by Vyara Stoycheva, EMBA 2019
As I write this on the eve of International Women’s Day, I ask myself that one question. What gives women power? Not power over others, but power to decide for themselves and make life choices of their own, on their own?
At a recent networking event, the guest speaker (an entrepreneur), shared she only started feeling successful when she had two things: a tribe of other women to support her, and a certain level of economic capital behind her.
I think back on the generations of women in my own family.
One of my great grandmothers was married off at sixteen. Despite all her father’s lands and wealth, she never went to school – it was just not “the done thing” at the time. She had the capital, yet she lacked the knowledge to benefit from it.
Times changed, there was turbulence and all lands were lost to a new regime.
Education became more widely available and despite loss of material wealth, my grandmother signed up to study Mathematics at University. She could only complete a year of studies before having to leave – married women in education were not fondly looked upon in the 1940s.
But her fiercely independent spirit shone through in different ways – she chose whom to marry (did’t even think of asking for permission), had a job and a career. She was also an avid football fan and a mean poker player. She could knit crochet and was the best cook within miles – some level of tradition had survived after all…
Whenever I asked what gave her courage to stand up for herself and make her own decisions, she always came back on one thing. She went to University – even for a year. There was no mention of the long lost lands. It didn’t matter. She had the means to regain her own power – through knowledge.
My mother is a retired teacher. I still remember her returning home with huge bouquets of flowers on the last day of each school year. Their combined circumference was far bigger than that of a grown woman’s outstretched hands. A significant number ended up being given away to passers by. All her colleagues received more flowers they could bring back home.
Education had become the “done thing”.
I can’t knit even if my life depended on it, and cooking for my family is a rare treat. Yet there was never any doubt in my mind about my own path: every significant leap forward in my life and my professional development has come about because of education. True – I had to work hard, and yet – every choice to re-enter the world of learning has broadened my access to my own tribe (of women AND men – wonderfully talented and supportive), and has opened my horizons beyond anything I could have imagined.
But it has not always been the case for everyone. And still isn’t for many young girls and women.
As I write this on the eve of International Women’s Day, I cannot help feeling proud of the progress women have made. It has been slow and silent, there is still a lot of work to be done, and yet – look at how far we have come!
So, don’t give women riches. Give them access to Education. This is #WhatGivesWomenPower.