We began the recent Garden Gathering in Hong Kong with a circle in Which The Global Sisterhood Manifesto was read. I had never heard it but I found it magical and immediately went to ask what I could find the words that has just been read out. I wanted to subscribe to doing this for life – immediately.
It seems to me that if we did the things it says our lives would be happy, of course we would still be subject to cause and effect but if I chose to live by these rules I imagine being able to accept what would happen. Doing that seems quite straight-forward even in a friendship or a close relationship as I am imagining that even if someone was provoked by my honesty we could find each other’s intention, which would be to be close. I am imagining the promise of confidentiality and non judgement if trusted, would find open the doors to deep trust and connectedness. The friendships and intimacies we dream about would be possible. And yet..and yet… as I promise myself to live by this I know that in a position of power I will struggle. Imagine living like this at work, with the person who pays your salary, with your clients, with your landlord or mortgage broker, at a job interview, who could be so candid? To not hold yourself back in the meeting when everything goes quiet, to be honest and straight when you disagree with what your boss just said and you know it will mean putting in more time, more energy to confront the resistance? And I am imagining only the very brave or the very resourced would find it not a challenge.
By ‘very resourced’ I mean a person with ample time, energy and, if the client or boss walks away ample cash or alternative plans and that’s where we can get lazy. Because we do not all have equal access to these resources, a single-mother supporting herself probably has less time than someone living in a household with two parents, a local resident probably has more job options than a new immigrant, restricted by language, visa requirements, contacts and understanding of her credentials, a person with a physical impairment or illness probably has less energy than someone who does not and a person with anxiety or trauma probably has a much lower threshold of what they can do before the demands on their energy are overwhelming. So one person’s commitment is not equal to another’s. That is why I love the final part where the promise is to support one another to do the same. If you take this challenge on you do it for yourself and cannot compare yourself – as a success or failure – to anyone else as we cannot understand the challenge for someone else.
Also, let’s imagine we are not in a liberal democracy, the manifesto now implies the risk of physical dangers to ourselves, maybe our families, maybe consequences which we will not suffer now but at some unknown time in the future. Maybe we live in a family where patriarchal structures are legitimised by religious or cultural beliefs and making questioning them is more difficult as we loose relationships which would otherwise support us as we make our bid for freedom. Maybe we live with violence and coercion where we do not receive this support – how could we learn to give it. This I thankfully know less about but as I look at this document I see how radical it would be in a facist regime where the ability to be responsible for yourself is stripped – all responsibility lies with the leader, not to gossip when to do well you must inform against your neighbour. I am reminded on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Cristian Mungiu’s film 4 Months, 3 weeks and 2 Days where a woman in Ceaușescu’s Romania tries to organise an abortion without knowing if her boyfriend or close female friends will inform against her. Then we see the bright radiance of anyone who dares to challenge these terrifying systems are we support them from our place of safe distance.
And the knowledge that I am legally free to do so emboldens me to ‘not hold myself back’ any longer, I recognise that I have advantages on this path which others do not and I hope that any success I have does not distance me from seeing those real challenges. Finally, I pause to consider the work Amnesty International does to support our sisters and brothers doing the same against much greater odds.