• Monday, October 20, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    IWD: Women’s Empowerment in Traditional Communities

    By Melina Lito*

    “I am often caught between what my traditional community expects of me as a woman, and what I want to achieve in a society with a plethora of opportunities.”

    Bolivian Quechua leader in meeting on women's access to land. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

    Women wearing the traditional Hijab attend the Commission on the Status of Women conference at U.N. headquarters. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

    When I think about what we, as a global community, can do to inspire or educate young girls in a positive way, I think the hardest thing to teach is how to reconcile between what is expected from women in traditional communities and what modern day society expects. As an ethnic woman who maintains very strong tries to my cultural community and who advocates constantly the need for our cultural traditions to transcend generations as a way of maintaining our cultural identity, I am often caught between what my traditional community expects of me as a woman, and what I want to achieve in a society with a plethora of opportunities.

    As someone who also works on increasing women’s participation in social and political life, I find myself advocating for women’s participation and women’s status in the same traditional communities that I come from. Time and time again, I am faced with the same questions:

    How do I maintain my cultural identity while at the same time participating in social and political life? How do I reconcile two notions that can, at times, be very contradictory?

    This kind of identity reconciliation is a constant battle and struggle – one that is not often covered in the pages of popular media. But it is one that I believe many young, ethnic and immigrant women face. While there is no easy answer, we can begin with teaching by example. Positive role models and reinforcing messages of empowerment and agency can help guide any future women’s activist and leader. She must understand that she has the power to shape her own identity and write her own life path. Finally, we must include men and boys in educating our families and larger communities.

    *Melina Lito is the Women, Peace & Security programme director at Global Action to Prevent War.

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