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Believing Beyond Tidy Packages

In December 2009, the women’s rights organization I was working for closed. Without the marching, speaking, and healing I was doing on womankind’s behalf, I was left with my own march, my own shaky voice, and my own pain. I knew that my outer activist had been born from years of bruises, but no one else did. I had been teaching girls the importance of reporting relationship violence, of calling help lines, of getting counseling, but over a span of six years, I had done none of the above. The work I was doing had been statistically successful but I was left with the anxiety of personally knowing how hard it is to speak out; how truly frightening it is to report someone you love; and how completely choiceless you are when your life is at risk.

What percentage of young women had, like me, learned to be fierce feminists on the outside but were still concealing bruises under their sleeves? What percentage knew how to answer evaluations correctly but also knew that reporting was a risk they simply would not take? And what percentage had we missed altogether, the percentage who still had their teachers’, and preachers’, and fathers’, and brothers’ babies in their bellies?

The truth is that knowing my rights did not empower me to prevent abuse. The law did not empower me to report abuse. Results Based Management did not empower me with the tools I needed to stop others from being abused.

Until now, I was writing someone else’s story. I was writing what is a surface movement, what looks good on indicator reports. I was writing without listening to my own voice. As shaky as it is, that voice is telling me that what we are doing is not enough. It is telling me that somewhere along the line we have decided that our personal realities are far too complicated to work within so we must rely on policy to empower, on law to heal.

So many women go through their whole lives squishing and minimizing and silencing themselves into tidy packages. The irony in women’s rights development is that we run the risk of doing exactly the same thing. A girl does not belong to womankind’s fight. She has a fight of her own, a voice of her own, a dream of her own. The reason I have chosen to participate in Voices of Our Future, is quite simply because I have chosen not to tweak and trim my sister’s fight, and I have chosen not to give up on my own.


MaDube's picture

Tremendous observation

You have spoken to something that I have fought to explain to many people but could not find the right words to say it. There is this perception that when people talk of the women's movement then these are people who talk about issues of domestic violence, widowhood and all the other obvious issues that uniquely affect women because they are women and so that is the voice of womankind. But there are other issues too that affect both men and women and are being talked about everyday but never from a gendered perspective hence my fight is old, governance and democratisation have been discussed and analysed and theses written on them but I have a voice of my own where I see these issues in my own way and so it is that voice I want to be heard whether or not many people have already spoken about the same issues my voice has never been heard and that's what makes it unique and marginalised. Thank you for your insightful article.

juliexuan's picture

Ma Dube. You are absolutely

Ma Dube.

You are absolutely right, we are each completely unique with completely unique histories, identities, and traumas. While we are united as a community of women, the women's movement must be careful not to drown our individual voices. It is in speaking and listening to each other as sisters that we develop a tighter bond and a deeper understanding of how to overcome our struggles and how to celebrate our strengths.

Keep writing. I've been following your journal too and am proud to share this space with you.



Maddy M.'s picture

Thank you for your courage to

Thank you for your courage to share those insightful words. You have brought to light the critical need of going beyond what has been understood as women's empowerment.

juliexuan's picture

Maddy, Thank you for reading


Thank you for reading :) .Each of us here at World Pulse is challenging conventional ideas about women's empowerment by representing our own truths. Thank you for your strength in being part of this beautiful and powerful community.



Frances Faulkner's picture

so great!


What a clear and powerful voice you have! Not to mention extremely insightful. I love how you take the system and laws out of it and bring us back to who we are as individuals, fighting our own fights in a very honest way. Until we each feel competent, healthy and centered in ourselves, it is difficult to effectively help others.

Thank you so much for your words.


juliexuan's picture

Hi Frances, Thank you so much

Hi Frances,

Thank you so much for your supportive words. The problem with relying on law and policy is that we are relying on the privileged upper class of mostly white men to decide what our right should be and how they should work within a white male-dominant world. As Hilary Charlesworth said, Gender equality has not liberated women from oppression, it has simply given us the right to be oppressive (1994).

We need to start believing that we are bigger than the boxes we are being asked to squeeze into. That each one of our dreams is worth the fight. That each one of our voices carries a message. Keep spreading yours Francis :).

With Love,


AyeshaM's picture

a powerful truth

Warm greetings Juliexuan,

Powerful. Insightful. Beautiful. You named the truth of why so many of us get involved in this work - to heal others & ourselves, to amplify unheard voices, and to raise our own.

Thank you for reminding me that in order to help others, I must continue to work on healing myself too.



"Let the beauty of what you love be what you do."

- Mevlana Jalal-ad-Din Rumi

juliexuan's picture

Dear Ayesha, YES! It breaks

Dear Ayesha,

YES! It breaks my heart that we have collectively lost faith in our voices and our experiences and are relying on quantitative results-based women's rights programming even though we know that those systems have never supported us. No one is going to ask us how to do this kind of work more effectively. Let's stop waiting to be asked. If we believe in our words, if we are taught to value our thoughts, we will start speaking out.

With love,


kati.mayfield's picture


Dear Juliexuan,

What an article. There is so much to digest here. Your writing is truly graceful. I read this post and then read your other journal entries ... somehow, you have taken your journey of great pain and turned it into writing of great beauty and power.

I am curious about so many things. What made you decide to get yourself out of your situation. What made you decide to begin writing your story on World Pulse. What made you decide to be an advocate, not only for others but for yourself. What made you decide to start unpacking yourself? Was it having World Pulse as a forum to write, and as a place to seek the support of sisters? Was that enough? How can we spread this message to more women like you, who have the tools to speak out, and may even be encouraging other women to speak out, but who are not? And how can we teach the men in our lives also to push back against the habituality of aggression, and to become advocates instead?

Thank you for sharing your story,

in friendship,


*resolved this year to think twice and to smile twice before doing anything*

juliexuan's picture

Hi Kati, Thanks so much for

Hi Kati,

Thanks so much for reading this and my other journal entries. It means so much to me that you are curious about my experience and I'll do my best to answer your questions.

I stumbled upon World Pulse a little over a year ago. I wanted desperately to express myself and to share my experience but the thought of physically beginning to write terrified me. VOF 2011 became my goal to work towards. It has been an incredibly transformative process to read the stories of women and comforting to see how much support there is within this community. World Pulse is the only women's advocacy forum that I have come across that exists within a circular framework rather than one that is top-down. We are all teachers here, we are all participants, we are all journalists, we are all citizens. We own the way our stories are told.

I hope that my upcoming journal entry will help address your questions about where we go from here. Please continue reading Kati.



Dearest Julie,

'They' say that life is like a mirror, what we put into the mirror will reflect back at us / (or in your case SHINE).

May each of these comments above FUEL you as you journey on in VOF and BEYOND.

Your courage is FELT, SEEN, HEARD and in return ENCOURAGED.

My heart-wish for you is that you NOW trust yourself enough to STEADY your hand on the VOLUME of your voice and CELEBRATE being HEARD. 'MUTE'-alation is no longer a part of your story.

You are BEING the VOICE.

Gratitude to you for the vulnerability it has taken to share, many other voices will be found through you.

SO excited to HEAR you!

Kaleidoscope Girl.

"Write your life so others may be ILLUMINATED."

juliexuan's picture

Dear Kaleidoscope Girl, Your

Dear Kaleidoscope Girl,

Your comments truly energize and inspire me <3. Thank you, thank you!! My greatest dream would be, as you said, to inspire the rising of other voices. I can't tell you how relieving it is to know that I'm being heard by such talented, beautiful, inspirational women like yourself. This journey has been such a rich blessing already and it is completely to the credit of the women who take the time to so passionately respond to my entries. Keep reading, keep sharing, keep shining.

Love always,


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