Thursday, 11 October 2012

Let's Do a Re-Think about Power

This photo of a girl in an Afghani refugee camp was taken twenty eight years ago. Some time ago I was interested to read the photographer's account of trying to find the girl twenty or so years later. He met a few women who might have been this girl but if I remember rightly he never was able to be sure whether he found her or not. What I do remember is that the women he found who might have been her were old looking beyond their years and told stories of untold hardship: of marrying as children, the deaths of their own children, of servitude, abuse and zero opportunity, not to mention the horrors of famine and war.
Girls in this world are still enormously vulnerable and while we have things like Female Genital Mutilation, child marriage, honour killings, child prostitution and child trafficking we really need every day to be the international day of the girl.
The reason why women and girls are so badly treated is mostly, I think, due to the fact that they seem to have less power than men. Girls and women are less likely to have economic power through political or business endeavours, less likely to have power through positions where leadership is conspicuous and power is enforced from a position of superiority.

We need to rethink what power is, to view it differently, if we are ever to place real value on girls. As the gender who have babies and are biologically determined to feed that baby regularly over a period of many months or years, in my opinion, if a woman is to follow the biological and instinctive imperative to be physically present for a child for a long period of time, she is at an automatic disadvantage in the business/political world. In extension of that idea, then she is bound to become less powerful in the traditional sense but what if we view power in a different way?

A large part (50%) of the potential intelligence of a child is realised or unrealised in the womb when stress hormones produced in a mother and transferred to the baby can limit brain development in utero (conversely, the baby of a relaxed mother will experience less stress and better brain development) What kind of power is that, to potentially make a child more intelligent? And what better reason to treat women well.
The baby who is breastfed and continuously, reliably  nurtured in it's early life has limitless health benefits both physical and psychological and the child is generally better prepared for a productive life. That factor also means women have enormous power over the well being and success of future generations and all of that power is exercised in the very brief initial years of motherhood but the ability of women to influence their society continues throughout the lives of both the woman and the child.
Girls who are valued, supported and educated don't only confer biological benefits on their own offspring but tend to experience financial benefit and to put that benefit to use for the good of their families and communities, improving health and education from the ground up, producing stronger relationships, and enabling those around them to better find and attain their potential. 

The challenge for all of us, especially in countries where opportunity and privilege are more abundant and where laws and constitutions attempt to achieve equality for all, is to figure out how we can advance the cause of the girl.

Personal transformation can and does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one. Marianne Williamson


  1. Someone I was reading recently made the same point, that women get badly treated because they aren't powerful enough. And they aren't powerful enough because so often they're tied to the home and childcare. The only solution seems to be men and women sharing domestic and worldly responsibilities equally, but men are still very resistant to that.

    And yes, women have a huge influence over the way children grow up and the realisation of their potential, a form of power men scarcely recognise. Pregnant women are subject to all sorts of unnecessary stresses, with all the consequences you mention for the unborn child.

  2. to be honest, nick i think there are lots of women who quite like to be tied to the home for at least the proportion of time that children are small but that comes at a cost of increased dependence/ reduced power/ increased vulnerability.
    not to mention that by the time they are ready to participate in the economic side of society they have lost confidence or their skills are outdated or they are just plain unrecognised

  3. And one of the sadnesses for me is that in many cultures girls don't get to be girls for anything like long enough. They are income earners, brides and/or mothers far too young.
    So...I would be very interested in initiatives which allowed girls to be just that, rather than being forced into adulthood at a very early age.

  4. When a fourteen year old Pakistani girl can be stalked and shot because she wants to go to school, it doesn't sound too hopeful in that part of the world. It's very, very good to NOT live in that part of the world.

  5. Oddly enough it is not the countries that openly abuse women i find the most loathsome but countries like the developed ones that say equality but subliminally practice inequality towards females. At least in the first you now where to start, in the second you have to kno where the lie ends and the truth begins.


  6. A very incisive and powerful blog of ideas and attitudes.

    Somebody wrote/said power corrupts and corrupts absolutely.

  7. EC,
    i think that Plan International has designed and launched a program specifically for girls :)

    what can i do but agree with you? that girl is a remarkable young woman.

    walking man,
    i get where you are coming from: total but honest subjugation probably has some benefits over the kind that is less visible and well protected.

    thank you! power is possibly the ugliest of all addictions

  8. The guyu who took that iconic photograph in Afghanistan - Steve Mccurry - has a lovely photo blog here
    Well worth visiting to see his latest themed offereings from around the world.
    (By the way - I came here to you via Nick in Belfast.) I'm at


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