It was April, and the day was much nicer than I would have anticipated. I had already been at work for three hours when the calls started coming in. As a general rule, I do not answer my phone when I am at work. This was a special case though. For a good hour, my phone kept ringing from different numbers, and some kept calling back. So I decided to pick one of the calls and the first thing I heard from the other end was “I can help you help me”. Curiously I wondered – “help with what”? It turns out this was the first of what would be a two year attack on me, my friends and my work by someone who will forever remain unmentioned. Someone had placed an ad online with my number and a photoshopped photo of me. It was then that I finally put all my “home” training to the test. Here, I had my first encounter of cyber bullying, and it was a lesson that I would never forget. It was not a surprise that when it was finally found out who was behind this, it turned out to be a fellow woman. I could have pressed charges, I could have put them on public display, but the counsel of my mother and sister-friends advised me to stay silent.
For many months I wondered why a woman would have done this to me, and to date, I have not the answer. What I did discover through this experience was that in our fight for “gender equality”, we women could not afford to be at loggerheads with each other. With more resolve then before, I recommitted myself to supporting my fellow women.
Madeleine Albright stated once, “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I believe this, and work hard to avoid that special place in hell. Its bad enough to be in hell, but one can assume that any special place in hell is just worse than regular hell.
Thus, everyday, I have a reminder on my phone to “support women around you”. It is a strange reminder, and my friends who see that reminder always wonder about that- but for me it is necessary. It is not because I am so scared of this “special place in hell”- but it is because I realize that if women supported each other every day, this continuous struggle for gender equality and women’s empowerment would be a much easier fight.
Nowadays we have seen the campaigns that urge men to join in the campaign for gender equality- which is great. But how do we plan to convince men to fight for our rights when we don’t seem to want the rights in the first place? How can we ask them to support us when we don’t support each other? Yes, my statement above is a blatant generalization because there are women who DO support each other. Women who go above and beyond to support their fellow women-come rain or sunshine. How do I know? Because I’ve met them. Because in the last three years, I have encountered amazing women who have built their work around excellence and the pursuit of paying it forward to other women. These women are now friends, mentors, sisters and colleagues.
You see, if you were like me three or four years ago, then you might be quiet jaded. You might be among the cohort of women who proclaim to have more “male friends than female friends” because you have been been burned at the altar of female friendship. I can identify. There was a point after the cyberbullying began that I wanted to hide under a shell and never speak to another woman ever again. But I came out of it stronger and encouraged because I met women who poured love and support into my life. So allow me to introduce you to some of the women I have encountered in my journey, in hopes that you too will be inspired. Join me then in the next couple of months as I pay homage to women all over Africa who have inspired me to become not only a better leader, but a better woman. Welcome to my “Championing Women Series”.