Friday, 29 May 2015

Top down...bottom up



As you may or may not know Nigeria held elections earlier in the year and the new President was inaugurated today. The new party swept in on a 'change' ticket and all of us are hoping that they will indeed be the change that is needed. So far, all we've heard are some ominous rumblings about there being no money to run the country (not sure how much change you can effect with empty coffers!)

With the change of administration, I've been daydreaming about a government that is truly responsive to the issues facing its citizens. And as a violence against women activist, a government that is responsive to the issues that affect women and girls.  This week's blog is kind of like an extended 'elevator' pitch. You know the kind of pitch you make to a CEO/dream investor who is 'lucky' enough to be stuck in an elevator with you!

Firstly, I'd say that a government elected with a mandate for change could make a huge impact if they tackled the issue of violence of women. We are a nation of over 160 million people and just over 50% are women and girls. Given that 1 in 4 women experience violence in their lifetime, that's a lot of Nigerian women and girls being brutalised. Domestic violence, rape, sexual violence, trafficking for sexual and domestic purposes, FGM, forced marriage and prostitution. Situations and circumstances that are affecting women of every age, tribe, socio-economic class and background. It is not the role of government to tackle everything on their own (especially when resources are scarce). However, they have an important role to play in terms of setting the tone, direction and pace of the response to issues like violence against women. I would honestly feel like I had lucked out big time, if I heard that the incoming government are committed to developing a national, coordinated strategy for responding to violence against women. A national strategy would send a message that this is an issue that is taken seriously. It has to be national, in order to reduce the risks of each state developing their own response (or not), which could lead to patchy provision for victims.

Secondly, I would love to see state agencies and ngos working together in a coordinated, strategic and well resourced way, to tackle violence against women. The truth of the matter is that no one agency has the answer to this issue, but working together in a coordinated manner will help to close the gaps in service provision. It takes a concerted effort, by different organisations to produce the holistic service that is needed so desperately by victims. Ideally, government agencies would provide the strategic framework and some resources, whilst ngos would provide the much needed operational expertise. I'm a big fan of collaboration and I think it is one of the most effective and efficient ways to work and bring real change.

Finally, I would love for every one of us to understand- government and citizenry, that a truly effective response to the issue of violence against women is one where we each play a part. A lot of us are afraid to get involved. We worry about saying the wrong thing. We worry about when to say something and we worry about how to say it. 
Let me tell you a secret: for the majority of victims, the fact that you say anything at all is a good start. The perpetrator has spent a lot of time telling her that no-one will listen, no-one will believe her when she says what is happening. The fact that you noticed and have spoken up begins to bring a little balance to her situation and she starts to realise that perhaps there is hope after all. Even if she doesn't appear to have taken it on-board or maybe even rebuffed you, just be there for her.  When the time is right, she will open up and ask for help. However, I do accept that this is not true of every woman in this situation. Not every woman will accept the reality of the fact that she is in an abusive relationship and for those women, all we can do is pray and offer help where we can.  The thing is, since we don't know who will accept our help and who won't, isn't it best to at least reach out when we know that a woman is experiencing violence in her relationship?

So that's me sorted. Clearly, the President and I would have to be stuck in the lift for sometime, because this is one epic pitch! But some things are worth being 'stuck' for. Now you know what my wish-list is for the incoming government. What's yours? What would you be happy to be stuck in a lift for, just to be able to make your pitch? What are you doing about it? 
Even though it is just May, it kind of feels like a new school year. A time when you have shiny new notebooks and are excited about the possibilities that are unfolding. As I end this week, I challenge myself as well as you,


to really see the possibilities to make a change. Where we can't see any, let's make our own. After all, no-one ever set the world alight from the comfort of an armchair. Change is uncomfortable, can be risky and is usually not welcome at first. But in the end it is absolutely worth it.

See you on the other side and until then, go well.

Friday, 8 May 2015

...dance like no-one's watching...



The other day I was watching the one-woman variety show that is my 4 year old daughter.  She was singing, dancing and being generally entertaining. As I watched, the thing that struck me was her complete imperviousness to how I was 'receiving' her show.  Literally, she carried on like I wasn't even there! She's not some precocious entertainer. She was just being a 4 year old doing something that she thoroughly enjoyed.  All of a sudden I remembered the quote by William Purkey and thought how apt it was for what I was seeing. He said "you've gotta dance like there's nobody watching, love like you'll never be hurt, sing like there's nobody listening and live like it's heaven on earth". This week I'm talking about the importance of doing your thing- in spite of what's going on around you.

My first point is that if you rely on the reaction of the audience, to judge whether you're on the right path you may miss your way. Recently I had the pleasure of working with a young woman who was pursuing a dream that everyone around her, told her was unattainable. They told her she was setting her sights too high and that she needed to be realistic! If she had considered only the reaction of those around her, I have no doubt that she wouldn't have pursued her dream all the way. Instead, she listened to her own voice and found the courage to push on- in spite of the naysayers. What is it in your life that the 'audience' has told you to give up on, but your heart is urging you to keep going with? What have you put aside as being too hard; too unrealistic or too unachievable? Is it time to dust it off and reconsider pursuing it? This past week has been dreadful for reports of untimely deaths. Every time I heard the news of someone else passing away, I hoped that they had been pursuing what they were passionate about. That they had shared their gifts with the world. Because in the end, it's only by being generous with our gifts that we make a real impact on our world.

My second point is that not everyone will be able to go on the journey with you. As people, we typically have 2 main responses to gifts. We either envy what other people have and waste an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to become something or someone we were never meant to be. Or we wonder why people can't be as gifted as we are and spend time frustrating them, badmouthing them or both! I think we could all do with remembering the mantra "you do you and I'll do me, together we'll live together in harmony" having different gifts is the reason why collaboration is so awesome. Why waste time trying to get to average, when you and the other person could be operating at optimum levels of fabulousness, in your individual strength areas?

Lastly, learn to recognise kindred fellows and journey with them as far and as long as you need to. Kindred fellows are those people who just get it. I have been so fortunate. I have met so many fantastic women on my journey. They have encouraged me, pushed me, laughed with me and at me, cried with me and prayed for me. I am absolutely certain that I would not be the woman I am today, if not for my awesome group of 'sisters'. Often we don't recognise our fellow journey partners because we're fixated on what they are supposed to 'look' like.  If you get stuck on the idea that the only person who can mentor you on your way to becoming a high flying CEO type, is someone who has already done it, then you may miss out on some very valuable wisdom. Wisdom comes in all shapes, sizes and guises. The key thing is that we recognise it and grab it, no matter what it comes dressed as.

If there's anything that I have been reminded of over and over again this week, is that life is short. Sometimes much shorter than we think. We need to seize every opportunity to share our gifts and make an impact on the world around us.

Until next week, go well.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Because I am so much more than that...


As my daughter comes up to her 5th birthday, I remember a day, not long after she was born, when I had an epiphany of sorts. I was looking at her, asleep in her crib and I thought to myself "is this it?" "I am a woman with three degrees and all of a sudden I am at the beck and call of this little person, who only seems to eat, sleep and poo!" I can't even blame sleep deprivation because she was actually a good sleeper. It suddenly felt like my life had shrunk from successful career woman, to chief bottle washer and pooper scooper.
I suspect I'm not the only mum to have that kind of epiphany. It can be hard to voice though. Before you become a mum, you think there will be this automatic gush of love and you will morph into earth mama mode. I can only speak for myself and confess that it wasn't like that  for me. It took a little while for the love bug to kick in (now it's here, it's going nowhere though). 

Before you panic and wonder if you're in the wrong place, have no fear, I'm going somewhere. This past week I've been in Romania, with some passionate and committed fellow violence against women activists. We got to talking one evening, swapping mummy war stories (as you do) and the other 2 women said they felt guilty every time they were away from their children. As we talked we asked that age old question "can women have it all?" My answer is yes, just not all at the same time. A lot of us have exhausted ourselves and sacrificed ourselves on the altar of superwoman. Desperately juggling our careers, kids and some kind of social life has left a lot of us feeling like a worn out dishrag! The key to success is finding the compromise or balance that works for you. If you know that sending your kids to school with a shop bought cake for the bake sale will drive you crazy, then you need to work out what you can drop, whilst you get to making a home-made cake. As the mother of a daughter, I think it's important for her to see as many sides of me as possible. When she comes to making her life choices, I want her to see as many different parts of what it means to be a woman as possible, so that she makes the choice that is right for her. Women all over the world are still tackling inequality and discrimination and so it's important for us to be positive role models for our children, particularly our daughters.

My second point is that women, just like men, are multi-dimensional. There is more to us than the face we show the world. We are mums; career women; entrepreneurs; creative, beautiful women. I'm going to come clean and admit that I don't feel guilty when I go away to work. That's not because I've lost that mummy feeling, but because I'm learning to be present where I am. When I'm mum, I'm mum, when I'm working, I'm working. It's still a work in progress, but infinitely better than being a frazzled, guilt ridden, worn out version of myself.

And that friends, leads me to my last point (don't you just love it when a plan comes together?) to borrow a phrase from Tara Mohr, it's time to 'play big'. How many of us as women, pretend to be smaller than we really are? How many of us are afraid to show how 'big' we are for fear of being called 'bossy' or 'forward' or 'feisty'? I met an incredible woman recently. She's 73 years young and her mantra is "life is short, so I'd better do and say all I want to now". She's a television show producer, an author, a wife and very active in her church. If she can do all that, what's my excuse? Come to think of it, what's yours?

Our challenge, this week, should we choose to accept it, is to pick one area in our lives, where we have been playing small and start to play big. Try sharing your ideas without prefacing them with the phrase "I think...." Or "this might be a silly idea, but..." If you know, you know. Don't procrastinate, share your knowledge. You never know what's going to work out until you try it. Your so-called silly idea might be just the solution that is needed.

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Until next week, think big, be big and go well.