Last Saturday was International Women’s Day, and I am currently in New York at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, fighting for girls’ rights to be recognised rather than rolled back. My fiancé wrote a wonderful ‘shout out’ to me, praising me as ‘amazing’ and a friend mentioned me in a competition being run to celebrate women who fight for ‘freedom and wholeness’. I am incredibly grateful, but you know what? I’m exhausted, and I feel like I’m falling apart.
This morning, as I stood paralysed in the shower with tears rolling down my cheeks, having to accept that today was not going to work out the way that I’d planned, I found myself making a choice I haven’t made before. I stopped. I decided not to go where I was supposed to be going. I decided to get back into bed and refuse to open the door to anyone. I decided that I would not force myself to do this because I simply didn’t have the strength.
Over the last couple of days I’ve started to question everything that we do here when we bring a delegation of young women to a global decision-making space. I’ve started to question whose voice we are really hearing. I’ve started to question the space we create and the pressure we seem to all too willingly distribute. I’ve started to question our expectations of each other, and our expectations of ourselves.
Now please know that I am not questioning or discrediting the amazing work of my organisation or of the incredible young women who I am here with - this is about me, my experience and changing my own perceptions.
Every single one of us is unique and different and yet I feel like being here in New York we are told that we can only make change if we fit into a certain mould, and do it in a certain way. I am not happy to wear the hat of an ‘amazing’ change maker if that hat only looks one way. I am not happy to take that praise if that praise would not be given to a single mother who simply keeps surviving.
I have started to question my own worth because there are young women around me, who only do this on a volunteer basis, who know so much more than me, and seem to do so much more than me. And even though I know it shouldn’t make me react like this, it makes me feel ashamed. And then I get angry. Because I can’t cope with the lack of sleep and feeling like I'm having to network when I struggle with simply making conversation on a day to day basis. And this may be because of my anxiety, but even if I didn’t have anxiety I shouldn’t be told that I am not allowed into this space ‘where change happens’ because I can’t do it in the way that is expected.
So I’m pausing. I’m asking if subconsciously we are reserving the title of ‘change maker’ and the praise of making a difference in this world to only certain types of people. I’m asking if we are reserving this international space to only those who have the confidence to walk up to their ambassador and start a conversation. I’m asking if we value the girl who may be too cripplingly shy to network but will be so inspired by the speakers on the panels that she hears at the different side events that she will go back to her family and change mindsets with her words. I’m asking if we value the woman ‘behind the scenes’ who analyses the data and writes the position paper but will not be the person who hands those positions over to a decision-maker. I’m asking if our definition of ‘change maker’ is really so narrow that fitting into it depends on making the right choice at the right time and having the right opportunities available to us.
I constantly feel like I shouldn’t be here because I’m just a little girl who did an acting degree. I made the ‘wrong’ choice because I didn’t value myself, and instead of focusing on my A Levels I allowed my worth to be defined by whichever man was willing to ‘love’ me. I don’t have a deep and natural academic understanding of many of the issues being discussed in this space, and while I’m pretty good at faking stuff and asking the right questions I feel small and ashamed.
Today I found some comfort in acknowledging that my worth is not defined by the number of business cards I collect or the number of hours I volunteer for or the number of networking opportunities I take advantage of. My worth is found in the Lord my God and the power of His restorative, saving and transforming love and grace. He wonderfully and fearfully made me just the way I am, so it is my job to trust that He will use me in the way He sees best to help bring His Kingdom into this world. A Kingdom not defined by patriarchy, where the last – the marginalised, vulnerable, poor and needy – will be the first and everyone will have a seat at the table. I don’t know whether my role will involve making a speech at a global event or simply getting out of bed every morning and making meals for my children.
I recently devoured Sarah Bessey’s ‘Jesus Feminist’, through tears, laughter and an overwhelming sense of hope from the stories of how many women around the world are already, simply by getting from one day to the next, bringing us a step closer to God’s Kingdom.
But despite all of this, today I just want to go home. I want to see my fiancé and I want to take care of myself. I’m not sure this is where I’m supposed to be. So if you are the praying type, please lift me up because I’m confused and tired, and I’m not sure I’ve got the strength for this place.