by Katharine Daniels, Executive Editor
In preparation for this year’s centenary celebration, one that early reports indicate will be the largest International Women’s Day the world has ever seen, I thought a lot about my role in the movement. In planning The WIP's commemorative event, I wanted to include the facts and statistics that need to be shared about the status of women, but I also hoped to deliver a solution for balancing and healing a world that has become so terribly out of whack.
On Saturday we hosted our annual International Women’s Day event at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Having already read the two books by our keynote speaker Anne Firth Murray – the first an insightful guide for leading positive change based on her experiences as the founder of The Global Fund for Women and the second, a masterpiece that focuses on the social conditions of the world’s women derived from the many thousands of grant applications she received during her tenure as Founding President of The Global Fund – I was already familiar with her mantra: “What we do in our work is important, but the way we do our work is transformative.”
While this mantra has many implications for the way we try to run The WIP, I had not yet understood until Saturday that this mantra also has implications for my own transformative power as an individual. While Firth Murray did not neglect in her presentation to highlight the grim realities facing women around the world today – widespread violence against women, an ubiquitous wage gap that continues to persist, and gender discrimination so profound that in some parts of the world a baby girl’s fight to even exist begins in utero – she also offered a clear path for people like me, who find ourselves “casting about” for a meaningful solution.
To my surprise what she offered was “love.”
Despite the bookshelves of spiritual literature that I’ve ingested over the course of my lifetime, consciously or unconsciously I always separated the spiritual from the professional. While I never really excelled in the spiritual realm, what I discovered at our event is they are inextricably linked and profoundly connected.As The WIP grows so does a vast amount of daunting information about the challenges women still face – millions enslaved in sex trafficking operations and obscenely high maternal mortality rates that are completely avoidable, just as two examples. At the same time, as The WIP has grown these past four years, so have I. I am a busy editor, a tired mother, a sometimes inattentive wife. What can I really do to change the situation?
Luckily Anne Firth Murray noticed there were women and men like me who feel weighed down by the enormity of the world’s problems and unsure of how to make a difference. She began to wonder why scholars and academics were exclusively focusing on the pervasive violence against women. Why, she wondered, are we not talking about love?
In an attempt to look to the opposite side of violence against women, Firth Murray now teaches “Love As a Force for Social Justice” in addition to her course on Women’s Health and Human Rights. It is a course that attempts to answer the questions, What can we do? How can we make a difference?
According to Firth Murray, there are two sides of love in the transformative context. The first is “loving kindness” or promoting happiness in the world. The other is “compassion” or eliminating pain.
After years at The Global Fund for Women, Firth Murray quite possibly knows more about the abuses and low status of women than any speaker around the world today. It took hearing her assert that love is a force for social justice for me to make the connection between the overwhelming issues facing women around the world and my strategy as an individual to be a part of the solution.Firth Murray encouraged everyone in the audience to do “whatever you wish to do to help another,” and shared an inspiring story of a friend teaching yoga to inmates in a prison. She encouraged everyone to let their passion direct them and to go from there to help others.
In describing love’s transformative power she called on all of us to not be afraid to speak out. “Help a person who is in pain. Write a check that is larger than anything you’ve ever written before. Support people. Volunteer.” And most of all to do it in “love.”
What finally made sense to me is that I can promote happiness in the world and eliminate pain in whatever I am doing – working on a story at The WIP, volunteering my time for another organization, or spending a Saturday night on a date with my husband.
After hearing Firth Murray, I realize that love, while perhaps not easy, is simple. No matter the size of the action, it is a choice I can make to take it. And it is powerful because it works.
About the Author:
Katharine Daniels is the founder and executive editor of The WIP.