Will Western Women Really Save the World? ~ Vanessa D. Fisher

Via on Aug 27, 2012

A Question to the Dalai Lama

I’m about to say something that could likely garner some backlash, but I feel it needs to be said and thought deeply about, so I’m saying it nonetheless.

To be blunt, I somewhat wish the Dalai Lama had never made his famous proclamation at the Vancouver Peace Summit in 2009, that “The world will be saved by the Western woman.”

There is perhaps no statement that has been more widely quoted and circulated in women’s empowerment and spiritual circles over the last three years. This statement has been used to galvanize a sense of excitement, and I have some major concerns about it.

With all the good intentions that this quote has been used for, I feel that at best this statement misses the point, and at worse, it has fed an over-inflated sense of self-importance in Western women.

It has taken us further away from being able to be the greatest service to the larger world.

Let me explain.

I should first say that I do believe that women potentially have a very significant role to play as leaders in the next 20-50 years, including Western women. With that said, there are amazing women leaders all over the globe and I personally don’t think Western women are necessarily ahead of the curve. It really depends on what stick you are measuring with.

Source: plus.google.com via Nicholas on Pinterest

 

There are women like Mukhtar Mai (pictured above), a Pakistani woman who was sentenced to public gang rape by the tribal elders in her rural community. Rather than commit suicide (what women in her society are expected to do after rape), she turned her experience into a voracious fight for women’s rights.

Against all odds, Mukhtar eventually started the MukhtarMai Women’s Organization to help support and educate Pakistani women and girls. She now runs three schools where around 1,000 children from the poorest areas can get an education. Areas that most Western aid organizations had largely neglected because they were “off the map” so to speak.

Another non-Western woman making a positive impact is Somaly Mam, a Cambodian orphan who was kidnapped and sold into a brothel at the age of 12 during the time of the Khmer Rouge. For years she was raped, caged and beaten daily, even forced to watch her best friend be viciously murdered in front of her, before finally escaping. Starting in poverty and with little formal education, Somaly eventually founded AFESIP in Cambodia, which offers one of the most comprehensive rehabilitation and re-integration programs for Cambodian girls rescued from sex trade.

Somaly is also the forerunner for the fight against sex-trafficking in South East Asia and abroad. She has arguably done more when it comes to bringing issues of sex-trafficking to light on a global scale than any other individual. The Somaly Mam Foundation, located in New York, was founded in her honor.

It is of course worth noting that there are some great examples of Western women and organizations who have also made very significant contributions to supporting communities in need around the world. One example is Gretchen Steidle Wallace who founded Global Grassroots Conscious Social Change, and has been supporting women throughout post-war Africa with amazing holistic programs and services. Gretchen’s organization promotes healing, education and leadership initiatives for women and men within their communities.

My friend Gail Hochachka and her husband Michael Simpson also do amazing work through their organization One Sky: Canadian Institute of Sustainable Living. One Sky implements programs in developing countries to deal with difficult issues like climate change, rainforest conservation, governance, HIV/AIDS, widow’s rights and youth empowerment in the context of leadership and development.

However, I would argue that the success of projects pioneered by women like Gretchen and Gail are precisely due to the fact that they have supported the emergence of leadership within the communities of the cultures that they work within—not because they went into these communities trying to save anyone. They listen to the needs of the communities and respond accordingly. They look for local leaders and offer resources to bring out their own natural leadership capacities to help them address the most pressing issues in their communities.

Sheryl WuDunn’s book, co-authored with her husband Nicholas D. Kristof,  Half the Sky: Turning the Oppression of Women into Opportunity Worldwide, makes a great point—millions of dollars in aid have been wasted on certain projects that the West has implemented in developing countries. These projects ultimately failed because the people implementing the initiatives didn’t have a strong sense of what was really needed in the culture or community itself. These situations sometimes created more problems than solutions in their attempts to “save” others.

While recognizing that Western aid efforts from the outside can and definitely do offer important support, Sheryl and Nicholas remain quite passionate activists in regards to wanting to highlight the importance of integrating the support from the outside with leadership initiatives that are nurtured at the grassroots level within each community. It is the women and men at the grassroots level that are going to understand and be sensitive to the needs of their community, and thus create sustainable long-term change.

Sheryl also found that there are many amazing leaders within these communities themselves, in every culture across the planet, but they are often just not as visible to “Western eyes.” This is why our humility and ability to listen is so crucial for any Western woman who is inspired by the Dali Lama’s sentiments and truly wants to make a difference in the world, I include myself in that.

We need to be attentive to the ways we can sometimes bulldoze in with good intentions and unconscious assumptions that we know what is best, or with the belief that we have some divine ordination to save others.

I would offer that a simple re-frame of the Dalai Lama’s proclamation might be helpful here. Perhaps instead of trying to “save the world” we might instead reign in and cultivate our capacity to deeply listen to the world, so that we can support the natural intelligence and leadership that already exists within communities. If we could listen, we could become facilitators for the organic emergence of that leadership around the globe. Then, I do believe that our wealth, freedom and access as well as the unique knowledge and wisdom we have obtained from our experience of living in the West could be best utilized and offered. It would allow us as Western women to really join efforts across continents, cultures and genders, to be of most service to others.

Our contribution would become increasingly significant in the sense that it would become beautifully woven into an interdependent web of unique contributions that are being made with thousands of others all around the world.

 

Vanessa D. Fisher is a published author, poet, public speaker, cultural critic, and self-ascribed Global Nomad currently living in Moscow, Russia. Vanessa’s given Korean name is 초화 (Chohwa), which translates as “the first fire”. She has gained a reputation for her holy irreverent spirit, her blunt honesty, her deep commitment to truth and justice, and her love for art and beauty in all its forms. Visit my website at: http://www.vanessadfisher.com/

 

~

Editor: Maja Despot

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28 Responses to “Will Western Women Really Save the World? ~ Vanessa D. Fisher”

  1. Alessandra Rupar says:

    Desmond Tutu's quote about best investing in women to see real development in the world seems more appropriate – I agree with your point of view. It is not about the Western women, it is about healing and awakening the deeply wounded feminine in all of us. It is about women to awaken and being empowered, that will be utterly important to make an impact in this state of the world. Call it the dominance of the left brain, of the masculine which brought us into trouble, both need to be healed and accessed in a sane balanced way. Yet it is for us women to heal the deep wounds of the world and become sanely empowered beings who then can use the tools of gentle fierceness to shift things around.

  2. S.R. says:

    Beautiful and informative. Thank you. S.

  3. Jody says:

    Seems to me the point is not that western woman are more capable or empowered but that the western world dominated by close-minded, self-righteous men are destroying this planet and its inhabitants for their own gain. It will take not a single western woman, but all of the feminine conscious to undo what is being done, but likely needs to be brought to awareness in the western mindset by a western woman. Only an 'insider' could catalyze change in this 'new world' mindset, no matter how eloquent and profound another worldly view maybe. I don't think it was in anyway intended as a slight to the beautiful women in this world that bring their spirit and passion to the lives of others. Western woman have you all to thank for this empowerment.

  4. Jody says:

    Great book which discusses why locally created solutions http://www.amazon.com/Walk-Out-Learning-Communiti

  5. Christine DeLuca says:

    The Western woman will save the world by taking down patriarchy throughout the planet. Only Western women today have the freedom of speech to offer that service, as well as the life experience that could frame the issue in such a way as to be effective. Personally, I feel it is relatively harmless (if misguided) for Western women to use the Dalai Lama's statement to inflate ego. It doesn't lead to any activity that hurts others per se. It just prolongs their own personal transformation into the merging with Divine Will that will lead to what the Dalai Lama was pointing to. But we use all kinds of distractions to do that. Even those we imagine are of service…..

  6. Charles McDougal says:

    How far from the message can one get and not know one is lost.
    Charles

  7. Trista says:

    Thank you for articulating what has been bothering me as well about this statement.

  8. kco says:

    Frankly, I was offended when I heard the Dalai Lama's remarks. I've heard this statement used to justify everything from luxury retreat centers to expensive bath salts. Like many aspects of popular yoga culture, this quote serves to build ego for the privileged few, not justice for all. Statements like these are why the effete think doing a few down dogs can spread world peace. Self interested actions doused in noble rhetoric get you know where.

    Again, to be frank, the Dalai Lama was simply pandering to his audience. It's a shame.

  9. Kurukulle says:

    Western women's influence can be vastly felt by raising healthy children. Teaching values of brotherhood, love for the earth, a desire to serve and honor others instead of competition and self-agrandizement. The Dalai Lama does not pander to his audience; this misunderstanding exemplifies how far off the path we have wandered.

  10. Arrogance Is Blind says:

    The Dalai Lama is correct. His comment was the kindest way to intimate that the primary threats to the world come from Western men, who behave as they do in service to Western women. When Western women make it plain they no longer appreciate that service — I mean *really* make it plain — then those threats will cease and the world will be saved.

    Any other interpretation of his comments is fishing for a compliment in the height of arrogance.

  11. amandavvella says:

    I prefer to think that the world might be saved by women in general. Great article. Thank you.

  12. LisaTully says:

    Hi Vanessa I really enjoyed your article thank you very much for that. I currently work in Dharamsala, India which for those of you that don't know is home to the Dalai Lama in exile. As a contributor to bettering the local community through donations and culutural project initiatives I have experienced all that you have said and more about people trying to 'save' when really they are either being exploited by the people they are trying to help (yes believe it or not that does happen) or not really listening to what is needed and burning themselves out in the process aswell as all the other things you mentioned. During my time working there I have had this comment from the Dalai Lama rattlling around in the back of mind as I observe. And I feel the key to it is we women in the West have the freedom of choice, have more equality and more education which could be a tipping point, certainly not the point, which women of the East don't have to the same extent if at all in parts. We have so much to learn from each other women from all over the world and I pray for the day our sisters in other parts of the world have what they need to be included in this comment by His Holiness so it can be changed to “The world will be saved by women.” Thank you again. All the best Lisa

  13. Thank you for all your comments, everyone.
    I just want to appreciate you all for jumping into the conversation, and thank you very much for your perspectives.

    Lisa, I think you are largely right. I too felt the Dalai Lama was pointing to the access, wealth and education for women in the West (at least those who are of a privileged class in the Western world), and that because of that there is a certain leverage that is possible. In some ways I definitely agree, and I think that can be part of the contribution made by western women . And at the same time, I really feel the statement itself does miss the mark in many respects as to the process that actually needs to occur across continents and also across genders… I hope to see the conversation continue to unfold in the future in increasingly deep and rich ways.

    Thanks again.
    Love,
    Vanessa

  14. Alex says:

    Entire western culture has a very vast impact over the world every developing country is adopting western culture, rather in most case you can say most of the countries that adopted western culture are on their way to development.

  15. Synthia says:

    What I felt from this statement was that North America is toxic and the USA is trying to control the world with the greed for oil and such. So in order for a revolution of some kind it would take a North American woman to nurture this side of the world back to its roots. It would be beautiful to see a female president. It may be possible. Or a mother Theresa for with the strength and voice of Hilary Clinton. Nothing is impossible.

  16. Michelle says:

    I agree that women all over the world have a role to play. I think what the Dalai Lama meant was that Western Women may have more access to resources that will help change the world. He did not mean to discredit the amazing work of these women you posted about or the many others around the world who make a difference every day! :-)

  17. Leo says:

    i believe the Dalai Lama was correct. he has seen how much women in the western world embrace higher values. look all around you in the United States and you see the western women working hard, raising their children, making the best of their lives and no most are not rich. they are the providers of the future always with an open hand. they adopt children from poor countries, are actively involved in charities, in fact care for the rest of the world in a manner that other cultures do not. the western woman is now defining how the rest of the world will develop. i say it is a good thing and choose to be very proud of this statement the wise and noble Dalai Lama made about my adopted country women. shame that others choose to degrade those who do the most. one must look to the detractors as having issues with their own ego. the western woman has no time for this.

  18. [...] where are you living? What are you doing? Are you looking outside yourself for the leader? Can we, women of the United States of America, collectively rise up the way the women of Africa did? Marianne Williamson says in her book, The [...]

  19. Anon says:

    What a stupid audience pandering statement, its like Al Gore going to a Tree Planting rally and stating "Tree Planters" will save the world. People regardless of race, religion and gender can help improve the world not save it.
    Anyone who states otherwise has an agenda.

  20. [...] As a modern day abolitionist, she has helped thousands of women and girls understand their rights and has given them a way to leave a brutal and dangerous existence. [...]

  21. [...] Shiva does an illuminating job at unveiling the connection between violence targeting women and policies which disregard the role women play in the world economy. Dr. Shiva reminds us [...]

  22. [...] the boundless strength of surrender. If, as has been implied by the Dalai Lama and other leaders, that women will save Western Civilization, it will not be through intellect, nor ambition, nor any overt [...]

  23. soli goodes says:

    Interesting. I agree that what is wanting to emerge the world over is for women to realise our worth and the natural power we have to influence those around us. When we each take responsibility for ourselves and become guided from within a massive global alignment with love and peace is possible.

    And western women are currently in a position of privileged that means we have the potential to make an even greater positive difference if we choose. The fact we currently have enough to eat means we have more time and energy than many people from less resourced parts of the world. Western women have more than enough of everything we want and need. As we realise it's not the accumulation of more or better stuff that feeds the soul, but of the honouring of our connection with all of life so western women have a great ability to share the great wealth that has been amassed. Not because western women are better in anyway than any other women but because we are all one.

  24. Mani says:

    yes and no, western women created the resources, it did not happen on its own. look at any country which is inhabited by western women and it somehow manages to succeed, no mystery is there, much work and effort is there as it goes to creating a society where a structure and fairness can exist to empower them to do good. in that respect i say western women are exceptional, no privilege is involved, just much hard work and stubbornness to create better society. and still they continue to elevate the world. let us be honest, the world depends on western countries for many things, it is that simple. those who say otherwise are truly living in prejudice. i choose instead to give respect.

  25. Lon says:

    I'm glad that the world gives so much credit to women now, however many men sacrificed over the centuries so that women could live in a society with laws and justice and access to necessities. It takes both men and women to create a better world.

  26. Adam says:

    "this statement misses the point"… did you decide the point the Dali Lama was trying to make? "Western" here was clearly supplementary in significance in his statement to "women" – he believes women are more naturally compassionate and naturally caring than men, a point against which I don't think many would disagree. His qualifier of "western" merely has to do with the power being in that position brings… yes, those in other parts of the world can and do create change and direction, but the west, over quite a long time now, has taken a leadership role in global politics, technology, and civil rights, and for those reasons, women in the west do and will have greater influence over the development of global culture for the predictable future. Your recognitions here are valid and very worthy of mention and praise, but completely not at all what he was talking about. I consider it strange that you instinctively took his comments to somehow be demeaning of the accomplishments of those outside the west, a very strange interpretation indeed.

  27. Isa says:

    I have been reading a lot of posts about this quote the Dalai Lama made but I think you and everyone else is taking the quote to a literal interpretation but not at the same time. I believe that when he says that, he means, the "A" one physical woman will save the world, not women in general. Otherwise the quote may have instead read “The world will be saved by the Western women.”

  28. cassandra says:

    the western world has very little "privilege" just many hard working people. wherever a westerner goes, building, improvements occur. why diminish the accomplishments with such prejudice? western world deserves respect for its achievements which are vast and very far reaching, more so than any other country yet with not billions in aid or free monies given, everything is earned. i commend such people who have the brilliance, fortitude and determination to make greatness from nothing. i live in a western country and will not ever leave, it is best place on earth. i am the one who is privileged. people are so thankless today.

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