Balancing the Women Empowerment Act
During one of the many trainings I have attended, I once worked with a group of male youth from Africa in 2014. Everything was going well, until the last two days of the training. During a heated argument about a human rights discussion, one of the guys, Francis, told me bluntly that I was very opinionated and it was unattractive and unbecoming in women. And no, I wasn’t being arrogant or conceited in the way I voiced my opinions. I gave my side of view, which was different from what most of the guys in the group thought.
I was furious, confused, bewildered, and all feelings nasty, including some lumps in my throat. And I was also speechless. For the rest of the evening, his words kept echoing in my mind. And I kept asking myself if I was indeed very opinionated. I asked myself if that wasn’t one of the reason girls had been sent to school. To learn to express themselves and give their views on issues from their side of view. As the day came to an end, I wondered if Francis was just a mean backward guy, or if he was in fact, voicing what most men could not say out loud.
Fast forward and something almost similar happened again, and again. Not only with African men, but also with men from different parts of the world. Some said something similar out loud (without the unattractive part), and others just ignored and continued with the discussion, acting like I did not say a thing.
Recently, during a monthly catching up call with a couple of female friends, another friend brought up the same issue. It was then that something dawned on me. I realized that while we were busy empowering women and girls in different areas, we were forgetting the men and boys. We are not preparing most men to accept and receive these newly empowered women and girls. We are forgetting to let them know, that having different opinions is not an act of rebellion or disrespect. That two or more opinions and ideas can sometimes be combined to come up with powerful solutions. The idea of empowerment may sound nice and some men will go so far as to say they are feminists and fully support women empowerment. But when face to face with these empowered women, things often take a different turn.
No one wants to be unattractive or act in a supposedly unbecoming manner. And despite all my self-esteem, I did consider not voicing my opinions for the rest of the training. It didn’t last long, but I wondered what was happening out there. When newly empowered women and girls got lost in the crowd, just because their male counterparts were not supportive.