My Privilege as an American Woman

Through my work, I've had the privilege to travel to many countries and witness women’s everyday lives that are drastically different from my own.  In Dushanbe, Tajikistan, I remember the woman shopkeeper who sold her spices at a big market with huge tubs of dried nuts and spices in wide variety of colors and flavors.  I thought about how much effort it took her to collect the baskets of goods and how long it would take to make enough money to support her family.  And in Kigali, Rwanda, I'll never forget meeting the children who lived on a coffee bean plantation. An NGO was teaching their parents how to grow the trees to yield the largest crop of beans for the season.  The little girls would eye me with intrigue and reach out to hold my hand.  They didn’t see a lot of white people, especially ones with blonde hair, so I was particularly interesting to them.  And in Panama City, Panama, over a hundred women crammed into a stifling hot room where I shared stories of my journey and work to encourage women to lead.  They asked me tough questions and listened intently.  There was a deep sense of shared respect in the room.

I think of these women often when I contemplate why I do the work that I do, along with so many others, to build a kinder world for women to live and thrive.

I was again reminded of my own privilege just this week.  It was not privilege because of being a white woman, which no doubt exists, but purely as an American woman.  During the week, my Project Mine the Gap Fellow, Simin, and I decided to enjoy a beautiful summer day by doing work and phone calls by the pool rather than sitting inside of our office.  Simin is from Kabul, Afghanistan.  She and my business partner Kristin Haffert met in Kabul in 2012 doing very dangerous work training local women’s rights activists.  Simin is a hard worker and has a lot of wisdom to share about her life experiences.

While we were together I learned that Simin did not know how to swim, but she was adamant about taking swimming lessons to learn.  As we talked, I asked what Afghan women typically wear in the water, like a pool or river.  Simin shared that there is not a lot of water since Afghanistan is a land-locked country, but even if there were water she doubted women would be allowed to enjoy the water.  It struck me, I consider my ability to swim and enjoy the water to be typical and expected.  Growing up in San Diego, I started to learn to swim as a toddler and feel perfectly comfortable in the water.  Watching Simin enjoy a simple pool experience, she was full of happiness and gratitude.  Simin told me, “I don’t really worry about the small things in life, because here in the United States I know that I am safe, and that is all that really matters. Freedom and safety in my life is really the most important thing.”

This 4th of July, let’s remember our privilege as Americans, especially American women.  While we have deep wounds and disparities that impact our lives because of race, class, socioeconomic status, and gender identity, as women in this country we have the shared power of freedom that many women in this world do not share.  

On this importantly patriotic holiday, we often hear the military words, honor and duty.  When I think of these words I think this -- as an American woman, it is my duty to stand up for all women in the world to build a better world that values their worth.  It is my honor to stand with them in sisterhood and fight for more fairness for all of us for the remainder of my life. 

 Open air market in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. (2013)

Open air market in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. (2013)