Photo by Adi Kautea Nacola for Talanoa
I haven’t understood how important the whole concept of women supporting women really was until I experienced the un-supportiveness of women I admired and respected. It seemed that while I was in the infancy of my education and career it was easier for these women to be supportive. As my career progressed not only did their support dwindle, but oftentimes they actively acted in ways that were detrimental to opportunities and development.
How easy it is to support those who are trying to find their way. When you’re a little ahead of them, it’s easy to be supportive and encouraging. But what happens when you perceive the same individuals to have caught up, or to be doing better than you. I say perceive because that’s all it is, your perception of their ‘success’ and your perception of how this compares to who you are and what you do. I’ve been challenging myself to be as supportive and helpful to individuals, women especially, regardless of where they are in their journeys. Slowly making their way, or wildly successful.
When the Pacific storyteller, Arieta from Talanoa announced her plans to hold an event in Suva, Patrick and I jumped at the opportunity to attend and show our support. This was before even finding out exactly what her event was about. Here’s what women supporting women, or the spirit of community over competition means and looks like for me – sitting at the back of the room, a baby asleep in your aching arms. Not being able to participate entirely as I would have liked but being determined to be there nonetheless. In the end I rocked my child, breastfeed and followed him around as he tried to get to all the food on the table!
What I’ve learnt about supporting women, and others in general is the importance of showing up and engaging. Using Arieta’s event as an example, I didn’t go in thinking about what Arieta could teach me (though I left with a better understanding of what she wanted to achieve with Talanoa) and I cringed at the price of the tickets (and by two, as Patrick came along as well). But we went because here’s a young woman pursuing what she’s passionate about. My thoughts about the session are irrelevant in this context because what I wanted was to show my support. You don’t always have to understand everything, or agree entirely to show someone support. And there’s nothing worse than talking about something without having experienced it.
It is vital that we put our differences on issues, methods or opinions aside to show support. I think even if you vehemently disagree with someone it is important to engage with them. How else can you strengthen your argument or develop clarity about their point of view. I feel like watching other people succeed, and being a small part of their journey, is incredibly rewarding, but also so important for my own growth and development.
At this point in my life and career I try to support women by offering a few pro-bono mentoring slots, offering a mentoring and coaching program, dedicating a few hours or days of work time to run workshops, training or develop lectures to local NGOs pro-bono, attending events, and connecting as many individuals to other individuals or organisations as I can. Essentially making connections between people and opportunities. And these days my supporting women is supported by the two men in my life. Patrick coming along to show his support but to also help look after our child whom we take everywhere with us!
How do you support women? How do you think women could best support each other?