Written by: Naomi Woyengu, YWCA of Papua New Guinea.
Last week I had the privilege of attending the third national women’s forum with the theme “Women Empowering Women: Her Success is your Success”. A very powerful theme that resonates the importance of women empowering, mentoring and celebrating each other’s successes in leadership.
It was an amazing forum! However it was sad that not a lot of young women came out to participate. In the previous two forums there were a lot of young women. But this year there was just a handful. Why?
I remembered then during the first national women’s forum back in 2014 where I was asked to be a panellist on the session of young women’s leadership and mentoring. I was the youngest panellist. As soon as I started speaking I heard women mumbling around the room rather than applauding. Some even stood up and lashed out at me. I did not quite understand the meaning of their reaction. I thought women were supposed to support woman. But I guess thought wrong!
Even after the session I was being scolded and told off by older women along the corridors and in the lavatories that, I was just a young women who knew nothing about life and so I should not have said what I had said. I did feel a little intimidated but never showed that I was. Ever since that day I often wondered what I had said wrong. All I remembered saying was, young and old women should not see each other as a competition or a threat but should work together and complement each other in leadership. What was so wrong in that?
Well that happened to me, and because I was strong I was able to fend off their condescending comments. But I do wonder, what if that happened to another young women who was not as strong as I was?
Even so, in our own organization here, we have so many young women. Yet they do not come out and participate in our activities or programs. And so our older members and “mentors” ask, why?
The answer to that is simple-young women do not feel safe or feel as equals because of the presumed great divide- Age!
It saddens me that the progress of women’s leadership in my country has come to this stage. A stage where women are fighting each other for status, recognition and power. My heart bleeds when I see this and I often wonder; why do we women do this to each other? As a woman to another woman, why do we still need to prove our worth? Have we not done enough, trying to prove our worth to the men and society as a whole? Why are we fighting each other when the real battle we all should be fighting for is “Achieving Gender Equality.”
We use to have a culture of love. A culture of women helping women and women standing up for each other, women empowering each other and women celebrating with each other. This is all dying out! I fear that if we do not find a way to stop this, young women in this generation and the next may not get to learn or know about this culture as it is not evident in our women leaders, today.
A former lone female politician in the country, in the most recent national women’s forum openly said, “The biggest issue amongst us women today is lateral violence. We are destroying each other with the very mouths that cries for justice, fairness and equality. What are we teaching our young women? We older women are scaring them off with our mouths. The very mouth that is supposed to speak wisdom and blessing on their lives’. (Dame Carol Kidu, 03/03/16)
Women’s leadership today in this society is more of a competition rather than complementing. Women are failing to see that leadership is; seeing past ones education background, marital status, religion, financial status, sexual orientation and most importantly age. Leadership is not about comparing or competing. It’s about complementing!
We have to stop this nonsense and work together. We are only going to destroy ourselves and the greater cause we are fighting for. Let us all come together, put our differences aside and stand together as WOMEN. At the end of the day we are just alike in many ways! You were once young and I will one day be old. Let’s not compete but let’s complement because without me you are nothing and without you I am nothing. Your success should be my success and my success should be your success, too.