A good friend (and someone politically more conservative than I) once told me I was a “white glove” feminist. What does that mean, I asked? She referred to my southern roots (throughout my teenage years, my grandmother’s constant admonition to me as I left the house was, “Remember, you are a lady!”) along with my preference for evidence and reasoned debate (part of what drove me to law school in my twenties). When my daughter was a teenager, she informed me that she was a better feminist than me. In a flash of parental brilliance, I replied her that I had birthed her and raised her so that she could be a better feminist than me.
When I attended the International Women of Courage Awards ceremony last week at the State Department, the idea of what it means to be a feminist was raised for me once more. Secretary of State Clinton was the host, with First Lady Michelle Obama as a special guest. This year’s 10 honorees demonstrate what it means to fight for justice, not only for women but for all people in places where women and others are marginalized.
The women honored included:
- Maryam Durani, an Afghan provincial council member from conservative Kandahar, who is campaigning for economic equality;
- Pricilla de Oliveira Azevedo, a Brazilian police major who has done tremendous work within the favela (slum) of Santa Marta to reduce crime, increase social services and help the area become a community;
- Zin Mar Aung, a Burmese woman imprisoned for 11 years for her student activism, who continues to promote democracy and the rights of ethnic minorities since her release;
- Jineth Bedoya Lima, a Colombian journalist who has led efforts to expose sexual- and gender-based violence after she was gang raped while reporting on a story about arms smuggling;
- Hana ElHebshi, a Libyan architect and political activist who helped document the violence of her country's revolution;
- Aneesa Ahmed, recognized for her work on many fronts combating female genital mutilation and domestic violence in the Maldives;
- Shad Begum, a Pakistani human rights activist who provides political training, education and microcredit facilities in one of her country's most conservative districts;
- Samar Badawi, a Saudi political activist recognized for challenging laws in court that restrict women's rights to marry, work or travel without the permission of a male guardian;
- Hawa Abdhallah, a Sudanese activist speaking out for the rights of internally displaced civilians from the Darfur region, having spent much of her young adult life in an IDP camp; and
- Safak Pavey, a Turkish parliamentarian honored for promoting the rights of the physically disabled, women and minorities in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.
But what got me thinking about my white gloves (which I did wear as a little girl) were the words of one of the three women awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Ms. Leymah Gbowee. Speaking before the awards were given, her words were direct, earthy and to the point.
“What I’ve come to say to my sisters as we celebrate International Women’s Day … I think it’s time for us to really start to move forward with our issues. Gone are the days for us to sit and say we’ve gotten policies, we’ve gotten this, we’ve gotten that. It’s time for us to get out there, roll up our sleeves, and connect the dots. These women are working very hard. And yes, we can give them all of the verbal support, we can give them all of the honors, but until we continue to make it possible for them to work through resources, their issues will continue to be issues for politicians to use to make themselves look good when it’s elections time. It’s time for us to stand up, rise up, fight for the rights that we know how to fight for. It’s time for us to support our sisters.”
I’ve decided it is time for me to take off my white gloves. While my grandmother might not be happy, I think she would be proud of the results.
Photo: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, front row center right; and First Lady Michelle Obama, front row center left; pose for a photo with the 2012 International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award Winners at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2012. [State Department photo/Public Domain]