The GOOD 100: Women Are the Key to Development

More than Just Aid In the ongoing effort to help lift people out of poverty, the role of women and girls is taking center stage....

More than Just Aid

In the ongoing effort to help lift people out of poverty, the role of women and girls is taking center stage. By Lesley Desaulniers, as told to GOODWhen it comes to aid, we're still treating the symptoms, not the root causes. We think about countries and their problems, but we forget that what the individual is, the society becomes-and I think this is particularly true of women. This is something that's being looked at all over the world now: It's really the women who pass on teachings, self-understanding, and discernment, and they teach their children based on what they have learned. So if you focus on teaching them real self-understanding, then they go back and teach that to other women, and to their children, and change spreads.Identification with who we're taught we are exists all over, not just in the developing world. In my workshops we explore identity and the idea of discernment-what is real and what is unreal. Are we identifying with our conditioning, or are we identifying with something a little more authentic? So we ask women to think about "Who am I?" They say things like, "I am a sweet girl," or "I have a kind, soft voice"-a sort of canned version of who they're told they are. At the end of a workshop in Cambodia, one woman said to me, "I am also a strong spirit, and I can do something for the world." She ended up translating the entire workshop so she could bring it home to her town and share it with the women there. This is how society changes, one person at a time.
The individual, if empowered, will be able to sustain the aid that eventually goes away.
We have to think about longevity when we think about aid, and that means inspiring the individual-it's not just about going in and building a road. Human beings are always going to want something deeper: It's who we are. If we can connect the work that we do to an understanding of who we are, then the work is brought back to action, and the question of what really fuels the action: self-responsibility, ownership, integrity. And the individual, if empowered, will be able to sustain the aid that, while it may be great, eventually goes away. Without this step-empowerment-we're just doing projects.The bottom line is, the better you understand yourself, the better you understand your world. This has been taught since the beginning of time. Mahatma Gandhi knew that it was about inspiring the individual. So did Martin Luther King, Jr. When the individual is inspired, the economics change.Desaulniers is the founder of the Authenticity Project, a nonprofit organization that brings self-awareness workshops and training to women and girls in developing countries. She is also a yoga instructor in Brooklyn, New York.


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