The longer I work in developing countries, the more I believe that it will be women, if anyone, who non-violently change the world.
It was the case in Nicaragua, and is in Argentina too, that for every ten people actively working for improvement in their community and/or way of life, eight to nine of them are women. Every community meeting or workshop or special gathering I attend in these marginalized neighborhoods is composed of a handful of middle-aged women who are absolutely not afraid to speak their minds.
Globally, the power of women to change the world has been recognized by the leading opinions in the developing world. One of the United Nations Millennium Development goals is to educate girls and see them equally represented in secondary school throughout the world. Just because it’s fair? No; because, if you give a young girl the opportunity to dedicate her life to not only family and tradition roles, but also to her own education and potential, you have given her the tools to be a powerful force of change. Case in point: numerous studies have confirmed and I know from my own experience in the field of microloans that women (in the developing world, remember) have more success in paying back their small loans, are better savers and spend extra income in socially productive ways. You give a middle-aged woman five dollars to spend it however she wants and she will take her child to the doctor or send her children to school with new notebooks or shoes. She will use her money to perpetuate a healthy society. You give a middle-aged man the same opportunity, and he will often go buy cigarettes, beer or go spend an hour at the slot machines.
While not sociologically qualified to say this, I have a notion that the subtle male identity crisis that is very real in my country may also be occurring on a global level.
I don’t write these observations with any hidden feminist agenda; this is what I see happening in the developing world and what has been recognized globally and proven statistically. Women are an incredible investment as agents of social change. I am continually amazed by the spirit of these women upon arriving to these community gatherings. They do not hesitate to stand up, walk to the front of the room, raise their voices to be heard, declare what they see as injustice in their lives and neighborhoods, and call for a dedication to work for change. Rounds of applause from the twenty or so other women in the room follow the passionate tirade and create a deafening noise.
And we North Americans have this tendency to believe that the woman of the developing world is oppressed and not given a voice. While it is the case some times, it’s quite the opposite when you let her out of the house!
When I find myself among these women and awed by their strength of spirit, I can’t help but wonder:
Why is it, again, that men have ruled the world for so long?