By GIRLWITHABOOK Chief Programming Officer, Adriana Ganci
We at GIRLWITHABOOK and in the development community get excited by the international days recognized by the United Nations. The UN is, of course, not without its flaws. But the purpose of these international days isn’t directly intended to shape policy, but is intended to educate people, bring leaders in the field together, and start a conversation. All good things! Why, then, was I feeling so emotionally exhausted and helpless after the recent International Women’s Day? The theme was “Be Bold for Change.” I wasn’t feeling bold. At all.
Now, speaking as an American it’s safe to say the last year or so (particularly the last few months) have been…..erm……..tumultuous? Yeah! Tumultuous! As with any strong storm one is forced to weather, it is exhausting, disheartening, and can seem downright unfair- I have made good decisions in my life. Why can’t we all hold up our ends of the bargain in this storm? I don’t need it to be raining unicorns from the heavens, but bloody hell, give us a break.
For one thing, education rights in this country are precariously teetering on the edge of failure for a large percentage of children in the U.S. Not to mention that women’s rights- including their health, their pay, & protection from all forms of violence- seem to be up for debate on a daily basis. As an American working with a non-profit focused on supporting girls’ education, it feels pathetic that I can’t look to my immediate surroundings for support, let alone advice or guidance. Recent history has highlighted problems the U.S. has always had and in no way has invented any of these points. I fully admit that my helplessness is coming from a decrease in morale. Different intersections of our population have felt the ramification of every kind of “ism” under the sun far before now. For a Joe Shmo like myself, it has felt recent that these isms have taken over the papers and the news and Facebook and Thanksgiving dinner conversations. Of course that’s the case for those of us who are privileged enough that they haven’t always been in the forefront of our minds. Waking up and finding yourself in a climate where people speak proudly of their racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism feels like a daily punch right to the gut. It budded as anger, but it grew into a galvanizing force while many of us could still extract the power of our own passions from the power of other people’s hatred. Before long, though, my passion turned back into anger. An absolutely all-consuming anger. And now it is very very exhausting. Spar with an iron fist long enough and eventually you are going to bleed.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there’s a resounding, “See?! We told you this was a thing!” from those who have been feeling the sting far before now.
It’s also disheartening to think of the giant knowledge deficit we are creating. We become obsessed with a few select topics. So the media becomes saturated with a few select topics. [There’s a chicken and an egg argument here between the people and the media. Both are valid.] So we become more obsessed with these topics. So the media becomes even more saturated with these topics. But NEWSFLASH (pun intended)! There are other very complex issues which existed far before 2017 and will exist long after. Especially given the hyper-focus on our current hand of cards. And the U.S. being arguably the most powerful nation in the world, a national spotlight becomes a global spotlight. The ways in which girls are prevented from getting access to primary education in the developing world should have caused a loud international uproar long ago. And in certain pockets, it has. But now it feels like we are going back to the ABCs of civics as opposed to putting our energy into analyzing the finer nuances of these very complex problems that sit at the nexus of gender, education, economics, and public health and working towards solutions that incorporate all facets of that very delicate development web. Even reflecting on the U.S.’s bad behavior is inherently Eurocentric thinking. It feels like as a society our resources are being poured with a very heavy hand into matters that shouldn’t need to be on the agenda anymore, let alone be international priorities. My heart was bleeding for the people and the places we weren’t talking about.
If you’re anything like me, you feel like we’ve all been thrown into a giant hole that someone else dug and now we’re struggling to get out. In terms of the five stages of grief, I had gone from denial to anger and have since bounced back to denial, am ready to set up camp at the bottom of this hole and perhaps get direct TV service, a lava lamp, and one of those slushy machines for margaritas. The world is too far gone. Lil’ ol’ me isn’t gonna change that anytime soon. Pass the popcorn.
But as I was finalizing my home decor order on Amazon, I had an ah-ha moment- I am actually being self- centered in the anguish I’m feeling for women across the globe.
Women have faced an uphill battle since cave people were rubbing sticks together. Before we had international organizations like the UN, before we had NGOs, before we had pervasive globalization, before we had women politicians to look up to and women candidates willing to brave the large risk of losing, before we had Facebook and Twitter and the ability to share our thoughts and absorb the thoughts of others with the click of a button…… Women survived. They found ways to thrive. They existed steadfast in their worlds with the power of storytelling. Storytelling and womanhood are analogous and symbiotic. In a world where the power holder (in this case, the almighty patriarchy) is scant to legitimize the thoughts and contributions of women through any official means, storytelling has shaped villages and families. It has shaped economies and science and art. It happened organically and didn’t ask permission. The power of storytelling has fueled womanhood and, therefore, all of human kind before there was ever legislation or a 24-hour news cycle to tell anyone otherwise.
I’ve been thinking about our mission at GIRLWITHABOOK and how we fit into this big, messy puzzle. We aren’t in the business of political advocacy or capacity building. We are in the business of storytelling. The business of giving girls the opportunity to tell their own stories. The business of harnessing stories as a tool for positive change. When looking for people to interview we have one important credential we look for- being a girl. That one credential speaks volumes. What a shame it would be for me to feel that my own credentials have been lowered based on a pesky political climate. Or that the stories of women around the world have been diminished by current chaos. The theme for International Women’s Day 2017 is Be Bold for Change. Women are bold every day. We tell stories. We learn from experience. We encourage others to learn from our experiences through our stories. I’m here to elevate the stories of others. This one is my own. It might feel like recent events have tried to make existence as difficult as possible for most, but women with stories to tell haven’t been stopped thus far. And they certainly won’t stop now.