After meditating on our humanness one night, I was enveloped by my dreams. As I flew away, I glided through our vast universe and witnessed a world so beautiful that it was almost incomprehensible.
Far below, I spotted expansive oceans, high mountains, serpentine rivers, crystalline lakes, green savannas and undulated deserts, big metropolis and sometimes the reflection of something that seemed to be a tiny village shimmering in the sun in the middle of nowhere.
As I flew lower, my vision became acute, so did my hearing and smell. I sensed salty water, refreshing evergreens, and smoke somewhere; I saw birds, drones and planes passing by me, but more interesting were the echoes of things, animals and people. Of the three, I marveled at the sounds of humans: laughter, melodies, voices and cries. These were disturbing and I detected fear, desperation and hopelessness. As I wake up abruptly, I realized that what I heard were the ubiquitous cries of women and girls.
In my recurring dreams, I spanned through continents. In the Himalayan Mountains, I saw men taking young women through steep trails to unknown places away from their families; not too far, I saw infant girls discarded in roads and fields; in Africa I saw “damaged” girls abandoned in deserts and bushes. Startled, I moved further just to find more girls dying after circumcision and desperate widowed women whose breasts were still bleeding as they were “ironed” when they lost their husbands.
I was terrified and wanted to take refuge in the Americas the land where I was born, the place in the world where these things, I thought, never happen, but instead, I witnessed in terror that women were killed just the same, dismembered and tossed. Alarmed, I went to the wise men and asked, why is this terrible thing happening to women? Aren’t men supposed to be their guardians and keepers? Without hesitation, they said, “women suffer because they are unclean.”
With this revelation, I found my path and started my search in real time. I went, to the teachers, and asked, “Why are women so victimized? Why do women deserve this life?” one responded, “Discrimination of women is as ancient as the world and gender inequality has survived across generations for millennia.” “Sacred writings,” he continued, “have been used out of context or given twisted interpretations to perpetuate women’s maltreatment”1 and “patriarchal practices passed from fathers to sons continue the justification of women’s oppression” 2 said another. Probably that explains a legacy in today’s world where one in three women is victimized physically and/or sexually in her lifetime. This made me wonder if there was a time when women and men shared our global village in peace.
Thus, traveling in time through ancient recorded history, I found that from the beginning of time, yet often forgotten, women have also been instrumental as leaders and change agents in their own times and in their own right.
In spite of oppression and victimization heads of state such as the successful Egyptian Pharaoh Hatshepsut (1508–1458 BCE) excelled in economics, trade, the military and religion; In the Vedic period (1500-1200 BCE), Indian women shared a social status that equaled that of men’s; and women warriors as Zenobia Queen of Palmyra (3rd Century C.E.) not only conquered Egypt but also challenged Rome.
Women were also notable scientists, as the alchemist Mary the Jewess, also known as Miriam the Prophetess (4th Century CE) whose experiments with water distillation are still used today and the Spanish-Arab Lubna of Cordoba (d.984) who in addition of being a skilled mathematician also presided over the royal library of 5000 pieces and was herself an exquisite poet.
By scores of thousands, women throughout history and around the world have courageously followed their vision and left a lasting yet many times invisible legacy. Women continue doing so as our newest world leader President of Nepal Bidhya Devi Bhandar, International Monitory Fund’s CEO Christine Lagarde, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai and Facebook’s CEO Sheryl Sandberg to mention just a few.
In reality, there are millions of women leaders at every level of governments, corporations and communities. They are our modern Amazon warriors creating a legacy for future generations. They are ordinary women who found their voice and are making sure they are heard.
To all women, I encourage you to find your voice and help and support others to find theirs!
- Jimmy Carter (2014). A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power
- Deepak Chopra (2010). Muhammad: A Story of the Last Prophet
Luz Van Meek is a developmental-social psychologist whose areas of expertise comprise gender equality development, women empowerment, social justice, human rights and reproductive health. She is the founding President of the East Florida Chapter of the U.S. National Committee for UN Women where she currently holds the position of National Board Member. Dr. Van Meek has served as a congressional delegate to advocate for the ratification of CEDAW and Child Bride Prevention Act, for teen pregnancy prevention, parental education and maternal health as well as equal pay, equal access to suffrage and equal access for girls to education in hard sciences and participation in male dominated sports. She devoted years to research immigrant women’s mental health, acculturation, social networks and social support. In addition to women’s issues, she worked for children’s empowerment and policy for after school programming.
Editors Note: Look for Dr. Van Meek’s continuing column, Finding One’s Voice