Each news cycle exposes the violence, discrimination, and disrespect against women and girls in our society. The fact that women are so devalued amazes me given the amount of responsibility we carry in this same society. Take any micro-universe where a woman participates and run an experiment. Do a baseline assessment of the functioning and productivity in that micro-universe. Then, remove the woman from the equation and measure the resulting functioning and productivity over different time points. My hypothesis would be that upon removing her, progress will take a turn for the worse. The reason for this outcome is imbalance. Our natural systems were created as balanced and complementary and this is why equality is so important. Women specialize in bringing and holding together the components of systems and will take what is given to us and leverage it to get the maximum output from it. It is a testament to the strength of women that we have been able to do this within the face of extreme inequity. This is not sustainable and inequality is having its toll on humanity causing it to buckle under its weight.
Where we see this clearly is in our health metrics. Even though women and men are living longer, quality of life is suffering. If we look at some recent statistics from 2015 from the UN(https://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/worldswomen.html):
- Girls are less likely to exercise than boys
- Maternal conditions and HIV/AIDS is the leading causes of death for young women
- Obesity is more prevalent among women than men
- Even though maternal mortality has improved globally, it remains high in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Breast and cervical cancer are the most common cancers affecting women
- Women are more likely to be affected by dementia
Also, the mental health crisis is real and resulting in increases in diagnoses of mental disorders and suicide across age and gender with some of the more significant increases among women. In this tide of empowerment, feminism, and raising our voices, there needs to be more discussion on health and self-care.
Unfortunately, self-care often holds negative connotations with women and conflated with selfishness or is what one does after attending to everything and everyone else. Even though there have been a lot of visible support around this notion of taking care of self, it does not translate in actual practice for many women who have internal guilt about giving too much attention to their needs.
Over the last year as part of a women’s program for which I was involved, I would ask women around me in groups or individually what they wanted. It is a simple question on the surface, but I found that we don’t think about this question often as women. We tend to be in response mode most of the time asking ourselves what does another want. The first step to self-care is asking and answering the question—What do you want? Notice the question is not what do you need. That is intentional. At the heart of being a human being is the gift of desire, of dreaming, of wanting. Asking that question of yourself helps bring you back to the recognition that you are human and should be valued as such. Often the responsibilities of our lives position us as an inhuman means to someone else’s end. Allowing ourselves to want snaps us back to the basic premise that we are human.
To understand your value as human means that the right to health and other key rights are yours to demand and you can hold those in authority accountable to those rights. Holding your value dear changes your thoughts, your decisions, and your actions. It changes what is acceptable and it shapes the boundaries of your life.
If women are to rise above the inequalities they face day in and day out, we must incorporate self-care as essential to our lives and place it on a level as essential as caring for our children, building our career, taking care of our parents, or any other critical area. Self-care runs the gamut and is different for each person. Part of it is voicing concerns, opinions, needs, desires, and more in every context. It means asking for help. It means taking the time for what you want to do. It means not being afraid to be you.