(photo credit: KIEFERPIX)
I am a passionate woman on a mission. My mission is to teach women and girls the tools they need to deal with violence when it is aimed against them. My mission is to empower women, to end violence against women the world over. Such violence traumatizes not only the victims themselves but their children, witnesses, and society as a whole. Sadly, this mission is at times misrepresented in conversation and media and misunderstood, mistaking empowerment with aggression or worse, the very violence I work to curb.
Empowerment does not lead to aggression. Empowerment leads to assertiveness – the ability to speak your mind and to say “No!” Empowerment isn’t a green light to behave badly; behaving badly in any scenario is outside the realm of empowerment.
The readiness shown to draw this conclusion – that empowerment of women creates aggressive women – is evidence of a problem as significant as the violence itself. Global culture remains deeply uncomfortable with the idea of women having agency, even if it is simply the power to prevent harm to their bodies, minds or spirit.
How many of us, empowered women, have met resistance to having an opinion of our own about what we would like to buy, pay for or, what to disagree with or no agree to? We meet resistance and aggression any time we have the audacity to say things as simple as, “Excuse me, but that is my seat,” or, “No, I am not interested in what you are offering,” and have that be enough to end a conversation. Gavin DeBekker, a world known expert on violence has repeatedly said, “When a man says no, it is the end of the conversation. When a woman says no, it is the beginning of a negotiation.”
I was recently honored by MK Gila Gamliel and President Reuven Rivlin with an award in recognition of my contribution toward the elimination of violence towards women.
I saw the kerfuffle of the chairs at the president’s residence. It wasn’t about a disregard for authority, but rather an assertion, on the part of the women, many of whom had come from a distance, to be in a position of ability to honor their friends and sit where they believed there was unassigned seating. Unfortunately, the world is sometimes so resistant to the idea of women holding power over themselves and their bodies, that they look to equate it with behavior that is completely irrelevant such as disrespect for authority or cleanliness of a women’s bathroom.
Such behavior is unacceptable, but doesn’t reflect on empowerment; it reflects on the behavior of individuals. Lumping inappropriate behavior together with empowerment, a process so important for the health and welfare of women and girls, is not only unfair, but dangerous, as it can be utilized to justify the continued subjugation of an entire population.
Empowering women to resist violence is not aggression. It teaches them to respect their own self-worth and value. It teaches them to claim responsibility for their relationships their experiences within them. It demands a world free from harm.
As an empowered woman, as an empowered person – independent of gender, I have the right to have an opinion, to make it heard, and to be treated with respect. I also have the responsibility for my actions and behaviors. This is the essence of empowerment.
The world should embrace this with all of its power.The writer is CEO and Co-Founder, El HaLev / President and Founder, ESD Global.