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

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.

 

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/

 

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Editor: Maja Despot

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Stacy Welch Dec 4, 2015 4:33pm

I DECLARE ROAR!!

I declare ROAR against those who WAR! Join me in my ROAR and let's save the world from WAR and destruction!

Let's stand together and declare our SOVEREIGNTY and begin to put symbiotic systems into place to reclaim Mother EARTH and protect her future FERTILITY!

There is little difference between life as we know it now and how we played together on the playgrounds in grammar school other than the stakes are higher. We are gambling with the systems and their resources that sustain our very own lives! I will no longer sit idle playing the damsel in distress me waiting for the handsome Sir Lancelot to come save me while others battle around me destroying our planet!

Be Courageous! Be Sovereign! Be WHO YOU ARE and not who you have been conditioned to be! That is who we need to be! Let's be REAL!

Here's how we will do it.
We honor the Golden Rule: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself!"
We see us all as One: Individual, Family, Community, and Mother Earth
We are, Sovereign, at each level: Individual, Family, Community, and Mother Earth!

Our Mission:
To co-create and co-maintain balanced symbiotic relationships and systems that are mutually beneficial to all who participate.

Example: I need childcare. You need childcare. Together we live in close proximity. We find 4 other families needing childcare on varying days, Mon-Sat, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Each family performs the care for all of the children in the family network group 1 day each week from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Viola! Each family receives 5 days of childcare for the price of providing 1 day of childcare.

Yeah, but how:
Everyone participates in the well being of another person, including the children themselves. We use mathematical principles just like nature to create and maintain balance and harmony. The group is a mix of families with 24 children with varying ages. The older children help to care for the younger children. Both Dad and Mom manage the care for the 24 children. t is workable if we are creative. Notice there was no mention of monetary exchange. Each performed a service and received the same service in return; thereby, creating a symbiotic relationship in which both individual, family, and group unit at each level participates and benefits. This would be a sustainable model that is adaptable to change as children grow up and new families come into the mix.

Find me and let's meet at the roundtable if you have the courage to stand out on your own against the crowd! Earth as we know it will die one day with or without you participating. Maybe it will happen in this decade. Maybe it won’t. The question that remains is: Do you want to continue to die along with Mother Earth based on the current conditions? Shall we stop talking now and ACT?

Choose life and together we shall birth balanced, harmonious relational systems that will sustain life to infinity and beyond and reverse the affects of our unconscious, self-centered thoughts and actions to date!

You and me are the problem. Individually and together we are the enemy to stop. Let’s stop projecting the problem outside oneself onto others and OWN to it to collectively resolve. It is both you and I responsible, each individually, and you and I together creating our reality and the pain we see surrounding ourselves and around another! But we have to stop talking about it and ACT.

BTW – I am a western woman and I plan to save the world WITH your help whether you get on board the train now or after the chosen ones have stepped up to get the ball rolling. Oh and I have brown hair and brown eyes!

Pardon my manners. I have not introduced myself. I am Stacy Welch. I am a systems thinker. I am also loyal, committed, stubborn, passionate, willful, defiant, outspoken, and COURAGEOUS! And I am ready! Not only are you hearing me ROAR. You are seeing me ACT!

Alpha Male Oct 19, 2015 8:34pm

As I read most of the comments here. Are you realizing you are marginalizing men? While building women up you are tearing men down. If you give men the impression you think women are superior men of necessity will have to fight you because when people who believe themselves to be superior gain power they always commit a great crime against the ones they judge to be inferior.

Deep Think Oct 19, 2015 10:23am

As I read most of the comments here. Are you realizing you are marginalizing men? While building women up you are tearing men down. If you give men the impression you think women are superior men of necessity will have to fight you because when people who believe themselves to be superior gain power they always commit a great crime against the ones they judge to be inferior.

For example look what happened to the indigenous people of the America's when white people took control of the continent. Red people were ethnically cleanse from off the continent and black people were enslaved. therefor ladies, have the empathy you claim you have an exclusive on and consider how men reading your comments here are apt to feel.
As a man I feel threatened. Keep in mind ladies that without the help of your brothers western women would not have made the great gains you have made. And when you talk about compassion and how you women have more of it is not the Dalai Lama a man as was Martin Luther King, and Jesus Christ men of compassion.so how about giving men a little credit instead of making the male gender out to be evil.

In order to accomplish what you want to accomplish you are going to have to get more women into leadership positions.
however it is mostly males who are in position to promote you to leadership. There for understand it is not wise to ofend the ones you need to promote you. There are lots of males who realize that women have a lot to offer and stand ready to help you but all bets are off if you give the impression you think your gender is susperior. Stress women bring diversity not susperiority to the leadership table will in turn leads to greater productivity.

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