I recently was out with a group of my friends who happened to be from 3 different regions of Mali. All of these women are in different stages of life all around; some younger, some older, some newly married, some single, some new moms, and some sisters from another motha. Now, these women know that I stand behind them to make professional and personal choices that their cultural context might give them flack for. Like, when one friend wanted to talk birth control options with me even though her family was majorly putting pressure on to start that young family. Or when another friend wanted to talk through how to talk to her husband about letting her to continue working now that they were married.
There are lots of times as we sit around and chat though, that I feel like I am not truly getting through to them – that the cultural, societal, traditional, and religious differences have caused a divide that even the best of intentions and education could not over come.
We’ve heard it all before but women need to be on each other sides! We need to have a better network between women instead of picking on one another or putting each other down. And this is so true here in Mali. Often you hear of very capable, intelligent, strong women who are made to leave their professional life behind because their mother in law, husband, or father are not okay with them living such an enriched life outside of the household. Every time I hear about it my heart breaks just a little bit. But this time, just recently, when me and my friends were out and I saw a beautiful picture of women helping women happening before me.
One of my friends has been successfully married for some time, and continues to be a powerhouse in her work and professional life was sharing strategies on how to balance work and home responsibilities and the sensitization that she did and continues to do in her family. All of the women seemed to be engaged and enthralled by some of her success. One of my newly married friends asked how my long time married friend dealt with a mother in law who gets upset because she is not doing her share of the household tasks and refuses to eat the food their housekeeper prepares. The bottom line: sometimes you have to do what you have to do even if your family is not supportive. If she doesn’t want to eat what the housekeeper prepared – her mother in law can fend for herself. If her mother in law complains about her going to work, she listens and then she still goes to work. I can’t imagine having so many people against you and still rising to the top to be a total rock star like these Malian women are.
It is a privilege I don’t take lightly – talking to these women about how they can be fuller more empowered versions of themselves. And today on the International Day of Women I want to acknowledge their strength for persevering in a context I am not sure I could endure. We can do this ladies! When we have each others back and stick up for our own right to do what we want both professionally and personally, we can have a more equal world.