By Giselle Mills
Women’s rights have come a long way over the last few decades. From the ability to vote, to own and inherit property, to work outside of the home, we have achieved this and much more. The struggles and sacrifices of many key persons have brought us to where we are today. In recent times, the rise in awareness of female issues and the promotion of female empowerment have been featured frequently in the media, which I have been very happy to see.
As a child, the majority of my closest friends were female. It remained this way for most of my childhood years; there was a brief period when I associated mainly with boys but that did not last very long. Female companionship during my formative years was what I preferred. Girls were cool. We all liked the colour pink, went to the same primary school, attended the same dance class, went to the bathroom together, shared snacks, played games together, had crushes on the same boys (more or less). In short, we had many things in common. And birds of a feather stick together, right?
In my adult years, my circle of friends reduced but the majority of my friends are still female. And we still share many similarities. By virtue of being so similar, we ought to support each other, wouldn’t you agree? I can happily say that my true friends support me.
But for a while, I took it for granted that women naturally supported one another. Particularly in times of crisis. Perhaps based on unspoken sisterhood bonds of friendship. Of course, I was aware that not every woman would support another for various reasons. But in my naivety, I believed that women would automatically have their fellow sisters’ backs in times of hardship and extreme distress.
Labouring under this belief, I was shocked and horrified when I experienced the very opposite when I was sexually assaulted three years ago. When I reported the incident, the woman who headed the institution where I was assaulted, attempted to intimidate me into silence; she treated me far worse than I had ever expected. I was shocked that a woman could be so wicked and heartless. In my ignorance, I thought that she would have embraced my honesty and sympathize with me over the traumatic ordeal that I had been forced to experience.
How could a fellow woman not offer support in a time like that? Especially a woman in such a high position as she was. In my mind, I thought that we would have shared the same desire for justice. I thought that she would have used her power judiciously, and handled the situation in a professional and responsible manner – a manner befitting a person of her office. It did not occur to me that she would not have used her power for good. I never would have imagined that she would have turned against me like she did. Silly me…
When one of us has been attacked, should we not support each other unequivocally? By virtue of being a woman, should we not rally around our injured sisters? How do we expect to empower ourselves if we do not empower the collective female whole? Have we lost the moral ability to fight for and support a cause, irrespective of whether or not such participation leads to financial loss? Have we lost the ability to sacrifice?
Unfortunately, women like her are not unique, and she was my first rude awakening to that fact. But this needs to change. It is imperative that we support and bolster our fellow women, especially if we wish to improve the lives of women throughout the world. To change the world we must change ourselves. Change starts at home; it starts with you and it starts with me.
So how can we do this? Well, for example:
- When a woman has been sexually assaulted, listen and comfort her. Whether you believe her or not, is not the issue – your approach in dealing with her is.
- When a female co-worker receives a promotion, congratulate her with a genuine smile.
- When a female friend starts a new business or is otherwise doing well in life, cheer her on and be happy for her. Lend a helping hand and be proud of her achievements.
In a nutshell, we should show the support that we would like to receive. I believe it is safe to say that most people would like to be treated kindly and with respect – that we would all like the support of our family, friends, colleagues, and communities in our various endeavours. As you would like to receive support, you should freely give that support. We need to return to the days when people were more community-oriented and thought more about others than themselves. We need to think more about the bigger picture – how we want our society to be. And then take the necessary steps to achieve it.
We should view each other as allies and support one another. Put aside personal grievances and lift your fellow woman up. View a successful woman as inspiration rather than competition. Support her rather than drag her down. For when women support women, we all succeed.