In light of International Women’s Day which was yesterday, I wanted to write this post. Many people over the years have asked me who I find inspirational, and which women I look up to. My answer has evolved over the years, but one thing remains constant; the women I look up to are independent, strong, and amazing individuals.
In Madagascar, International Women’s Day is a big deal. It is referred to as Fety Vehivavy, or Women’s Holiday/Party. The women in my village talked about this day for months leading up to it; what events would take place and the parade that would happen. Hand in hand, it is just as important as Madagascar’s Independence Day. I observed, 364 days out the year, women being repressed into the shadows and afraid to speak their voices. I saw women just accept the sexual harassment and inappropriate gestures and behaviors by men in the country. But for one day a year, this was a day for them. Women in my village shut down their businesses, closed their doors. They walked down the street hand in hand with their fellow friends and family. They took part in the parade, proud to be a woman.
One day out of the year. Every day, I feel, should be International Women’s Day, or at least Women’s Day in general. On March 9th, I witnessed these same women step back into the roles society assigned to them. Seamstresses, cooks, homemakers. What happened to the girls that said they wanted to work in government, the women that wanted to open their own businesses with their own money? They were there, still present in the village, but hid their ambitions.
One of my biggest regrets for my Peace Corps experience was not participating in GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camp. I worked predominantly with men, and I didn’t make the time to participate in what would have been an amazing teaching and learning experience. I heard stories of other volunteers having enlightening experiences from bringing a handful of girls from their community to this camp and letting them interact with girls from other villages, empowering each other. If I could do it again, I would care less about my perception and the nervousness that overtakes me, and more about what I was trying to achieve. I fought for gender equality in other, but more discreet ways, but the widespread knowledge and understanding the community had for GLOW because it was hosted every year, makes it one of those things that I’d wish I had done.
From Eleanor Roosevelt and the strength she embodied to Hilary Clinton and the boundaries she has pushed as Secretary of State and a Presidential Candidate, there are many women today that deserve recognition. If you were to ask me today who I find inspirational, my answer would “anyone that stands up for the rights of women and equality across all genders.” That doesn’t necessarily just mean women, but rather both men and women.
Last year, Emma Watson made a spectacular speech at the UN for HeForShe, an organization that seeks for men and women to support each other in the fight for gender equality. Just yesterday, she held another press conference about HeForShe and what she wants see done for the movement. She is one of the women I look up to now. She is using the fame and recognition she got from the franchise she is known so well for to do good.
The fight for gender equality is not just a woman’s fight, but a fight for all. It’s about not seeing men as weak for showing emotions. It’s about seeing everyone, regardless of what parts you have as an equal in today’s world. That men and women deserve the same pay. That women shouldn’t be pitied and babied because they are seen as emotionally and physically weaker. So ask me again who I find inspirational. I find the over 250,000 men who have taken the pledge to fight gender equality as an inspiration.