mother. Before that, I thought little about gender. Then all of a sudden – it was everywhere. In the language, at home, in the workplace. I started collecting stories to tell my daughter when she is older – thinking how best to prepare her for the world we live in.
Because the world we live in is shocking:
- One in three women worldwide (35 percent) experience sexual or physical violence, mostly from an intimate partner. In some countries this figure is 70 percent.
- More than 700 million women around the world today were married as children (younger than 18 years old). Of those women, 250 million were married before 15.
- On average, women worldwide get paid 17 percent less than men. The pay gap affects women from all backgrounds, at all ages, and of all levels of educational achievement. It grows with age (after 35) and it is even worse for women of colour.
- Globally, only 22 percent of all national legislators and members of parliament were female, as of August 2015.
- In business leadership, women accounted for just 21.2 percent of board members of the largest publicly listed companies registered in the EU countries as of April 2015.
- Women are affected by climate change to a much greater degree and the socioeconomic and environmental disasters it brings.
- Two billion people in the world do not have access to sustainable energy sources. In rural areas, women may spend hours collecting firewood each day. Worldwide, pollution in homes caused by the smoke from burning firewood kills about two million women and children a year.
The list goes on.
But while these facts are real, I refuse to let them dominate what I tell my daughter. They are only part of the story.
What these statistics don’t show is how women, men and people who don’t identify as either gender continue to challenge this reality.
Girls worldwide continue to push for their right to go to school. Victims of sexual assault speak up, insisting that it is the perpetrators, and not them, who should be ashamed. Women keep fighting for their right to be politically represented. Artists come up with different representations for women and girls to identify with.
And the struggle for environmental justice is fundamentally linked to the struggle for gender justice. Women in communities around the world are not just fighting oppression – they are literally leading their communities out of darkness by becoming solar engineers. They are fighting dirty coal that is posing risks to the health of their families.
As for me, I am drawing strength and inspiration from networks of women in my personal life, and at work. I was so proud last year when, for the first time in Greenpeace history, two women were chosen to lead the organisation – together. I was even more proud when they emphasised the need to provide positive role models for young women and girls, that girls should be able to dream big about who they want to be and what kind of world they want to be part of creating.
New models. New power. New definitions of courage.
I am still collecting the stories I will tell my daughter. I hope she will grow up to be respected, loved and appreciated for who she is. I hope she will stand for what is right, and stand for others less privileged. She shouldn’t have to be brave, or strong – just human.
Jen Maman is the senior peace advisor for Greenpeace International.
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