Reflections on mentorship and sisterhood
“When a young person, even a gifted one, grows up without proximate living examples of what she may aspire to become her goal remains abstract. Such models as appear in books or on the news, however inspiring or revered, are ultimately too remote to be real, let alone influential. But a role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, 'Yes, someone like me can do this.”
― Sonia Sotomayor
Just what is mentorship? I once saw a quote that charity is one beggar telling another where s/he found bread”. In the women’s movement we have thrived on mentorship, on women who have carried us on their shoulders so that we don’t stumble on the same spots, they tripped.
It is my belief that we will have lived our worth if our younger sisters do not have to go through the same mistakes we made. This is not about older and younger women really; everyone has younger women and girls looking up to her and vice versa. This includes supporting younger ones who are starting out, not stifling their efforts. It includes correcting each other and taking the corrections in stride, in sisterhood. It includes holding each other accountable and challenging them to live up to what we know they are capable of.
A young woman recently told me she has really asked several persons to mentor her as she is still in college but getting no response or “I am not available” has really disappointed her so she is still struggling to find her way. It didn’t help that she had nasty experiences from some older sister in the movement as she strived to try out and made some mistakes.
Another one told me how excited she is after meeting a mentor I had linked her to. She feels that her life will never be the same again. (Since I don’t have permission will not put any names). The latter was on a trial basis that a friend of mine Rahma (for her I don’t need permission) started on and I picked up, linking younger girls and young women to our friends to mentor them. I linked several young women and one of them my cousin called to give me feedback. She was very impressed that another older-young woman was willing and ready to take time to speak with her and give her some guidance in line with her career path. She was excited after the first meeting, someone she has never met before but felt encouraged and sure her career life will be better because of this interaction that has started. It starts with our very own sisters, nieces, daughters.
I believe I can make a difference in the gender agenda if we can hold my younger sisters and point to them once in a while what I know by virtue of lived experience. I can also gain from older sisters in the movement doing the same to me, which when we look up and wonder how did you ever get there? The older sisters can tell enable me to know if that was magic or if I am on the right path.
I recall sharing with some younger women that I worked with during a young women’s mentorship forum and the female colleagues later on took me to task. Are you sure? You mean it was never that smooth? I could relate to them as a fresh graduate from college venturing into the NGO arena.
Sometimes we feel that we are not made headway but it helps to know what others have gone through and realize it is human. It is especially harder for women since the societal expectations often put us on such a pedestal that leave us feeling we can’t afford to be that human! We look at others and imagine they have it all together and wonder when we will ever get it ‘all together’. We forget that everyone one has their story.
It doesn’t take much; then again it takes a lot. Sometimes it is just listening and assuring the younger women (or older woman) that she is on the right path. Sometimes it is reminding them to be gentle with themselves. Other times it is giving a part on the back, affirming little efforts. Other times it will be sharing what did and what did not work. Sometimes it will be challenging and correcting. Everyone by virtue of being alive has lots of wisdom. More so it involves encouraging not stepping on younger sisters who are still fumbling around.
It means a lot to hold another sister’s hand. That’s my challenge for you and me. Oh and mentorship is two way, you can also learn from the younger ones! I appreciate that there are many sisters I can call out to in different areas of my life. One of them is about 10 years younger than me! I still have gaps in some areas of my life that need mentors but I also have many older & younger sisters that have been my amazingly supportive sisters. Those who have reminded me that I am only human; offered a shoulder to lean on.
We all need someone to lean on.