Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Stella Says…You Go Girl!

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 06 Dec 2005)

Last Thursday I read an intriguing letter to the Editor of Stabroek News from Deborah Osman Backer. This letter simply made my day. It was a perfect illustration of what every single Guyanese woman should be telling her daughter, best friend and next-door neighbour.

Osman Backer first reflected on the two most recent female wonders to hit the international scene, Germany’s new Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Africa’s first democratically elected woman President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. I share in the excitement produced by the huge strides made by these two women in the political arena.

In fact, I was having lunch and going over some research the other day in a restaurant while I overheard the conversation of two women sitting behind me who were talking about Liberia’s Johnson-Sirleaf. One lady said isn’t this wonderful and the other lady was just as thrilled.

Then one of them mentioned that Johnson-Sirleaf’s opposition was demanding a recount and both of the ladies started laughing, to which I was surprised. It was no secret that George Weah, a former soccer star, could not accept that he lost the election. Through snorts and giggles the first lady continued, “Imagine that the soccer player can’t believe he lost a presidential election to a Harvard grad!”

At this point I started snickering too. Johnson-Sirleaf didn’t just win the election; she creamed Weah with a whopping 59 percent of the vote with 97 percent of the ballots being counted. The ladies behind me were right; this was comical. I wonder what made this defeat so difficult for Weah to accept? Was it that he lost to a lady? Or that he lost to a Harvard graduate with a Master’s degree in Public Administration?

What was Johnson-Sirleaf’s campaign slogan? “Women, don’t sit there! Do something positive together with men!” To this I reply, “You Go Girl!”

Osman Backer, a Guyanese politician, seemed to connect with these international women wonders and wanted the rest of Guyana’s ladies to feel the pride of this monumental feminine achievement. It was also obvious that she wanted to inspire Guyana’s ladies to get more involved in politics too. To which I reply, “You Go Girl!”

There is a certain mentality that is hard to shake as a woman. It is the feeling of being insignificant and irrelevant to society at large. Most women feel the best they can do for their country is to stay home and raise their children to be upstanding citizens. While raising children is a very important role to play in any society, there is still so much more women can do.

A feminine approach to leadership is very different than the methods most men choose to employ. That is not to say one is better than another, but that both are equally necessary components of a balanced and effective leadership team. Any woman can look around the world today and pinpoint the missing elements in international politics, and almost every time the missing aspects are the ones that could, and should, be contributed by a female participant.

The lack of feminine leadership in the world has produced a lopsided worldview on so many levels. This disproportionate imbalance can only be remedied by an influx of women into politics, businesses and media. The feminine voice has so much wisdom and so much goodness, that the world is at a great disadvantage without it.

I know the obstacles that must be overcome for most women to rise to occasion and take their responsibility as leaders seriously. There are men who are constantly patronising and condescending. There are other women who want to know why you think you are so special. There are established laws and societal expectations that create an environment that is far from encouraging for any woman who wants to be a leader.

However, I have found the greatest obstacle a woman must hurdle in her journey out of obscurity - is herself. There is a deeply embedded fear that if we step into the big, bad world, it will eat us alive. This fear is partly a fear of the unknown, partly another allusion created by a patriarchal society and, sadly, partly true.

I am not going to pretend that the life of a female politician is easy, or that a businesswoman doesn’t have to fight to be taken seriously or that I don’t take my share of flack for the columns I write – after all, what can a woman know about Guyanese politics? I won’t lie to you and tell you that being a leader is simple, because it’s not.

However, it is rewarding and it is fulfilling. And most importantly, it is our responsibility. We cannot allow fear to keep us from being the leaders the world needs. There is a worse fear that plagues my mind – what will happen if I choose to ignore my responsibility as a citizen of the world?

The thought of what this world will develop into if more women do not do their part as leaders is what drives me to step out into the big, bad world. I am strong enough to make myself vulnerable and wise enough to know when to wait for the right fight. These are qualities that most women possess and all that is needed to start a successful journey of feminine leadership.

I now want to join Deborah Osman Backer in her challenge to women from her letter last week when she said, “I close by issuing an invitation to women throughout the length and breadth of Guyana to get involved in politics and public life so that together with our men folk we can quicken the transformation of our political landscape.”

Oh yeah, you go girl!

Email: stellasays[at]gmail.com

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