I’ve been a little quiet for several months. You see, I – like many of us – have been going through a deeply personal journey and in the interests of true accountability, I've decided to share what I’ve discovered, with you.
I have always thought of myself as an independent woman. I’m broadly educated, well-travelled, and have more often than not taken the lead when it comes to decisions about the family, children, the home and finances.
Throughout my travels, I have seen women experiencing gross disadvantage in so many ways. It was a combination of frustration for them and gratitude for my own good fortune that made me want to advocate for the independence and financial freedom of those women. I founded Finders and Makers with the strong belief that women must be supported and empowered by their own capacity to choose, to be able to stand on their own two feet.
One proven way for this to happen is for women to earn their own income. (See post Women need flexibility around income producing activities) There is plenty of research validating the facts - that money in the hands of women, has the most positive impact in their communities and I’ve seen this first-hand. Give a woman the opportunity to earn an income, and you’ll see her put her children through school, buy food for the family, find ways to pay for medicine when needed, as well as putting a little away for a rainy day.
Recent experiences in my life however have really shifted my opinion on what ‘being empowered’ and ‘being independent’ really mean. I turned 50 this year and, in the lead, up to that, I discovered that much of what I thought about myself, when compared to those women, was not as it seemed. I also went through a painful separation from my husband and the whole framework of my life as I had known it had to be restructured. All of these changes forced me to look closely at my life and in doing so, I began to realise I had been living a lie. It was a pivotal realisation for someone who is so strongly guided by values and morality, and I never anticipated it would hurt so much. But pain is transformative and the lie - that I was truly independent - is now transforming my life.
Like many women all over the world, I had made most of the family decisions relating to children, the home, investments, pets, holidays, health care and so on. In being in charge of these things, I had a sense of control and power. I hadn’t realised before however, that this was built on an illusion of independence - I was still counting on my partner for both emotional support and financial backup if needed. You might think, well isn’t that what relationships are all about - teamwork and common goals? The answer is yes, in theory, but once that dynamic was gone, I was totally blind-sided.
In comparing myself to women of different cultures and circumstances, I had elevated myself to a level of independence, that was actually a façade. I wasn’t prepared at all for holding all of the pieces together on my own and was shocked that I had let myself become so vulnerable. I was about to discover what it meant to be truly independent – to have to really make the decisions that ensured the shelter, safety, health and wellbeing of my family were sustained. I realised that many of the Artisans I had been working with over the past few years had been doing exactly this all along, but without the safety net of a second secure income and support person.
As it turns out, this revelation was a massive shock. The beginning of a 12-month journey full of self-reflection, tears, sleepless nights and phenomenal growth. Even though modern western relationships are about team work, the woman’s share of the responsibility pie inevitably also includes a gazillion incidental, yet essential every day contributions, that may not be financial, but do come with huge mental loads. The western lifestyle is partly to blame for this, with the ‘needs’ of modern-day suburban life – complicating things unnecessarily. While an Artisan’s family’s needs are consistently about shelter, food and education, many of the women I know are struggling with the pressures of meeting a vast and ever-growing list of ‘needs’ of their family that seem frivolous by comparison but are culturally inescapable. From new cars and mobile phones to Pilates classes and pet accessories. What I have discovered is that every woman has their own priorities that, in the context of their family, are important. We each have to find ways to meet these needs and be a part of a better future for those who come after us.
As far as the global community of women goes, I am one of the lucky ones. I’ve managed to continue forward on my life’s journey with a deeper sense of purpose, happiness, balance and empathy. I can live my truth, proudly tell my daughters I’m a super hero and really believe it. Because in my life I am.
In some cases, being dependent on another is a temporary arrangement for growing a family or starting something new like a business or tertiary education, or as a necessity during unexpected hardship or illness. The lesson for me has been to fully acknowledge the temporary circumstances that have arisen in my life at different times. To recognise how easy it is for situations to shift and for a temporary arrangement to become permanent. If ever in a temporary arrangement again, I now know to not lose sight of regaining my power and am committed to stand on my own two feet again as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, this story is not the same for all women. In my journey towards greater independence, I haven’t had to fight hard against outdated cultural norms, or live every day at the edge of poverty, or in fear – as many of our Artisans do. So many of the challenges women are up against in developing nations are beyond what we could even come close to understanding.
This is why my passion for Finders and Makers has also deepened and my advocacy work will continue tirelessly. My voice has a greater level of empathy and understanding of the different daily pressures that affect all women, regardless of their background, location and circumstances.
It’s these pressures that reinforce the need for women to have access to their own income, earned ethically with the flexibility they and their family need. It’s women like these that we love to work with at Finders and Makers. I encourage you to buy from businesses that are led by women or support the advancement of women. Through engaging in the financial independence of women, we empower our most vulnerable communities to rise above poverty.
I thought I was empowered before, but transitioning into a new version of my reality has taught me so much. As far as health, safety, security and freedom go, I thought I was on top of it all. Being faced with my vulnerabilities has shown me the fraud that I had been. Now that I have had time to understand and come to terms with it, I see my journey had its own purpose. Now I understand the true meaning of independence and empowerment.
Empowered women, empower women and that’s exactly what I intend to be and do.
Until next time,
PS: If you have something to say or share, I invite you to comment here. We all benefit from sharing each other's experiences.
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