Today is International Women’s Day.

Not long ago, I was on my way to a coordinating committee meeting for a feminist organization I’m part of, and one of my teenage daughters asked “Do we still need feminist organizations? I thought women already had all the rights they need.”

At first I was rather shocked by her response. How could a daughter of mine, who’s been raised in a home where human rights issues are discussed on a regular basis by a mother who doesn’t hesitate to share stories of the women she’s met in other parts of the world who’ve had their genitals mutilated or have been sold into slavery, not understand that there are still many women who are marginalized, ignored, tortured, raped, sold into slavery, etc., etc.?

After the initial shock, though, I realized that part of the reason she asked the question is precisely because she has been raised in an environment where these conversations are a normal part of her day – where women’s equality and ability to lead is never questioned by either her mom or her dad, where her dad respects her choices and takes responsibility for just as much of the child-rearing and household care as her mom, and where she knows she has as many options for her future as her male cousins and friends. Those are good things, and it gives me hope that young women in her generation will enter a work world where equality is assumed and no longer has to be fought for.

According to Gloria Steinem, though, we still have a long way to go. “The Feminist Revolution is the longest revolution in history. I’m not sure we’re halfway through this process. Maybe only a third. That’s why I say to take it in 100-year stretches. Movements have to last at least a century to be fully absorbed and normalized in culture.”

I am part of two organizations that are honouring International Women’s Day in different yet equally relevant ways.

UNPAC, the organization that I sit on the coordinating committee for, is releasing a gender budget report card on the steps of our provincial parliament building today (at 11:30 if you’re in Winnipeg). We’ve done analysis of how our provincial government has or has not indicated their support for women’s issues by committing funding to it and we’re advocating for change in that regard. We still need change. The government barely got a passing grade.

Gather the Women, another organization I’m connected with, has just today launched its website (that I created, by the way) for its annual gathering called Weaving Wisdom, Renewing Spirit, happening in August in Ontario, Canada in August. The women of this organization are supporting the work of women by gathering in circle and honouring feminine wisdom and what gives us unique strength as women – our spirituality, community, connection, stories, and compassion. (I sure would love to have you join us at the gathering!)

Sometimes I feel a little torn by these two approaches – is it better to spend my time and energy advocating for women’s rights, or sitting in circle and dreaming about and working toward a better world where women’s wisdom is valued?

My answer to that question is – it’s best to do both.

We need to continue to challenge the priorities of our government, stand up for those who are being marginalized and brutalized, point out the inequality in the way women are represented in our media, and empower women to make their own choices. We need to continue striving toward a world where women have access to power, and decisions are not made on our behalf. We need to ensure we live in a true democracy where women’s voices are heard as loudly as men’s.

AND we need to sit in circle; support community-building; honour our spirits, intuition, and feminine wisdom; and continue to strive for a world in which women’s wisdom is no longer considered secondary to men’s. We need to believe that collaboration is important as competition, that communities are as important as teams, that circles are as important as hierarchies, that intuition is as important as strategy, and that art and beauty really are transformative.

There are many ways to silence people. You can brutalize them, overpower them, threaten them, or marginalize them. You can imprison them, take away their rights, kill them, or ignore them.

One of the most insidious ways of silencing people, however, is to convince them that their voices are not important, that what they claim as wisdom is just frivolousness, and that their stories have no relevance. That’s what’s been happening for too long to women all over the world.

Yes, it’s horrible that women are being sold into slavery and that genital mutilation is still happening in parts of the world, but it is also horrible that, even in our “progressive” North American culture, the things that women value and the wisdom that we hold is not being valued in a world that desperately needs us.

As I’ve said before, it’s important that women have access to the halls of power (and that’s what the feminist movement has worked hard to ensure), but it’s ALSO important that we start CHANGING those halls of power. The old systems aren’t working as well as they could – they’re too slanted in one direction and they ignore half of the strength we have in humankind.

We need yin and yang – masculine AND feminine, strategy AND intuition, competition AND collaboration, industry AND community, progress AND simplicity, warriors AND lovers, fierceness AND softness, production AND environmental stewardship. We need to be involved with organizations that advocate AND those that sit in circle and honour spirit. We need to fight and we need to love.

“We’ve learned that women can do what men can do, but we haven’t convinced most of the country that men can do what women can do,” says Gloria Steinem. We can serve the world well if we not only stand in our power as women, but also invite men to experience and honour their own feminine wisdom. This is about moving away from dualism into a world where there is middle ground.

In honour of International Women’s Day, I encourage you to consider the rights of women all over the world AND I encourage you to honour your spirit and your wisdom and believe that it can change the world.

I leave you with this poem, written over a year ago when I first started imagining this work I would do with Sophia Leadership.

How to be a Woman

There may come a time, my friend,
when you have lived too many lives that are not your own,
followed too many rules that broke your spirit,
and mastered the art of imitation.

This will be a time when you’ve forgotten your own shape
and you find that you no longer remember just how to be a woman.
Believe this: you can remember again,
you can fit back into the shape that you were meant to be.
It hasn’t truly gone away.

Start by taking a deep breath, and sit quietly while you
listen to the wisdom written on your heart
by your God/Goddess.

Be kind to yourself
caress your skin, your hair, your breasts,
all the body bits that make you woman.
Gently touch the flabby bits, the too-skinny bits,
the old bits, the not-perfect bits

Stop to kiss Mother Earth, Gaia,
bend your knees, run your fingers through her soil
hug her trees, blow kisses into her wind.

Twirl your skirts, kick up your heels
and dance while you listen to the music nobody else hears.

Then, when you are ready, turn your head in the direction
your own journey calls you and don’t look back
even when you hear the cries
of those who feel betrayed by your leaving.

Stand tall, my friend,
you need to be courageous for this remembering
you need to be ready to break things
shift things, disturb the status quo.
You need to be powerful, and wise, and steadfast,
in this re-birth, because it is what is expected of you
by all of those waiting for you to lead them.

Make no mistake – they ARE waiting for you to lead them
because they are afraid, they are hurting,
and they have lost their way.

They need your strength, your courage,
your beauty, your art, to lead them into this new place.

But first,
be gentle, sit quietly,
for you need this time of rest
to prepare you for the journey.

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