Welcome to my web site. After 19 years of working on women’s rights, I enter the 101 anniversary of International Women’s Day with the clarity that it is time for women to narrate a new story of who we are. And I plan to start with me.
You see, I spent the first 20 years of my life growing up in Iraq and the last 22 years living in the United States but traveling to, and working in, various war zones, ranging from Afghanistan to the Democratic Republic of Congo. As part of this work, I would meet women survivors of war, who were receiving sponsorship from their ‘sisters’ in the developed world. It struck me time and time again how much we women had in common, despite the diversity of our cultures and backgrounds.
To invest in a woman is to invest in her children, her household, her community and her country. According to the World Bank, women reinvest 90% of their earnings on their family, while men reinvest only 40%. Investing in women, therefore, is not only the right thing to do but also necessary. And yet, women in many parts of the world continue to be denied equal treatment, in areas including access to education, health, and legal protection.
But that is not what I wanted to write about today. In my almost 20 years of work, I have observed that women, wherever they may be, have the following in common: we apologize for ourselves and for who we are; we doubt and question ourselves too much; we love to see ourselves embody the image of the giving mother and with that comes sacrifice for our children, our husbands, our families; and we have an inner voice that tells us that if we do anything less than that, then we are “selfish”. In a way, we are enchanted with our sad stories and are fascinated when we hear even sadder stories of other women. And in a way, we worry about whether we are being true to ourselves. And that, in my observation, is not unique to any one culture. I have seen this just as much among Western women as I have among Asian, African and Middle Eastern women.
So why is this a relevant discussion? Well, there is our own individual happiness, which is in and of itself important and, in my opinion, can only come if we are true to ourselves in all ways, if we give ourselves permission to be who we are and to own what we believe. That is not an easy thing to do, but it is important that we try. After all, what is life if we are not happy?
But there is more to it than that. Whether one person is happy can have a big impact on the world around them. Humanitarian work is far more effective and empowering if you approach it from a happy and healthy mindset, one that allows you to engage with less privileged women, in any country or community, from a place of genuine respect, rather than with an attitude of “she needs saving”.
The truth is, or my truth at least, is that if we really want to build peace and stability in the world and if we really want to help all women gain access to all the things necessary to exercise freedom of choice, than we can only do that from a place of respect. The Dalai Lama said that if you cannot respect the person you are trying to serve, than better not serve them. I couldn’t agree with him more. I learned that there is a distinction between helping and truly building peace. A vulnerable person will take what is being given to them out of vulnerability, and sometimes from whoever will give it…. but that does not mean that they are not aware of whether they are getting respect or disrespect in the process of helping.
And that is how helping ourselves be true to who we are and serving the world are interconnected. Yes, there are lots of women around the world who are suffering severe injustices and need help. But for that help to be truly meaningful and to have a lasting impact, it has to come from a genuine place, from a safe and peaceful place inside our hearts. The problem is that when it is not genuine, it is felt. Believe me! And thus it has very limited impact. The journey towards peace starts from inside your heart and that journey will help you to navigate the world in clear, loving, and joyful ways. So what if you allow yourself that truth and that joy. How would that feel? To have wings? Where would you fly?
What if I am not sadness
What if I am not grieving
What if I am not my victim’s story
Nor am I my pain.
What if they are all a part of me but not fully me
What if I am just me.
What if I am joy without reason…. happiness in all seasons
What if I am love for all
What if I laugh for no reason and all reasons
What if they are all a part of me.
What if I don’t hate my enemy
What if I forgive
What if I am clear about my right and my wrong
And still see me
What if my actions are not defined vis-à-vis him or her
What if they are defined vis-à-vis my truth, mine only
What if I am fully free
How will I be?
What if I see without judgment
Love without reason
What if I give and receive without worry
What if I can be all and still be me.
What if this is it.
What if this is perfect
What if I don’t doubt
What if I just believe
How would life be if I let it be.
How would I be if I accept fully, me.
What would I be if today I am Free.
What if this is the new story.
May this year brings us all closer to our truth so we may go out in the world, reach out to our sisters, build bridges of peace, out of respect for difference, with no judgment but instead with lots of love.