– by Rebeca Aguilar Walkley –
What are your needs as a woman?
What are your rights as a woman?
How does it feel to be a woman?
What makes you powerful?
What makes you beautiful?
What are your qualities?
I expected these questions to be challenging for the women at the shelter. However, I never imagined the last question would bring one lady to tears; first she didn’t know what qualities meant, when explained she became emotional and took a while in giving an answer. Finally she told the group her qualities: sad, worried too much and an overthinker. In such an overwhelming and emotional moment for this particular woman, it was amazing to see the support from the other women. A young woman told her that she had good qualities: “you are so strong, you always looking upwards and never give up on finding your children”.
In the western or developed world, I believe most women would be able to answer all of the previous questions comfortably and elaborately. A question that I was very curious to hear the answer turned out to be a bigger shock: What are your rights as a woman? Not one single woman knew what to say. Lisan, Thirsa and I gave some examples to help the women come up with an answer: “I have the right to my own opinion”, “I have the right to be listened to”, “I have the right to move independently”. With that little push the women answered with the following: “I have the right to be respected”, “I have the right to be loved”, “I have the right to not be beaten”. This moment made me come to terms with the huge and uncomfortable realisation that these women have grown up (or still growing) with the idea that they have no basic rights. Their idea of women’s rights is far from those we learn in the western world. This question is one of the easiest in my opinion, yet it was the one they struggled with the most. This session hit home hard, back in London I would protest about women not getting equal pay, or argue when a guy friend isn’t listening to me or hears out another guy’s opinion over mine; these frustrations seem almost petty after being with these women and listening to their stories. In the developed world sexism is slowly being overcomed, I realised how privileged I am as a woman to have lived in a much loved and equal upbringing; even though where I come from, there are still so many steps to take towards an actual equal world.
These women are all so strong, many of them think so too, but not to the degree that I believe they are. They are so powerful and I know none of them think or know so. When asked what makes them feel powerful, the majority mentioned their children and the rest said nothing. It’s true that women have the power to make life, a hugely powerful thing; however, I believe women’s power is far more than that, our unity and support for each other in this sexist and patriarchal world can be far more powerful. If only they knew this too then maybe they could get closer to the better yet still not perfect world I live in.
This session was a bit of a roller coaster for all, even though it started on a low it definitely ended on a high. After answering the question, the women were to reflect on their answers and paint a canvas that was a reflection of them as a woman. Once the paint was splattered and the chalk was smudged the smiles grew. It was only till the following week where we got to see the finished pieces, and what a delight! What artists they are! What women they are!