Today is international women’s day and what better way to mark it, than to salute all of the amazing women who are out seeing the World? Today is a day to celebrate women, but for me it is a day to be thankful. Being a woman in my 30th year, I can only be thankful that I was born when I was born and where I was born and to the parents I was born to. This is pure luck. I am forever grateful that at the age of 16 I was given the opportunity to travel to Africa to volunteer in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. This was an opportunity I had because I had been raised to be strong and independent and presented with chances that I chose to take.
In Kigali, I was greeted with a country that was being rebuilt on the backs of its women. It was 2003 and 9 years after the genocide in which an estimated 500,000 women were raped and approximately 800,000 men, women and children were murdered in country wide mass killings over just 3 months. Strangely, the Rwanda I visited what not a country in mourning. In 2003 thousands of men were still held in overcrowded prisons waiting to be trialed for their crimes. This left the women of Rwanda with no choice but to rebuild the country. There were two main reasons for this. First of all most of those killed in the genocide were men. Secondly many male perpetrators fled to neighbouring countries and were not to be found. This meant that 70%of Rwanda’s post-genocide population was female. Women had to ensure their families survival. Mothers took in orphaned children and organized support groups for widows, they moved from cleaning buildings to reconstructing them. They farmed and started businesses. Throughout the country, they created stability in the aftermath of unspeakable violence. Women became politically charged and today Rwanda has the only government in the world dominated by women, with 64% female representation. I remember feeling empowered as an impressionable teenager but saddened that even with all of this domestic and gender based violence still existed for these brave women.
In 2012 while backpacking down the coast of Croatia I stayed with a woman named Mladinka who ran her own guest house. One day she offered me a lift to a local beach and told me the story that during the Yugoslav war in the early 1990’s she had just given birth to her 3rd child. Her husband was to be conscripted into the army, which would leave her to raise 3 small children in very uncertain times and would have meant almost certain death for her husband. The woman, from her hospital bed researched local laws and discovered that divorcing her husband and giving him custody of their children would save him from going to war and that she did. The couple have been living side by side unmarried for 20 years.
In Cuba I stayed with Anita, a woman who seemed infamous in her local area and I would only have to say her name and I would be directed safely to her home. This woman spent every morning at the local bus station to find guests for her beautiful home.
In India I took a cooking class given by an amazing woman named Vandana, who single-handedly supported her family by giving home-based cookery classes and extended her skills by learning the art of henna tattoo. I was even more astounded that she started her business without a word of English. She was self-taught by asking her students the words for the food she was cooking and to my mind was pretty fluent in the end.
I personally have not come near the bravery of these women I have met from around the World, but I feel honoured and privileged to have been in a position to meet them. I am delighted that I can travel freely in most parts of the World without fear or needing to be accompanied. I love it when I meet strong independent women on the road who share my passions. I am so grateful, that I have been raised in an environment where gender knows no bounds. I have never felt any disadvantage as a result of being a woman. Generally when I talk about my travels to over 30 different countries, I decline to say that I am “lucky”. Usually I feel that it is more a factor of hard work that allows me to see the world, but today I feel lucky. I want to salute all of the women of the World who are fighting against adversity and to all of the women who are travelling to meet them. I hope your journey, where ever it may lead is a happy and successful one.
Happy International Women’s Day!