I have just returned from spending a few quiet days in a small city in Panama. My reward to myself for a month of hard, but gratifying, work. Teaching a class in Gender and Peace, presenting my new book on various radio interview shows and at a Human Rights Assembly of some 200 interested persons. Enough words. Now I get to be quiet for few days!
As I like to do in cities that I am learning, I wandered the streets, looked into back yards and alleyways and went in and out of a few buildings that appeared interesting in some way or that called to me. I also like to sit in a neighborhood café and just watch the dailiness unfold within the rhythms of quotidian life. This is how I travel.
At one point, I wandered into a brightly painted colonial building that turned out to be a neighborhood middle school, The students were all in class and I didn’t want to bother them, so I strolled through the halls on my own, looking for differences and similarities to the schools I had attended in the U.S. so many years ago. These are schools into which I could no longer enter without identification, questions about my purpose and a quick search for weapons. A stranger in the U.S. now spells danger-even a woman of a certain age and obvious sincere intentions. I was expecting to be stopped and questioned, but it never happened.
Instead a large poster on one of the walls soon caught my eye. It was obviously a group project as evidenced by the collage nature, different designs and handwriting, but all focused on one theme. Stop femicide! No more violence against women and girls! No bullying! Live without violence! The world is full of opportunity! Respect not violence!
I was momentarily disoriented. Where was I? I soon realized that I was on a planet where girls and women of all ages and cultures from the U.S. to Panama to Liberia to Myanmar are standing up and linking arms, declaring proudly to be feminists and demanding equal rights. You can feel it everywhere and see it everywhere. It wants to happen.
For many of us, it has taken years of standing firm against being marginalized, demonized, terrorized or ridiculed. It has, at times, been painful and exhausting, at others invigorating and challenging. But, at last, there is change in the air. Feminism has reached critical mass and is stepping out of the shadowy margins, as many of the most admired women and men endorse it heartily and intelligently as the human rights movement it is.
Certainly there is much more to be done, but we are doing it. Together even when we don’t know we are together. We are everywhere and everywhere we are girls and women will become full citizens of the 21 century planet. It wants to happen.