With International Women's Day falling this week, I thought I'd recount a recent experience. As fate would have it, I was able to attend the Global Summit of Women in Abu Dhabi. It was all very last minute and arose from a conversation with a friend. I was talking about Natural Progress and our ambitions and dreams - and the very real struggle to make them happen. She helped by putting my name forward and suddenly I was going to the UAE. It really is good to talk - and we women do that well!
Friday night and I'm overwhelmed, trying to unscramble thoughts. What would I tell people about our endeavours, why am I going, what will I achieve by going - who cares about our vision anyway? The weekend was busy with commitments and all too quickly I found myself in Abu Dhabi on Monday night.
The two-day event covered 'The Role of Female Leaders in Peace Building, Social Integration, and Driving Prosperity', identifying solutions to common challenges and sharing experiences to break down barriers. It was dinner time and I joined a table of six ladies. Soon, what was a table of strangers turned into a table full of formidable characters with so many stories to share, problems to solve and ideas for changing the world.
Despite the imposter syndrome I was now filled with excitement!
The event was hosted by Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak - a lady who has done so much to pave the way for a limitless future for women in the UAE. Together with her husband, they vowed to ensure every citizen, especially girls, had access to all the levels of education they desired and any job they felt they could do. 40 odd years later, their hard work has paid off. The event was not a disappointment. Surrounded by no less that nearly 500 ladies, the majority of whom were Muslim, of all ages from all around the world. Palestine, Gambia, Cambodia, China, Bali, Australia, Lebanon, Taiwan…the list goes on! There were some great speeches and overall, there was excitement, a buzz.
In the session for 'Lifetime achievers among women', Virginia Gray Henry, CEO of Fons Vitae Publishing USA was a fantastic speaker so full of energy and with a life history worth a book in and of itself! Her travels through far away countries, giving birth amongst the Bedouin, and returning to the US after 10 years opened her eyes to so many different and enriching experiences. It got me thinking about my own understanding of the culture I was immersed in.
A memorable speech by Alissar Abdel Kareem was about how she set up a charity for the empowerment of children through education in Palestine to tackle obstacles they faced in their daily lives.
Alissar's TEDx talk 'How to Change the Life of a Child' was recorded when she was just 16. Giving children a healthy, balanced upbringing is critical to ensuring the survival of people and of our planet. The lack of fairness for one group of people, will inevitably affect us all in some way. Without basic education and the ability to experience nature, a bleak future is all we can look forward to.
This rang true in the speech by Rachel Miner, CEO and founder of Bellwether International. She asked us to look around and see how privileged we were to be surrounded by each other and then - to look around and see who was not present. All the people in the world, struggling with insurmountable obstacles and difficulties. It really hit home. We have so much work ahead of us to break down the barriers which keep people down whilst holding others up. Surely without balance and fairness, whether it be in education, money, or freedom, our world will continue in the downward spiral we have set ourselves.
While I was listening I was mentally mapping the messages from these speeches to permaculture, and in particular, the ethics: earth care, people care and fair share. This point of equity is central to permaculture but also to what I feel is missing in the current world order. Perhaps if it were to be taught in schools, we might create better systems than the ones we have in place now, which favour the few over the many. It would inform our thinking on towns and cities, creating collaborative communities with not only environmental justice, but social justice too.
In the breaks, whilst speaking with delegates about permaculture, I learned about the organic farming movement (at least 50 in this country). Food security is a big topic here and a lot is already being done to identify solutions to the problem. It was fascinating how so many people were involved in farming in their homeland alongside their day jobs. I'm reminded that there is a lot to learn from traditional cultures across the world. Those, who have not been swept up by global supply chains and continue practices of localism and community sharing give a great example of permaculture principles and ethics.
Listening to the ladies speak, I felt reinforced that our reasons for embarking on our journey with Natural Progress could not have been more relevant. Our ultimate vision is for a permaculture farm. A place where we can create better systems, ones in which we observe the natural patterns and work collaboratively with our community and our environment to create mutually beneficial and ethically sound outcomes. This is a dream worth striving for. A central space where people can learn, lend their knowledge and experience, cultivate skills, and actively contribute to a social and environmental system. We have to start making it a reality. Not just talk about it, but actually do it. And we want to take our family, our friends, our community on this journey with us because we cannot do it alone. When you observe nature, you see how different plants work in harmony together and benefit each with their own characteristics. So can we on a social level. This is activism backed up by action! It might just be small, and slow solutions, but we can build on that gradually.
The summit provided an excellent opportunity for networking. There were many people to learn from and it was easy to walk up to someone and say, "I liked what you had to say, can I get your details?", or "I love your traditional dress, where are you from?", or "Tell me more about what you do?". In fact, I have never found it easier to connect with women from so many walks of life as I did at this conference. There was an openness to share and a willingness to support each other. We applauded each others achievements, acknowledged the integrity and hard work and sometimes, the fashion. And why not? The women looked beautiful and proud of their heritage. Their achievements were not diminished by telling them they looked amazing! I think this was the fun part - we enjoyed it, we revelled in the fashion and flare, the colours amidst the background of men in white. And yet still covered serious topics and issues. The women not only took centre stage, they took the entire venue.
We are good at listening to each others stories with compassion and encouragement. We know that as women, there is no limit to what we can achieve. I would never have believed the power of women connecting in this way and I am so glad to have been proven otherwise.