What can the average woman do to empower other women?
I have often had conversations with my friends about empowering women, and one of the topics that always comes up is the feeling of helplessness. Most women are not rich and famous, and it is sometimes difficult to see how we as individuals can help with enormous problems such as war, poverty, hunger, maternal mortality, human rights, and human trafficking.
How can one woman make a difference?
1) Volunteer! Time = money
There are many organizations that desperately require volunteers, and there are many opportunities to directly help women. Are you good at English or other languages? Teach a class for immigrant women, or translate documents for an NGO or charity. Do you like children? Volunteer to read at your local school, assist with teaching, or coach a children's sports team. Do you have experience with babies? Volunteer to help a new mother with advice, childcare and cleaning. Do you relate well to the elderly? Visit and talk with elderly at a nursing home or hospital. Do you have a lot of friends? Host a fundraising party for your favourite women's charity, and ask guests to donate. Are you a good gardener? Start a community garden in your area with vegetables and fruit, get other volunteers to assist, and donate the produce to needy families.
These are just some suggestions, but volunteering has a direct impact on women's lives, and is also a fulfilling experience!
Women are naturally good communicators, and enjoy discussions...so talk about meaningful topics. I try to slip a 'social cause' or facts on women's causes into every conversation that I have, wherever I am. I have chatted at the bus stop, with the cashier at the grocery store, at the doctor's office...many people are unaware of the crises facing the world's women, and more than one person has thanked me, and gone on to represent the cause.
3) Buy fair trade and ethically sourced products!
When we make our purchases for ourselves or our families, we should be asking retailers where and how the products were made. Millions of women around the world work in agricultural work, factories or shops that exploit the workers, and treat them horrendously. Look for fair trade symbols on items such as coffee, tea or grains. Demand fair trade products, or find alternative products that are ethically produced. If enough women shift their buying preferences, companies will have to change their policies. (I try to purchase fair trade clothing especially, but if I cannot afford it, I will buy second-hand clothes instead.) Donate gently used items to a women's shelter or local organization that assists low-income women. Share children's toys and equipment with a toy library among a co-op of women, instead of buying multiples of the same toys.
4) Teach your children about equality!
Teach your children that we live on a planet that is shared by billions of people of all different colours, religions, races, cultures and beliefs. Use public libraries, the Internet, maps and books to teach them that the world is a big place, but that we share it! Teach your girls that they can do anything, and teach your boys that it is all right to be nurturing. A mother is the first person that any child learns from, and there is no more important lesson to teach children than equality for all.
5) Get political!
Run for your local school councils, town councils, and for other political offices. Women are effective and efficient in leadership. Encourage female candidates by helping with their campaigns, and make sure that every person you know votes. We need women's voices at the highest levels all the way down to grassroot projects. Participate in rallies, marches and protests, and get your friends out with you. Write the leadership of your country, region, and community so that your voice is being heard.
6) Write your local newspapers, television and radio stations, and other media sites!
If there is a story that touches upon women or women's rights, write your views in a letter to the editor. Be loud in your praise of advances for women, and condemnatory of failures for women's rights. Write regular editorials, and be noticed! Start a local radio or television show that focuses on women and women's stories. Encourage women to make their own magazines, blogs and newspapers.
7) Make art, music, dance, poetry or writing!
The arts are all ways of telling our stories, and everyone needs to hear them! Join or start a women's storytelling group, art group, dance group, band or choir. Record your performances, and share them widely with your networks. Interview elders in your community, and ask if women's lives have changed since they were younger. Ask children to paint, draw and create images of their favourite women and heroines. Write a play that talks about important issues for women and girls and present it at your local community centre or high school.
Are you a professional in your field of expertise? Do you have unique or job-specific work skills? Mentor a younger woman, and teach her what she will need to know for a career in your industry. Help her get the connections and references that will result in her being able to succeed. Many mentors even simply offer advice when asked...it is a very simple and effective way to ensure a continued presence of strong, educated women in your community.
These are all suggestions, and there are many other ways of making an impact. Don't feel alone and helpless, because you are not! We are women - 52% of the world's population, and we deserve to be heard.