Dianne Valentin: Mother May I?
Dianne ValentinPresident, Georgia WAND Board Member, National WAND October 15, 2013
At the end of September I, along with a number of my colleagues from Georgia WAND attended the 2013 WiLL/WAND Conference in Washington, D.C.; Women at the Table of Power. It of course was an amazing event and reminded me what caused me to commit my time and efforts to the organization in the first place.
As part of our National WAND organization and our Women Peace & Security component we were of the great good fortune to host women parliamentarians from Morocco, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Hearing from them was informative and instructive. It was also reminiscent of what women in this country have gone through in our struggles for justice and equality. Each story that they told of progress and setback… and progress could have been lifted out of a written article or oral history of and by women in the U.S. trying to break through barriers, whether in the fields of law enforcement, fire safety, public service, or private industry. It was reminiscent until their story got to the part where a warlord was negotiating with male leaders of a region to control an area for two hours, all he wanted was two hours, so he and his men could go into that area and chop off the heads of the women who make trouble. By trouble they mean the women who quietly but firmly demand at least a seat at the table of power, who demand an education for all of their children, who demand peace and safety where they live and work.
I honor those women who face these dangers knowing the barbaric and sometimes mercurial violence they face each day, each time they step foot out of their homes to set out on their independent, yet collective journeys for peace, freedom, and equality. I honor my women ancestors and yours who took the blows, the beatings, the rapes, the personal, individual losses to keep us moving toward civilization, peace, equality, and freedom.
I wrote the piece below back in 1999, (I did say that I was being reminiscent) and thought that it might still have a bit of relevance as I listened to our Parliamentarians speak at the conference. I hope you take something with you from it, the article and the book that prompted my writing it.
Mother May I?
It is a game that we all have probably played at some point in our childhood. It was a simple game, but so much fun. The game was based on the premise that Mother knew best and was in complete control of what we did and when we did it. She knew when we should take giant steps forward or when we should take baby steps back, how many times we should twirl with delight and make ourselves giddy or simply stay put. Maybe we need to take a closer look to see exactly how, in some developing countries, mothers are forced to give up the control of their children’s well being. Particular focus should be on countries where we know that the hand that rocks the cradle, does not rule the world.
When does the transition occur? At what point does a male child who willingly reads for his Mom because he knows that she cannot, but wants to help her, stop doing it because she is a woman and her illiteracy is a mark of her station in life?
In her New York Times article, Lower-Caste Women Turn Village Rule Upside Down, (see link below) Celia Dugger correctly states, “… changing deep-rooted social attitudes cannot be accomplished by legal fiat.” But in my humble opinion you have to start somewhere and it is a start.
If India had not adopted the constitutional amendment setting aside one third of one third of seats for lower-caste women, maybe Rani’s son would not have been allowed to feel and be so openly supportive of his mother’s efforts by reading for her. But the law now says that it is okay for his mother to be doing what she is doing. Now this particular son will have a mental note to draw from when he becomes a part of a society which says that women are incapable of handling this particular situation or that sort of matter is beyond a woman’s grasp or comprehension. This particular son will know that to be false and he will begin to have a different “social attitude” toward the women in his life, hopefully helping his wife raise strong well-rounded and literate daughters and sons.
It is already well established that women have to ultimately be responsible for their own survival. Agency is action, it is power, but it is also the means to that power or action. There is no doubt that literacy is one of the corner stones to building the foundation of self-empowerment. Would Mrs. Yadav’s husband have been so disrespectful of her in her position as pradhan if she were literate? There is always the possibility that he might not have been. He would have known about her very significant ideas to better her village and its occupants. It was beyond profound and moving when Mrs. Yadav said that it was remarkable for someone to listen to her views. Dugger, N. Y. Times 5/3/99
Sometimes the baby step can lead to the giant leap. Who would have thought that literacy could be so substantially linked to child mortality? Has that always been the case or is it only the case when illiteracy is in partnership with a low sense of self worth and/or a brutal and violent patriarchal society intent on deliberate mental and physical subjugation of women? It could be understood that an illiterate person may or may not seek out certain care for herself during pregnancy or for her child when it is born, regardless of whether that child is male or female. But to say that a whole culture of women would allow their female children to waste away while allowing their male children to thrive has to do with literacy is deep.
In Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen (see link below) brings it closer to the surface. The chapters read discuss how literacy leads to empowerment in these developing countries and that empowerment can lead to something as simple as the fair distribution of food and nutrition in a household and as significant as the fair distribution of healthcare for the children in the home, regardless of gender. When this occurs within the household, the male child will grow up seeing that his sister’s well-being is just as important as his. He will see that his mother has not allowed his belly to be filled while his sister’s was not. He will see that the survival of his sister is just as important to his mother as his own survival. When he becomes an adult with a wife and daughters, maybe he and their mother will assure that they are raised in a way that makes sure that they are aware of how significant they are.
As Sen says, “…women and men- must take responsibility for doing things or not doing them.” p 190 When mothers are forced to give over the well-being of their children to society or culture it becomes detrimental, physically and psychologically to both male and female children. Physically, when female children are allowed to die and are sometimes killed, to keep a male child alive and psychologically, when male children are allowed to grow up thinking that this is appropriate. There has to be, there must be a deep seeded knowledge that no one thrives when women suffer.
Always remember that whether you are male or female, 8 or 80, ‘Mother may I?’ will always be a good question to ask.Dianne Valentin serves as Board President of Georgia WAND. Dianne is a consultant to small businesses and nonprofit organizations, working in national, regional, and community nonprofit organizations on the grassroots and executive levels, providing strategic advice, technical assistance, program development, community outreach and community organizing. She also works with local, state, and federal governmental agencies on issues that affect local and regional communities. As a political scientist with training in international affairs and national defense, Dianne has used her expertise to advocate grassroots and progressive issues on Capitol Hill. In addition to her consultancy and community service endeavors, Dianne is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Black Heritage Museum & Cultural Center, Inc. located in North Carolina.