Last week I was honoured to co-host a women’s wellness retreat here at Coco Loco, and what an amazing 7 days it was. As we sat on the beach watching the sunset on the last day, the words ‘inspired’ and ‘grateful’ percolated through my mind. Maybe I was carried away by the perfection of the moment, maybe it was the after effects of a week of yoga and meditation causing me to be a little ‘touchy feely’, but then again maybe my feelings were genuine.
I was inspired by how women can come together as strangers but within hours be chatting, laughing, crying, and connecting in an authentic way. I was moved by each of these women’s stories …. Such different journeys and experiences, different personalities and ages, but all strong and resilient women in their own way. I was encouraged by their willingness to share, participate and engage in our discussions. In turn, I was inspired to make changes in my own life, to create more time for self-care and personal development.
I was grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with my friends in co-hosting the retreat and the ability to learn from them. I was grateful for the opportunity to share my passion and knowledge on the importance of nutrition in health and disease. I was grateful for this time and place … to not be troubled by thoughts of the past or fret about the future … but just to live in the moment. To watch the colours in the sky, to listen to the ebb and flow of the ocean waves, to feel the warm breeze against my skin. To just be ….
But when I sat down at my computer to blog about this experience I was not in such a zen state. I had woken up to the news of the American election. After watching the headlines, I turned off the TV. After a few minutes of scrolling through my social media feed, I logged out. I felt dejected …. What had the World come to?!
One thing that I did read that morning was a part of Hillary Clinton’s concession speech where she said, “And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.” “Too right” I thought.
Then again, I have always thought believed this to be true. But why would a little girl growing up in the Welsh hills in the 1980’s “never doubt” that she could do or be anything she desired? Maybe it’s just a sign of the naivety of country folk! It certainly wasn’t a progressive community (although I didn’t want for strong female role models). I was always a bit of a girly girl, so perhaps I never butted heads with the established norms.
Slowly the reason became clear to me. My childhood mirrored the 11 years when Margaret Thatcher was the British Prime Minister and Queen Elizabeth was (and still is) the head of the British Monarchy. From a young age, I knew that these two women were the most powerful people in the country (and by default my world). I was aware that they were our leaders.
As I grew older, I may have questioned these women’s values and I may not have agreed with their views, but their successes and achievements meant that I never contemplated the glass ceiling. I knew that I might face challenges on account of my gender but I was also certain that anything was possible.
Ironically, neither the Queen nor Margaret Thatcher was a feminist icon. Gender equality is not a part of their legacy. I can’t even say that I would hold them up as role models for my daughter. But they can be held up as examples of strong women at the helm. Most importantly, they are examples of powerful individuals who refused to be defined by their gender.
So when the inevitable question came last Wednesday and Coco asked “Why can’t girls be leaders?” I told her all about my magical homeland and the Iron Lady and I told her that today, in 2016, another courageous woman has stepped up to navigate the mess that is Brexit. She responded with “Cool, does she get to live in a castle with real dragons?” I guess this might describe the Houses of Parliament on particularly rowdy days!
Later, when Hillary Clinton’s image flashed up on the TV screen, Coco muttered, “If she wants to be leader, and she’s the best leader, she should just say “I’m the leader””. My explanation of the need for a democratic process was met with a shrug and an incredulous look on her face and she repeated, “She should just stand up and say, “I’m the leader””.
Of course, real-world politics is more complicated than (pre-)school yard dynamics. But if this feisty 5 year old is anything to go by, Hillary Clinton doesn’t have to worry about little girls doubting. They are smart, fierce and determined.
Following your dreams is not only the realm of little girls but is a life-long pursuit. At our retreat last week I was struck by how every single woman in attendance was striving to be better. This goal was not motivated by a feeling of inadequacy but rather by a desire to be a positive influence in the world. Participating in this retreat taught me the importance of women coming together. Creating time and space to step back and ‘retreat’ provides an opportunity to focus on nourishing and nurturing oneself, and to reflect on ones priorities. At these gatherings women can truly connect, share ideas, provide support and camaraderie. These simple actions empower women to go back to their homes and work towards creating change. But you do not need to attend a retreat in an exotic location, it may mean meeting friends for coffee, joining a group for women entrepreneurs, or even a virtual society.
It is over 25 years since Margaret Thatcher left office and we have yet to achieve true parity in education, health, economics and politics. Yes, progress is slow and current political events may even lead us to question if we’ve regressed rather than progressed. But we need to keep pressing forward. We need to keep coming together and empowering each other. We need to be heard and be seen….in schools, in hospitals, in courtrooms, in theatres, in boardrooms, on the playing fields, in the media. These may sound like platitudes but we must be beacons for the little girls (and boys) that are following, so that no one needs to tell them to never doubt that they are deserving; because they should have no reason to question that they will be judged on anything but their character, behaviour and performance.