As I think about the best way to honor International Women’s Day, I can’t help but also look at the role of patriarchy and its impact in our world.
As I write this, we are witnessing the destruction in Ukraine through Russia’s violent attacks. This is what patriarchy looks like at its worst. We see this type of aggression in many other parts of the world, and often stand by feeling helpless – trying to pray or wish it away.
War is a tool of toxic masculinity.
Want an example of matriarchy’s enduring presence in our world? They are sadly deemed less newsworthy, but they are there, underpinning the stability and nurturance we find in our lives. Several years ago, I had the privilege of traveling to India with the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, an alliance of indigenous female elders that focus on issues such as the environment, internationalism, and human rights. Those of us traveling with them were exposed to extreme and horrendous poverty, yet, the Grandmother’s first request was for us to understand the culture and the religions that make up India. I spent three weeks studying Buddhism; learned about the flora and fauna that are an important part of life there, the food (and lack of food), and walked the streets talking to people.
It was the most powerful three weeks of my life, as I learned about their prophecies and how we could address the issues impacting all of humanity and our planet. The prophecies they carry from their ancestors are centered on creating balance in our eco-systems, which can inform every aspect of our environment.
This is but one example.
All you need to do is look across the globe and see women making strides in science, sports, politics, business, health care, housing, education and I send up a “Halleluiah” that women are being recognized for their many talents and accomplishments. However, we also need to acknowledge that gross inequities still exist in the world.
Patriarchy puts our world out of balance and we will not recover until we end it.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s commit to raising up all the women in the world who are making a difference. Brave and courageous women who are demanding a seat at the table. And let’s commit to seating more of them.
According to the United Nations, as of Sept. 1, 2021, there were 26 women serving as Heads of State and/or Government in 24 countries. At the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years! Just 10 countries have a woman Head of State, and 13 countries have a woman Head of Government.
Only four countries have 50 percent or more women in parliament in single or lower houses: Rwanda with 61 percent, Cuba with 53 percent, Bolivia with 53 percent, and the United Arab Emirates with 50 percent.
We must expand the participation of women so we are at the table helping to make decisions that impact the planet at all levels so that feminine philosophies are part of problem-solving the many conflicts and issues facing us.
There is an established body of evidence that women’s leadership in political decision-making improves the process up and down-stream. For example, research on panchayats (local councils) in India discovered that the number of drinking water projects in areas with women-led councils was 62 per cent higher than in those with men-led councils. In Norway, a direct causal relationship between the presence of women in municipal councils and childcare coverage was quantified.
Women’s leadership styles spring directly from our greatest strengths and values. Women demonstrate political leadership by working across party lines through parliamentary women’s caucuses—even in the most politically combative environments—and by championing issues of gender equality, the elimination of gender-based violence, parental leave and childcare, economics, gender-equality laws, and electoral reform.
So where do we begin expanding those strengths?
The Grandmothers believe we must honor the masculine/feminine that exists within all of us. We unwittingly or wittingly raise our children with a surfeit of toxic masculinity instead of nurturing their intuitive compassion, empathy, acceptance, cooperation and kindness. The toxicity manifests as homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and competition. War. Violence is too often the outcome: physical, social, emotional and moral.
We can accept that human beings are flawed, and that strife is hardwired into us for the sake of survival. But we don’t have to leave it there. Let’s commit to achieving a balanced ecosystem by:
- Educating for more sensitive parenting
- Creating safe classrooms free from bullying and nurturing cooperation with less emphasis on competition
- Supporting STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education for girls the world over
- Hold up and support as our moral exemplars the countries who believe in the education of girls so they can one day step up to serve as leaders in their communities
- Supporting the election of women as presidents, congresswomen, prime ministers, heads of Parliament, CEO’s of businesses
- Address the underbelly of racism and sexism across the globe
Every day, I think about my first role model, my own Grandmother, who never learned to speak English, but I understood her strength and love. She raised a family alone at a time when it was extremely difficult to do so, socially and financially. But, because she was strong and sure of herself, she knew that small steps are an essential part of planting seeds of courage. I urge all of us, this International Women’s Day, to find the ways you can contribute to a world where compassion, kindness and acceptance are honored and glorified.