Thursday, 28 June 2012

Money, money, money...


“Money, money, money, must be funny, in the rich man’s world” as the lyrics from a popular Abba tune go.  However, not so funny if you’re a woman.

I googled women and interesting money facts[1] and I found out that:
Women only earn on average about 80% of what a man does; the average woman spends as much as 15% of her career out of the paid workforce, due to caring responsibilities.  Finally, nearly 90% of the poverty stricken are elderly women.  I knew about the wage gap, but I was surprised by the other 2 facts.  It’s really quite scary when you think about it!

This week’s blog is about money and how it affects women’s life chances.

When I was relocating to Lagos, some people were a little envious, citing the availability of domestic help as a big plus.  Domestic help is common in Nigeria and the majority of that help is female.  I’m always struck by the different dimensions of this.  The vulnerability of these women to sexual exploitation, by the men who provide them to households.  The physical and sexual exploitation they may encounter, once they are placed in a household.  The focus of this blog though, is the economic exploitation of this workforce.  I was having a conversation last week about a housemaid and was amazed to find out that it’s unusual for them to receive their wages themselves.  I was told that although they work, often for a year at a time, their wages are ‘paid’ to the man who found them the placement.  The fact that these women are providing a service and yet are still in such a precarious economic situation is really quite horrifying.  It‘s perfectly possible then for a woman to finish her year’s contract and be paid less than she’s earned or nothing at all! 

Money is an important indicator of life chances and women need to be financially savvy.  The fact is that if we earn less than men and we lose time in our careers due to caring responsibilities, then we will be poorer in the long term.  Coupled with the fact that women tend to outlive men, by an average of 5 years, you begin to see how important it is for women to save and invest for the future.  I like nice things as much as the next woman, but I also recognise that as beautiful as that handbag is, it’s not going to provide a sound investment for my future.   As women, we need to take responsibility for our finances and teach our daughters, good money habits.  It’s no longer wise to solely rely on a partner for financial support, especially in this constrained economy.

For women experiencing domestic violence, economic abuse adds yet another dimension.  Some women are not permitted to work outside the home at all, whilst others are not allowed to control their own earnings.  Instead they receive an ‘allowance’ from the perpetrator.  Even in the cases of seemingly affluent women, money has a huge impact on the decisions they make about how and when to leave an abusive partner.  I am reminded of a case I prosecuted, where the survivor and the perpetrator were both professional people.  The survivor asked me not to prosecute on the basis that she wasn’t yet in a position to financially support her children, having just started her own business. She said if she pursued the case, the perpetrator wouldn’t support the children financially.  She said she needed a year to get herself sorted out and that she didn’t think he would kill her in a year!  For those who still believe that women in domestic violence situations don’t think things through, I rest my case.  This woman had a clear sense of her own safety and how long she had to prepare.

So I close with a couple of questions.  What do you spend your money on?  How are you investing for the future? What habits are you passing on to your children, especially your daughters? How do you value yourself in the workplace? I’m pondering these questions along with you and I hope in the end, we will come up with the answers that will help us prepare properly for our futures.  If you would like help with these questions or any others you may have, contact us through the website.

Until next week, go well.


Thursday, 21 June 2012

What a man

In many parts of the world, particularly developing countries, sons are prized and the mother of sons revered.  Pity the woman who has no male child.  In most cases, she’s blamed for the so called ‘misfortune’.  Considering the fact that it is the man who supplies the ‘y’ chromosome, I’m not quite sure what the woman is supposed to do! 

I love the song ‘Dance with my father’ by Luther Vandross and I love the accompanying video even more.  You can quite literally feel the love between the fathers and their children.  We celebrated Father’s Day last weekend and it prompted one of my sisters to ask me to write a piece about the role of men in empowering women.  Here’s my offering.  Feel free to read, digest, engage and critique it. You can let me know your thoughts via the blog, just post a comment.

For me, the father-daughter relationship is one that has great impact.  That relationship provides the blueprint for how a young woman will relate to other men in her life.  Her father figure provides a safe place for her burgeoning sexuality to be developed appropriately.  Hopefully, she learns that she is valued and how she should be treated by the men in her life.  There is a caveat however.  Where there is domestic or sexual abuse by the father figure, then the home becomes a dangerous and unsafe place.  In those circumstances, she needs to seek help and protection from her mother or other appropriate adult.  In my opinion, the absence of a father figure or an abusive one is a key factor in why there are so many young women, looking for love in all the wrong places.  Why there are so many young women making unsafe lifestyle choices.

There are lots of things that men can do to help support the empowerment of women.  One simple thing is for men to hold other men accountable for their behaviour towards women. There is something very powerful about men challenging other men about violence against women, sexism and any other kind of degrading and humiliating behaviour.  I’m thinking here of the White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) and other men’s groups who have taken a stand against violence towards women.  The WRC was started in Canada, 21 years ago, by a handful of men, who came together to speak out against violence towards women.  It’s still going strong, in over 50 countries around the world.  I would love to see every man wearing a white ribbon in November, to support this campaign.  Domestic violence affects all of us and it would be great to hear more men speaking out against it.

Finally, I’d like to speak to parents raising sons; young men and young women.

To the parents I say, start early, train them young.  Raise them to be the kind of men, you want them to be.  The kind of men, who say no to violence and discrimination against women.  Try to avoid gender stereotyping.  Men come with a range of emotions-just like women.  Unfortunately, from a young age, they are socialised to repress their ‘softer side’.  How many times have you heard a hurt young boy being told to ‘pull himself together and stop crying, because boys don’t cry’? Then we wonder why we have a whole bunch of men, who can’t seem to express any emotion other than anger!

Young men: respect the young women in your lives.  Respect her right to say “no” to unwanted sexual advances.  Understand that “no” means “no”, not “yes” or “maybe”.  Sexual name calling, sexual harassment, rape and other forms of violence against women just aren’t cool. 
Young women: Know your worth.  Value and honour yourselves. Know that you are strong and beautiful.  Know that you are worth more than your body.  Know that trading your body for ‘so-called’ love, money or fame is a poor bargain for you.

I went to an event at my daughter’s school today, called ‘Breakfast with Dad’.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the room packed with dads, who had turned out in support of their children.  It was an opportunity to celebrate the importance of a father figure in a child’s life and I for one applaud that.  Contrary to popular belief, advocating on behalf of women and children experiencing domestic violence is not about bashing men.  Neither is it about denying the fact that men also experience domestic violence.  It is simply about taking action to right a wrong that affects many of our communities.

I hope this has given you some food for thought as the memory of Father’s Day fades.  More importantly, I hope it’s given you some ideas about how you can make a difference.

If you would like to know more about the issues raised in this blog, please contact us through the website.

Until next week, go well.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

If only I could turn back time...

‘Spending time’, ‘wasting time’, ‘managing time’.  All phrases that we use regularly.  For the 153 passengers of DANA flight 9J-922, which crashed in Lagos on the 3 June 2012, time has stopped.  Unless they were clairvoyant, my guess is that the passengers had no idea that this would be the last time they would ever get on a plane or the last time they would speak to loved ones.  The crash has caused a great deal of angry reflection in the country.  Personally, I’m reflecting on the unfulfilled potential represented by those lives lost and how we use time.

What we spend our time on, like money, reveals what is most important to us.  According to some research[1] I found, the average working person spends less than 2 minutes, in meaningful communication with their partner. They spend even less time having meaningful communication with their children- less than 30 seconds!  That makes the issue of our work-life balance a necessity, rather than an optional extra.  The long hours culture and the insistence on people being physically present in the office all have a huge ‘knock-on’ effect on how we spend our time outside of work.

I’m also intrigued by how we spend other people’s time.  I’ve heard it said that when we are late, we are saying to the other person that our time is more important than theirs.  Having recently relocated, I am constantly battling frustration about the often lackadaisical approach to time.  Sometimes, making an appointment is akin to making a wish, which might or might not come true! Someone much wiser than me has said that the most powerful word in our time management vocabulary is “no”.  Constantly being late, procrastination, over-scheduling.  Any of these things could be a symptom of a much deeper issue.  Perhaps a dissonance between what we are doing and what we wish to be doing.

The truth is, time is precious, we can’t get it back and therefore we should use it carefully.  The same research described delegation as “an unlimited method to multiply time for achieving results”.  Why waste time, doing what you hate?  None of us know when our time will be up, so we should spend our time wisely. Ask yourself what you would do, if you only had 1 day left to live.  How would you make it count and what’s stopping you from doing it now?

I’m pursuing my passion for empowering women and girls and doing what I love.  Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s discouraging and sometimes, it feels like it’s never going to work.  And yet, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.   

Find out what your passion is and concentrate on doing the things you love.  If you’d like to find out how coaching can help you to find your passion, contact us via the website.

Until next week, go well.

[1] Time Management Facts and Figures, Wetmore, D.E., 1999

Thursday, 7 June 2012

When food is not love

Did you know that Mauritanian women are fattened to prepare them for marriage?  In a process, similar to that of fattening geese for foie gras, young girls in Mauritania, have sweetened milk and millet porridge funnelled down their throats.  Apparently a fat woman is seen as highly desirable, by the men there.  It seems bizarre that whilst women in the West are worshipping at the altar of thinness, women in Mauritania are being forced in the opposite direction! As I was pondering this abuse, I decided to write this companion piece to my earlier blog called “step away from the diet, it will only make you crazy!” I wanted to address the issue of what you do, if you’re not dieting.

Hands up those of you who read my earlier post on giving up dieting and thought (a) she’s lost the plot; (b) if she’s given up dieting, she must be the size of a house or (c) both of the above.  Happily, I can reassure you that I am completely sane and although on occasion I feel like a house, I don’t actually look like one.

Contrary to what many women fear, the opposite of not dieting is not bingeing.  Not dieting is about exploring, identifying what you need to feel nourished. It’s about being mindful and present when you eat, taking back your power around food.  I know from my own experiences of bingeing that it was about using food to punish myself, but equally on other occasions, I used it as a reward.  
It was also about desensitising myself by literally eating my feelings. I remember reading a comment by Oprah Winfrey where she said she had never had a headache, because she ate her way through them.  That really resonated with me.  If I ate my feelings then they wouldn't have the power to affect me and I wouldn't have to confront painful situations.

Apart from dieting, a lot of women have some sort of disordered eating pattern.  It’s not anorexia or bulimia, but involves some very rigid rules about eating. I'm sure we all know someone who says she doesn't eat carbs or doesn't eat them after 6pm.  Others don't eat breakfast or lunch.  Still more are on some kind of low fat diet.  Bizarrely enough, it seems the more restricted we are in our eating, the more weight we gain.  A classic example is the low fat diet.  The 'experts' told us that fat was making us fat, so we switched to low fat foods.  What no-one told us is that fat helps food taste nicer and impacts on how satisfied we feel when we eat.  Once the fat is removed, manufacturers increase the sugar levels to improve the taste.  The result is that although we consume vast amounts of low fat foods, we’re not satisfied, so we eat more and usually gain weight. 

Ultimately, the lesson I had to learn is that food is not love- even though the media would have us believe otherwise.  Who can forget the advert for Cadbury’s flake, where the woman was so overcome with desire for the chocolate that she was oblivious to everything else?  A lot of women are hungry for love or affection, respect or just some time for themselves.  When that need is unmet for whatever reason, then food can easily become a substitute.

For me, the best thing about not dieting is the freedom it gives me.  The freedom to enjoy food without fear.  The freedom to have my needs met, without having to resort to a substitute.  Best of all, is the freedom to live my life fully, not putting things off while I deal with my ‘food issue’ or lose weight.

If you would like to experience that type of freedom, make a change today.  Take the time to find out what you are truly hungry for and go for it.  Contact us through the website to find out how the Hungry Heart programme can help you on that journey.

Until next week, go well.