Manifesting Your Empowerment can be a Challenge

When tracking women’s empowerment worldwide, organizations look at our economic participation, opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment and health.

However, being empowered from the perspective of government, social, media and business studies can be very different than when you talk to women at a grass root level.

Where you live and quality of life found therein can make a huge difference as to whether you feel empowered.

When I asked a group of women varying in age from twenty-five to sixty five, living on two different continents, to speak about what it meant to be empowered, I received some interesting and varied perspectives.

Fran, a successful business woman for the past twenty-two years is not fond of the word ’empowered’. “It doesn’t strike an authentic chord; I don’t think it has a huge meaning for me.” Though there are days when she admits that she can feel “out of control or inadequate”, she is overall confident as a professional woman. Like many other women in today’s business world she has built up a solid career and feels secure in her position.

Laura, is a career woman with a full time job, family and she volunteers in her community. “Women’s empowerment is a bit of a slogan; the reality is something altogether different.” She was one of many who pointed to the wage and responsibility gap that exists between men and women.

“Women still earn less in comparison to their male counterparts while continuing to increase their responsibility.
Their overall health and longevity is suffering as a result.”

Heather also had something to say about lack of pay equity and responsibility. She is not entirely convinced women are as empowered as they may think they are. She works in what would have been considered a non-traditional job for a woman but has this to say, “Women still make less money and are less likely to be promoted to a position of authority.” Yes, we can vote, work and speak our mind. It is also true that we are expected to do what men do in addition to traditional women’s roles. Where a man’ s workday is over when he heads home, the woman still has to take care of house cleaning, pets, kids, shopping, social, spiritual and the emotional needs of the family.”

Work distribution within relationships may have increased since generations past but it is still far from equal. Given the size of our homes, the extracurricular activities, professional development, the business world’s expectations and the women lined up at Home Depot, I’m going out on a limb that today’s woman may be doing quite a bit more in one day.

With fewer constraints on women,; men and society in general have reaped the benefits. “There isn’t the same societal disapproval of women who work outside the home because it’s become the financial necessity and norm. Is that lack of disapproval empowerment?” Laura questioned.

Good question! Are we really fully in control of our destiny or did the doors open up and the glass ceiling break just enough for us to be satisfied? Just enough slack granted to believe we are empowered.

More women obtain degrees in comparison to men and are seeking higher positions. But, after all of this time we still can’t get equal pay for equal work. How many more decades do you think that will take? (click a summary on the wage gap in Canada).

Politically we are gaining ground. In the 2008 Canadian elections women made up a whopping 22.4% of the winning candidates, a record of sorts. However, given our numbers and our needs is that enough of a voice in politics? If we are so empowered why are we not securing more representation in the legislature? I don’t know that the career itself is being well promoted enough to girls and after reviewing the bulk of the duties associated with home and family it doesn’t free up time for civil service in order to climb the political ladder.

Apparently, in England, the political candidates list must be 50% women. Some argue against governments or businesses having quotas for hiring women, “finding it insulting to our abilities”. It can be, but I’m keeping one foot on each side of that debate. Women and people of colour were attempting for decades to be hired based on their qualifications, dedication and experience but found the doors closed more often than not. The truth would come out if we took away the name at the top of the resume/CV and simply supplied the skills/work experience. Discrimination is real and if those in control were truly open to the right candidate and representation of all voices, quotas would have never existed.

Whatever the reasons for why we forge ahead in some areas and lag behind in others we will most likely always battle with social norms.

Laura’s son is twenty-three, “He doesn’t expect a woman to change her name when she marries and feels a woman has to be in charge of choices regarding her body. It will take at least another generation before the old ways of governance and culture change enough.”

Alicia is in her late twenties and she had some observations on what is not adding up. “My female generation is encouraged to conquer the work place, but in most cases is still working for a male CEO, encouraged to be financially successful while maintaining an impossibly young physique.”

There is fear mongering and near impossible standards set; some of which are self imposed, most of which are still entrenched in society and some coming from our own sisters. Woman being hard on other women is a common complaint.

Pat, a self described “older woman” working in England but who has lived in Canada and the United States says, “The harshest judges of women are other women. They sometimes look down on other women who chose not to have babies, or indeed to marry. We are still not fully there, as long as we continue to judge other women for their choices.”

While sitting in the lunch room Pat and her colleagues discussed “empowerment” and came to the conclusion that “empowerment is not the same as using or abusing power.” “Far too many women who become bosses abuse that power…a strong hand in a velvet glove approach may be a better one.”

Being a boss is never easy and in a culture that primarily raised women not to be in a position of authority, when you attain some power everything you do is open to scrutiny. When it comes to business Fran offers this, “I think many women today need to find that balance, being assertive not aggressive to get their needs met. They can do this without violating the needs of others and handle the many requests of the business world. That is when women may appear and feel “empowered”.

‘Assertive versus aggressive’ is often confusing to navigate, especially for young women. If you watch some of the shows and movies targeting young women (and men) today you may be lead to believe that a woman “kicking ass” is the definition of empowerment. That sounds more like adopting traditional male attributes rather than a true representation of “women’s” empowerment. Still the female characters are expected to be in complete accordance with the duality of our life roles/expectations, confident in their stilettos. Hollywood and celebrities can hardly be relied upon to preach about women’s empowerment, so it is important to find direction, information and balance from other sources.

Try to find a mentor or a great role model for women’s empowerment. As a mother, wife and career woman Alicia is thankful for her role model. “I was lucky to be brought up by a woman that completely embodies a role model of women’s empowerment. She raised two children on her own, while earning three degrees, and working full time. She sacrificed more then I will ever know to show my brother and I that women can beat any odds thrown at them and change the course of their lives, even if it take 20 years.”

Empowerment, especially as it pertains to women, is both complex and meaningful. It may be an overused and under appreciated buzzword, unable to live up to the expectations of some, or is the drum beat of hope for others.

It speaks to each of these women, and here is what it meant: to be comfortable with self, being heard and appreciated – not discounted or overpowered, able to achieve goals (guilt free), released from involuntary servitude, to have reproductive rights and the freedom to achieve their full, desired potential in life. Their goals are not pre-destined by gender, culture, religion or social standing.

We may be quite confident about our positioning as it pertains to empowerment but many women around this world and within our own country are still struggling with limitations put upon them by patriarchal religions, culture and abuse. After decades of hard work, policy making and restructuring how empowered you feel, depends on where you lay your head at night. As always, I think in past, present and future terms. I can’t forget about the women who came before me, how courageous they were and yet their names are barely uttered except in the context of “those feminists”. I look around in the present day on my good days reflecting on all that we have achieved and on my bad days wondering why it took so long. I question the future, are we peddling backwards? While embracing hope and praise for the efforts of the silent actions of many.

Instead of leaving you with my input, here is an insightful and for me breathtaking message from one young woman who summed it up this way:

“I feel that my generation has too quickly forgotten the oppression of women around us that are not as fortunate as to have good role models at home. In turn they rely on others for self worth. So quickly we have come to accept that it is normal to look around us on a dark street in fear or hold our breath in an underground parking lot. Around the world women are not empowered to be dependent on themselves, empowered to make decision for their bodies and empowered to be educated. For some reason, my generation seems to turn a blind eye to this and believe that we are empowered to be whatever we want. As cliché as it may sound, I will never be empowered as long as the women around me are oppressed.”

In that moment, I had the answer to all my questions about empowerment.

Original article written by Jennifer Chandler

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