Talk given by Candace Brown: “We are empowered by our feminine nature and biology, and we honor our procreative power.” From the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations on March 14, 2017
Having lived around the country and traveled internationally, Candace Brown feels like a global citizen and is eager to serve her worldwide community. Closer to home, she mentors her peers through her high school’s anti-bullying initiative. Each week she volunteers at a nearby elementary school, and each month she serves her city with the local Food and Care Coalition. She releases by expanding her harp repertoire and by reading every page she can find.
In 1908, archaeologists in Austria discovered an incredible figure of a woman, carved between 24,000 and 22,000 B.C.E. The sculptor paid little attention to the woman’s hands, arms, feet, or face, but the life-giving and child-rearing parts of her body were painstakingly crafted and, in several places, even highlighted with red ochre. The ‘Venus of Willendorf,’ as the statue has come to be known, gives us some indication that, in prehistoric times, women were revered for their ability to create and nurture life. In a time when humankind was definitely not at the top of the food chain, those with the physiology necessary for continuing the human race were of vital importance. This same trend of revering a woman’s procreative power is seen anthropologically and historically over many time periods. Women’s ability to create life was once honored. Today much of that respect for a woman’s ability to have a child seems to have gone out of fashion, but I propose that we lead the charge in refueling the trend of respecting Woman’s feminine power. This will revitalize a cycle of creating, nurturing, and influencing life that enables women to change the world.
When I was little, there was one thing that really confused me. How on earth could an ultrasound technician know if an unborn baby was a boy or a girl? I couldn’t think of how they did it, so I asked my mom. She explained to me, in kindergarten terms, that boys and girls are born with complementary reproductive organs. I later learned that a person’s physiological structures are what makes them a member of the male or female sex. The key characteristic of the female sex is the presence of eggs and womb, with their potential to conceive, create, and carry life. Not only is a woman’s anatomy unique, but so is her brain, which is prenatally soaked in estrogen, priming it to form connections to the child her body is capable of creating. These same hormones incline her towards compassion and empathy, whether or not she ever gives birth. When we respect women for their biology, instead of shaming them for it, we honor their contributions of life and love to humanity.
The word ‘mother’ is not just a title for a female parent; it is also a verb meaning to bring up children with care and affection. There have been many women in my life who have nurtured me though they have never given birth.
One of these women was my schoolteacher, Mrs. Heldenbrand. She nurtured my cognitive development by sharing her favorite books with me and fostered my budding confidence by encouraging me to enter our school’s science fair. She devoted time, energy, and care to helping me grow up. I’ve always considered her one of my motherly mentors.
As women interact with others, they find that they have a unique power to influence. This feminine characteristic has multiple sources, as well as multiple effects. First, because women make life, they influence it: they literally mold life. Second, from a psychological standpoint, children become attached to and model the behavior of those with whom they spend the most time. In many places around the world, this tends to be women—mothers, aunts, sisters, grandmothers, teachers, and caregivers—who provide the model for children to follow. This is the basis for the current push for educating girls in traditional cultures around the world. Researchers, investors, and educators firmly believe what an African proverb has expressed—that if we have educated girls, we will have educated nations. I believe that we could just as easily say that if we have compassionate girls, we will have compassionate nations. Or if we have solution-oriented girls, we will have solution-oriented nations. A critical way to lift nations is to legitimize women’s power to influence, which includes acknowledging and elevating the role of mothers in shaping their children.
Another effect of women’s influence is apparent in the connections they make with other people, especially other women. Empathy, the ability for one human to understand and share another’s feelings, is common among women because of their deep connections with life. Some see empathy as a resource, one particularly efficient in driving social change. Women have used this resource in seeking positive, sustainable solutions to horrific crises throughout the world, especially those that endanger their fellow sisters.
One example of a movement of women seeking this kind of change is found in Sub-Saharan Africa’s Mothers2Mothers program. Their purpose is to prevent the mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDs. Their tool of choice is the connection between women, specifically mothers. Their program is simple: When a pregnant woman within the group’s reach finds out that she has tested positive for the HIV virus, she is offered the chance to be mentored by another mother who has also tested positive for HIV, but has had HIV-negative children. The mothers encourage each other to stay healthy and together they learn how to keep their babies safe from infection. Because of the organization’s efforts, they have virtually eradicated mother-to-child HIV transmission within their program’s sphere of influence. And not only does their group help create healthy babies, but the mothers also destigmatize HIV/AIDs in their community as they go about their work. Their founder has said, “Mothers are a community’s greatest resource,” and the incredible success of their mother mentor program is irrefutable evidence of this.
Women, and the communities they have a fundamental role in building, are one of the world’s greatest resources, and the Mothers2Mothers foundation is only one example of the effect they are having on the world. In Cambodia, the Somaly Mam Foundation is freeing sex slave workers, the majority of whom are girls and young women, and helping them recover with compassion and care. In Afghanistan, the Afghan Institute of Learning is rebuilding broken communities by training teachers, especially women, to become interactive educators focused on promoting critical thinking skills and independence. In Somaliland, the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital is providing much-needed health care for mothers and children and is also pushing for the end of the brutal tradition of female genital mutilation. The international Days for Girls organization is supplying women with feminine hygiene supplies and education, empowering them to continue their schooling even while menstruating. The Fistula Foundation is treating women who have suffered through days of unattended labor, resulting in incontinence, by performing obstetric fistula surgeries. These groups that I have listed are not even a hundredth of similar movements, and they do not include all of the millions of women who are personally and creatively using their connections and compassion to find solutions to problems that are holding their communities back. These women have achieved unbelievable success so far, but I believe that women have the potential to do even more as we continue to encourage them to use their wisdom and love for life as their primary motivator.
Life begins with Woman. Her biology creates the possibility of life. Her care nurtures life. Her presence influences life. Her empathy improves life. It is a continuous cycle that encompasses all females and profoundly impacts the world. When we limit women in any part of this cycle, we deny our communities access to women’s vast store of valuable contributions. But when we invest in women and their feminine qualities, we facilitate them in their progression from life-giver to life-enhancer and join a global movement that is creating a better tomorrow.