Poverty, pregnancy and empowerment.

Homelessness is definitely one of the worst human experiences, and should not be reality in the developed world, but there are worse things in the developing world… I realised this while reading ‘The Moment of Lift‘ by Melinda Gates, particularly the chapter focused on maternal health and infant mortality. I was in tears reading about a mother and baby dying at birth, and am unable to repeat the story as the image it conjures for me is so horrific. Bill Gates has recently stepped down from Microsoft and joined Melinda in philanthropy, I hope with the issue of maternal health in mind. Apparently most births in the developing world take place without any medical attendant… Unfortunately, death is an all too real reality for many women in poverty. I’m glad I’m not one of them. I struggled to come to terms with stretch marks 😖! It puts my worries into stark perspective (even though I suffered with postpartum psychosis). One book that really helped me was ‘Life After Birth’ by Kate Figes. However, I now realise that the issues in his book are very much first world problems. Melinda writes that female empowerment is the key to saving the world. When communities invest in women they inevitably, and routinely thrive. This has been reinforced with success of the micro-loans to women who go on to set up businesses, initiated by Muhammad Yunus and described in his book ‘Creating a World Without Poverty’.

Photo by Hanna Morris on Unsplash

I am also reading two books by other prestigious women I respect, ‘What Happened?’ by Hillary Clinton and ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama. Together with Melinda Gates’ book, they have made me think more about the role and power of women in our society.

I have always liked Michelle Obama. She seems a nice person above all else, and her book confirmed this feeling to me. I have been very frustrated recently at teenage girls still being teased because they are perceived as fat. I was a size 14 at 15 years old. Two years ago, I was a size 20. Neither me should have been judged for my weight, but I was (vocally in my teens, tacitly in my forties). So while searching for a relevant quote, I found this one by Michelle which resonated with me:

“Being a healthy woman isn’t about getting on the scale or measuring your waistline. We need to start focusing on what matters – on how we feel, and how we feel about ourselves.” http://www.theinsidertales.com/inspirational-quotes-michelle-obama/

Michelle speaks of aiming to maintain normality in raising her daughters in the White House, ensuring their need for spontaneity and just being. They were continually followed by security service men and required to plan even a trip to an ice-cream parlour. To maintain a level of ‘normality’ for her children while First Lady was an amazing achievement and only one of many achievements. The other initiative Michelle invested time in was to create a vegetable garden in the White House where children could grow their own food. The mission was to increase awareness of healthy eating and where food comes from, in a culture where obesity is a growing problem. Michelle came from humble beginnings but with tenacity and focus became a lawyer, dedicated herself to social issues and became a First Lady focused on improving lives in the US. Amazing achievements!

Hillary writes about running for the presidential election inspired by the motto “stronger together”. When I picked up Hillary’s book for some reason I expected it to be self pitying and regretful. It’s not. It’s analytical, reflective and presents a factual account of an astounding result. If anything, I think she criticises herself too much. Hillary won 1 million more votes than Trump for heavens sake!! What political system elects a Presidential candidate with 1 million fewer votes? Bizarre.

These women have amazing levels of influence and yet are still judged by what they wear… I love clothes and understand that style is important, but it’s not the only criteria by which grown women should be evaluated. I did catch myself however, while watching the Andrew Marr interview of the female labour leadership candidate, thinking why is she wearing only black? It came across as a stark statement and hid her personality. Men in politics trade on personality, particularly their charisma, to win elections and senior roles. Women can also leverage these qualities and should do more of this without apology. It wins elections!

I don’t pretend to understand the American political system or Trump’s election and subsequent behaviour. My feeling is that it was mostly a protest vote against the incumbent government; it felt a bit like the Brexit vote. Both were to do with a disenfranchised portion of the electorate that had not had their needs met. The electorate blamed the existing leader for their country’s problems and their personal circumstances. Hillary speaks of using big data analysis coupled with political instinct, both being key to winning elections. I wonder if we should also revisit Lincoln for inspiration and act with honesty and integrity; he was absolutely himself and delivered as humbly as possible on behalf of the people. While in hospital, I read ‘Lincoln the Unknown’ by Dale Carnegie which tells the story of his life, from poor to president (similar to the Obamas in terms of determination, focus and dedication to a better world). He regularly wrote letters in anger that were never sent, in order to ensure he said and did the right thing in difficult circumstances.

Let’s be united especially now on what’s important. Freedom to be ourselves 😎 size, shape and image irrelevant.

Love Ruth x

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