Woman of a Certain Age, Marcia Barhydt

Last week, in a historical moment, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three African women in acknowledgment of their nonviolent role in promoting peace, democracy and gender equality. These women are, of course, ground breakers for all the other women in their countries.

Here they are, with high praise from the Nobel committee:
Tawakul Karman, 32, Yemen – “In the most trying circumstances, both before and during the ‘Arab spring’, she has played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen”
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 72, Liberia – “She is Africa’s first democratically elected female president. Since her inauguration in 2006, she has contributed to securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development, and to strengthening the position of women.”
Leymah Gbowee, 39, Liberia -“She mobilized and organized women across ethnic and religious dividing one to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women’s participation in elections.”

A few years ago I had the amazing luck to meet Gloria Steinem. In our brief conversation, I said to her “You spoke to me, you spoke to all of us.” And Ms Steinem replied “And there are still so many to speak to, so many that we still have to help.” The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to these women speaks directly to the changing times in African countries. The prize speaks directly to all the women in these countries in their quest to be heard.

From the Peace Prize Committee directly, “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work. We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.”

“The Nobel Committee’s hope that the prize to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman will help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realise the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent.”

During an interview with Leymah Gbowee and Ms. Magazine, Gbowee said, “Whether it’s in your backyard, your front yard or your office: DO SOMETHING. Mighty be our powers! I’m not just talking about the powers of Liberian women or African women, but about the unique power that each and every woman possesses. And that power should really translate into bringing beauty and hope and peace into the world.”

I have to ask myself though, how did it happen that feminism made such strides in North America and Europe, but not in Africa and South Asia?

One contributing factor to North American women’s independence was World War Two. With a large percentage of young men removed from their work positions at home, the country needed to replace these men in order to supply the war effort and to continue to maintain a thriving economy. The answer to this challenge was, of course, to press women, previously stay-at-home spouses and mothers, into active employment.

That active employment gave many women money of their own for the first time. And money is essential to independence and freedom and dedication to all causes.

For African nations civil war has been a fact of life for years but it hasn’t stripped a country of its employable men as a world war did in North American and Europe.

I believe also that subservient roles for women in these countries has been much more ingrained than it ever was here at home. Until a short time ago, only a few women rose out of their downtrodden roles to simply become educated. And that great leveler poverty has to take a major role here also. If you’re busy looking for milk for your baby, you cannot focus on larger issues.

But enough about the past. This award has put African and South Asian women in the spotlight; it’s given the rest of us an awareness of how much rethinking gender roles is necessary to free women around the globe, no matter what their socio-economic position is, no matter what their historical roles are, no matter what resistance they face moving toward equality in their countries.

Finally, the world is listening.
I’m a woman of a certain age and I’m certain that all women of the world must be recognized.

©Marcia Barhydt, 2011