Imagine My Surprise!

Fifteen years ago, I worked with a young woman named Fatiah in Darfur, Sudan. In a simple statement1, she revealed to me my life’s purpose.  Since then, I have understood, with increasing clarity and urgency, the value of Women’s Centers.

The seeds I’ve planted and vigorously tended have taken root in at least two places in Sudan (a third failed due to internal squabbling), and at the ‘mothership’ in Nairobi Kenya, Baraka Women’s Center. My efforts in Oakland, CA died prematurely because the money stopped flowing. But the women’s needs never did. The pandemic deepened them. My goal is to reopen Oakland Women’s Center within four months.

Of course these years-long efforts have not been mine alone. Many remarkable allies have stepped up. Only one possessed the means and commitment to deliver serious money (water for the seeds). God bless Grant Williams.

The tradition of women gathering for mutual support spans millennia. The Women’s Center Model provides a holistic application of that tradition in environments where Conflict, and its evil twin Poverty, are newly introduced or painfully endemic.

I believe the Women’s Centers Model will revolutionize humanitarian assistance to refugees and internally displaced people.  I’m convinced that most urban destitution would reverse at a steady pace with the establishment of Women’s Centers. Every city deserves at least one. That’s because women are the best movers and shakers when it comes to community transformation.

But we women cannot do it if we find no relief from the burdens of being born females. First we must rise from deep craters of internalized insignificance, insane taboos, virulent restrictions, predatory marketing, and soul-depleting violence.

We do that best when we gather in a safe place.

We do that best when key resources– previously denied– are brought to our place.

We do that best when we’re seen and treated as complex beings with vast capacity for healing and creativity.

We do that best when our unique kinds of leadership are given full rein.

A Women’s Center is the ‘base camp’ for that redemption to happen.

Tony Benn, a now-deceased UK Member of Parliament, once opined: “It’s the same each time with progress;  first they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.” 

My shock at the slow uptake of Women’s Center Model has exceeded my own imagining.  Why is this surpassingly elegant Model dismissed without comment by major foundations, international humanitarian organizations, and even (especially!) women’s funding networks?

“It’s the same each time with progress: first they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.” 

After fifteen years, I believe I’ve arrived at ‘dangerous.’ Surely poor women, especially those of color, who will rise to kick ass through engagement with a Women’s Center, qualify as ‘dangerous.’ A Women’s Center would be a lot less messy way forward than howling riots in the streets. If humanity is to thrive, to say nothing of survive, they must come into their full power.

I’m inescapably aware that my stamina and ‘time remaining’ in this life is spooling out. I’d be ecstatic to see the full flowering of the Women’s Centers Model: the global network!  A Movement of undeniable authority and joy.  If I’m not blessed with that experience, I will leave behind the full instruction manual.  The young ones can continue the forward surge, adding their unique grace notes to an indomitable design.

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I In answer to my question “What will you do, inshallah, when you leave [Kassab Women’s Center in North Darfur] and go home?” She said:  “We will build Women’s Centers.”

How Resilient Must Women Be?

In every region of the world, “Ending Violence, Harassment, and Abuse” is the most prominently chosen (48%) response to the question: “Which three issues are most critical for you as a person? From Global Count Interim Findings.

The challenge: not only for the violence to be ended, but that all women who’ve survived violence have the opportunity to heal. It is not a solo activity. It requires a sisterhood of help and support. That’s why Women’s Centers matter more than ever. A Center is a haven, a ‘base camp’ for healing. It’s where women gather strength together.

Ironically, nothing has been a bigger challenge than to gather funds to work this magic of the Women’s Center Model.

Philanthropically inclined Americans gave somewhere around 4% of all donations specifically to initiatives that strengthen women and girls. Four percent. Animal ‘causes’ get more donations. Women and girls remain few people’s special focus.

The profound damage of rape and domestic abuse, and the bottomless self-doubt they generate, requires a major commitment of resources to rectify.

Hands-on engagement has always mattered much more to me than advocacy, especially in such a polarized political system.  WCI’s place is seeding local managed grassroots organizations to create effective Women’s Centers.

We need to get with ALL our sisters, especially those who’ve been invisible on the margins, and steadily help to free more women from all the damage wrought in the prisons of poverty and exclusion.

We have precious little time to nurture a badass united front that can redirect humankind’s current mad dash to oblivion. We don’t have another decade, much less another century to wait it out.

At Women’s Centers, rage for change sings a bold new tune. We deserve the support of everyone who cares about achieving not just gender parity but the ascendence of the women’s genius for the path ahead.

Make our day: Donate to WCI

Source: Women Deliver

Wildish Woman

Survival Tactics

Sometimes my ‘shield’is a vision of clear molded plexiglass, with varying thickness added as needed. Selected ‘incoming’ bounces off. I do not absorb the depth of the grief, pain, and craziness I witness.  This shield actually binds like impermeable wrap preventing other people’s feelings from carving the same hollows in me. I can help them get through.  That’s my strength and I like using it.

Life insists on both weary days of plodding along and also sublime days when a cheerful and generous universe seems to have your back. For me, the spectacle of human existence is never dull, but often baffling.

I remember a woman once a colleague. She presented a kind and deferential persona, cheerful but desperate. A close friend of hers told me: “When she gets in touch with her monumental anger, I do not want to be in range.”

I feel crazy and alone on occasion, depending on the season and the set of challenges delivered.

A woman i wanted to like tells me “I never get angry” – that made me angry. Two women whose talents I appreciated and encouraged close the door of our relationships in silence – that made me unbearably sad.  Silence wounds the heart more deeply than a tirade.

White animals, except the arctic ones, are known to draw antagonism from other wild creatures. I trouble over the possibility that white-haired me similarly draws fire. This wildish part suits me. Thought I am often terrified, I won’t be cowed by other women’s fears. I’m ever seeking bonds with true sisters, and I treasure the ones I have.

When we sufficiently dismantle our color-based caste system, another re-evolution. This one moves us toward once again honoring elders. We boomers, some of us anyway, have lived adventurous lives. We’ve witnessed  tsunamis of social re-adjustments spawned by  WWII and the Korean War (through our parents). We joined and survived the upheavals of the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam (had we had good intelligence about the Vietnamese spirit, the US never would have defiled that patch of civilization), the Afghan and Middle East wars, the millennials’ ride up, and the proliferation of communications technology that oddly interferes with the soulful communities we long for.

We’ve survived, accumulating wisdom born of experience. Our contributions have not ceased and will not end – if our legacies carry forward what we value.  Honesty. Compassion. Patience. A fierce sense of service to those who’ve been stranded on the margins of our vast wealth. And an equally motivated capacity to laugh. Deserves more thought.

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Botticelli Belly

I wrote this nearly five years ago. Still relevant….                                                                                    

The Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli’s most recognized work is the Birth of Venus, a masterful rendering of the naked body of a nubile woman (‘birth’ notwithstanding). She is young, perhaps late teens, with buff arms and abs, pert tits, creamy smooth thighs, luscious hair the color of ripe papaya draped demurely across her pubes, and a belly that pooches sweetly beneath her navel.

The Birth of Venus

Modern images of women would feature most of these traits as representative of the ‘ideal’ white woman’s body. But the belly would have to go. Flat and taut across the pelvic bones – that’s today’s beauty burden.  Mostly this is a young woman’s fad. Producing a baby or two makes a Botticelli belly the normal for another vast group. My observations at the gym suggest that even women who work out have belly, and many have much more than a Botticelli belly.

Body image, one of the many battle grounds on which women get stranded, is the insidious usurper of self-worth. We do not choose our genes, but too often find ourselves regretting the ones that did not provide the ‘right’ hair, body shape, skin color or texture. That’s time wasted in the much more urgent struggle to live powerfully.

Women are the planet’s transformers. We advance in this purpose only by repudiating – loudly and publicly – the demeaning messages, the false ‘idols’, the egregious transgressions of men, and the insidious dictates of patriarchal culture.

We’ve also got to reconcile with our dark side, our most troubling behavior: undermining other women. Whether through verbal or physical assault or a ‘freeze out,’ few actions are more likely to damage a woman’s soul. We know how to ‘get to’ each other. Inflicting hurt never produces anything worthy of women.

The best of our female nature –  intuition, a capacity for nurturance, strength of mind  and heart for human needs – adorns us with unique power. To turn the testosterone tide of our culture, we’ve got to run with our natural gifts.

In her book Solomon’s Song, Toni Morrison wrote: “She needed what most colored girls needed: a chorus of mamas, grandmamas, aunts, cousins, sisters, neighbors, Sunday school teachers, best girlfriends and what all to give her the strength life demanded of her – and the humor with which to live it.” 

This is every woman’s need – and every woman’s gift to give.

Elemental

COVID and the Uprisings have put us on notice that we longer have time to piss around with the same brutality and ineptitude that have characterized much of our nation-making. 

Women need to inhabit all key leadership roles In the movements that arise at this time.  We want to crowd out the possibility of a planetary train wreck that men in power would greedily host. Now is the most stunning opportunity in most of our lifetimes to remove the barriers between us and to spread around the capital controlled by too few.

What makes women so much better suited to tending the human herd?

Our blood attachment with our children means we viscerally prefer not to see them killed, maimed, starved, or shot it.

We can get a lot done with just a look.

We are trained from a very early age to take care of people not us.  Then we learn to take care of us too.

We’re quick to read subtext, value nuance, and engage in soul-lifting conversations with those who share our dot in the universe.

The depression thing that has undercut so many of us will lighten or dispel as we gain traction being in charge and being valued, including by ourselves. Are you in for the long haul?