She wrote that I inspired her. That she wanted to be like me when she grew up. She wrote how she had not seen many young women doing what I do. She added that I inspired her to read more and ask questions. I thought to myself what was so special in what I was doing? At the time and up till now, I host a political/current affairs radio show. Five days a week I talk polictics, social issues, education, economy, etc. I interview policy makers, experts, analysts, politicans. I’m one of the few young women on radio in Lagos who do this. I still carry her note around in my wallet and pull it out to read once in a while. It reminds me that out there, somewhere, a young girl is inspired by me. As we celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, we need to remember as women forging our paths through various careers and sectors, there is a young girl somewhere who is looking at us.
I could quote the statistics of the global gender parity debate, how many women die at the hands of intimate partners, how many young girls are still forced into child marriage around the world, how many girls and women are still victims of honor killings every year. But for many of us, those statistics and stories seem far from us. What is close to us is – the young girl next door, the young intern in your office, the daughter, the niece, even the sister – who looks up to us to show them the way.
The theme of this year’s celebration is Press for Progress, which focuses on motivating and uniting friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive. The ability for us to make progress as women and for women, will also depend on how we bring the next generation of young women along with us on the journey. In her best-selling book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg wrote “we stand on the shoulders of the women who came before us, women who had to fight for the rights that we now take for granted.” Around the world, the fight is still on for some rights that women elsewhere enjoy. But beyond that, we must all recognize that any progress made and that will be made is done on the shoulders of those who came before. So who is standing on YOUR shoulders? Who have you extended a hand to?
In conversations with many female friends recently, I’ve realized that there is a gap in our women chain. There are many older women, that we adjudged to have made it, to have succeeded in their careers, and in balancing work and family, but where are those of us still working out the balance, those of us still working on succeeding? We must also share our stories. We must also share our struggles and yes, our failures. We are also part of the story.
On the way to host an event recently, I told the young female who followed me that I still get butterflies in my stomach before I hit the stage. I still feel nervous as I take the microphone and walk out on the stage. She couldn’t believe it. She said that she never would have believed that I still feel that way. In that conversation I realized that I had to make myself more open to her and other young women in my field to realize that while I am a work in progress, they can learn from the path I have already taken. I am the one she sees everyday, the one she has access to and I have to do better in helping her reach her goals. It is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. It is a call to action to look around and see who needs my shoulder to stand on.
I have a daughter now and more than ever I feel the responsibility of living a full life as a woman to inspire her to be all she wants and can be. She wears my heels and wigs at times, will pick up her bag and say she is going to the office. My husband once recorded her listening to me on radio, and she was so excited saying, “I can hear mommy. That’s mommy.” Thinking about this made me realize while she may come to hold Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Christine Amanpour as role models, I would have been her first role model. I would have been the first shoulder she stands on.
So, as we continue to press for women everywhere to be afforded their full rights as people, we must continue to press on with bringing up and inspiring the next generation of girls. There is a young girl watching you, thinking about following in your footsteps, being inspired by you. Are your arms open to her? Are your shoulders ready to hold her up?