#IWD2019

International Women's Day - Why are You Here Instead of Her? - Revisited

Two years ago, on International Women’s Day, I reflected on a question that was posed to me live on Sierra Leone National Television. "Why do we need another white man telling us about the work that is going on in our own country? If this is another woman's school, why isn't she on the television? Why are you here instead of her?" I want to revisit that story.

Some 8 years ago now, that journey to Sierra Leone also yielded other unintended impacts. Because I had been visible in the community, the landlord at the time, who had taken over the original building Esther’s school resided in, threatened to increase rent rates. and began calling me personally demanding an absurd price to buy the building outright - one of many reasons we moved the school.

International Women’s Day Logo

International Women’s Day Logo

When I was studying International Development, my anthropology professor at the University of Toronto would talk about the power dynamic inherent in development. Simply by being present in the community, there are impacts that are often unanticipated. Because of my origin in the West, even during my first visit to Sierra Leone as an undergraduate student, and as a man, I was ascribed authority although in the midst of people who were experts in their own communities. I realized shortly after my arrival that the way many organizations think of development was coloured by a sense of “white saviour” thinking.

This photo of Esther and I that I use often is actually IN the greenroom before that very interview

This photo of Esther and I that I use often is actually IN the greenroom before that very interview

I am grateful that interviewer reminded me of the dynamic I was creating - and to be mindful of. Going on air was Esther’s idea, because she believed doing so provided credibility for Women in Action by demonstrating the school’s international connections. However, I should have brought her on air with me - a missed opportunity to empower someone else and create space for equity while reminding audiences that a local woman is champion and entrepreneur of this project.

Remaining as Esther’s echo, rather than Esther’s voice, is important to us and I was reminded of that conviction by the interviewer. This is why, wherever possible, I try to ensure the Women in Action Development Project can also share a first person voice. So, on that note, new videos! (below). This video shows the catering classes preparing breakfast for Esther and the staff as a review of things they’ve learned. All this is happening because of you. If not for your recent donations, the school would not presently be open. Furthermore, with some of the funds left over from our most recent donations, Esther said that we were able to help cover some outstanding teacher salary payments. Thank you ALL so much again for your donations.

Also be sure to check out the International Women’s Day movement online at https://www.internationalwomensday.com/. Quoted from the website, International Women’s Day is “a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women (Like Esther!) The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. International Women's Day (IWD) has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. Prior to this the Socialist Party of America, United Kingdom's Suffragists and Suffragettes, and further groups campaigned for women's equality.” There are events going on around the world today. Check and see if one is near you.

Once again, my sincerest gratitude to all of you! If you are able to make a contribution in light of International Women’s Day today, it would be greatly appreciated!

-Sincerely,

-Matthew

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Esther sits down to a breakfast prepared by the catering classes as an example of their learning for the staff.