Women power

Today is Happy International Women’s Day. I got a message from an Afghan friend (male), wishing me this kind of happiness. He belongs to those Afghan men who understand that women hold up half the world and that empowering them is good for everyone.

The books we read or listened to during the last few weeks were all about a past when women were either handmaidens or witches and/or too fragile to live a public life: The Count of Monte Cristo, The Crucible, Caleb’s Crossing (the latter two set in New England in the 1600s) and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. All these books make me appreciate that I was born in the latter half of the 20th century which allowed me to stand on the shoulders of many visionary, stubborn, enlightened, tragic and marked women.

To stay with the theme we finished watching the remaining episodes from Downton Abbey season 4 and celebrated the increase in choices that its women folk have gained since season 1: a choice to do take responsibility for one’s actions, good or bad, and live with the consequences. No cliffhanger this time but and ending full of opportunities for redemption, love and being fully in the world.

Yesterday afternoon we drove to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. The school honored International Women’s Day with a new award for a mid-career alumna. It was our friend Connie who received the first ever Fletcher Women’s Leadership Award.

Originally trained as a lawyer in Germany and the UK, she choose a different path from her fellow lawyer class mates there and pursued further education and then a career that is about justice and creating legal recourse for those unlikely to know about their options. We met her while she was training the Afghan police force as part of EUPOL during her three year stay in Kabul. We were all volunteer teachers at SOLA.

Connie received the prize in the presence of her parents and brother who flew in from Germany, two of our SOLA students, now both studying in the US, the SOLA founder Ted and an auditorium full of students and alumni.

Connie gave the best ever acceptance speech I have heard, prompted by note cards rather than reading a speech. She shared the lessons she had learned since leaving Fletcher:

  • Show no sympathy as it is of no use to people in need; instead practice empathy by learning about the people and listening to their stories, their views, the needs they express and then help them realize their goals even if they themselves believe they cannot be achieved.
  • Look under the rocks, meaning use your network and extend it wherever you go as this is how the world works.
  • Once you have taken aim do not sway, which is about owning your doubt, making a decision when it needs to be taken and then stand by it.
  • Invest in big guns, not the ones that spew ammunition but those that bring about change. It was an exhortation to all of us to invest in change makers, like the girls at SOLA, and hold their stirrups while they mount their horses.

We are all so proud of Connie who helped develop the first-of-its-kind comprehensive rule of law manual for Afghan police and prosecutors, played an important role in SOLA’s transformation into a real school while she was on the board and currently works to increase access to legal services for victims of sexual violence in the eastern DRC.

I was sitting next to one of the SOLA students who told me she has to give a presentation at a high school in Massachusetts soon. Watching Connie keeping us spellbound with her stories for close to one hour was full of lessons for a budding change maker.

1 Response to “Women power”

  1. 1 Nina March 8, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Really loved this post – thank you for sharing Sylvia! It is a delight to see budding change makers everywhere, and to know their inspiring leaders and coaches. Happy International Women’s Day!

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