Voices: What does it mean to be a woman? For me, it means being free

When I speak of a woman, I speak of us as we celebrate each other (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
When I speak of a woman, I speak of us as we celebrate each other (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

When I think of a woman, I think life-giver, nurturer, leader, bearer of the impossible, and fulfiller of the possible.

When I speak of a woman, I speak of us as we celebrate each other. When I see a woman, I see the fruits of hard-fought rights; a battle-ready warrior and the embodiment of passion, ambition and accomplishment. When I hear a woman, I hear joy, laughter, sorrow, pain and wisdom. When I dream “woman” I dream freedom, because as a Black woman that is what being a woman means to me: to be free.

To be free of the shackles of societal expectations; to be free of the tyranny of the patriarchy; to be free of the chokehold of white supremacy; and to be free to be me in all of my glory and flaws. Being a woman today, as it was yesterday, means fighting against the tide that threatens to limit our potential, promise and presence.

Whether that means still demanding our inalienable right to body autonomy; refusal to conform to societal definition of what a woman should be, do or say; and persistently knocking down barriers and breaking glass ceilings – we must do what we must to be free.

Women have come such a long way, yet it feels like every step in our evolution to be treated as equal members of society suffers devastating regressive blows that can set us back decades (if not hundreds of years).

The irony of this regression unfolding in the month of celebrating women is not lost on me. Whether it is fighting systemic misogyny in Britain; demanding the right to an education in Afghanistan; protesting the violation of women’s rights in Iran; or fighting the criminalization of abortion rights for women in the United States (to name a few) one thing is clear: we are not free.

Yet today, among ourselves, we fight over what it means to be a woman rather than work together to defeat a common enemy. Whether it is excluding transwomen or manifesting internalised misogyny against other women, this is not progress.

Nevertheless, I have hope. I am hopeful that the labour of the shoulders we stand on shall not be in vain. The more women rise in positions of authority, breaking strongholds of power, demanding to have all our contributions in society be visibly acknowledged and overcome every challenge thrown at us, the stronger we, and the stronger the next generation of young girls will be to stand in the truth of our identity as women.

It is only by walking and working together that we will birth the change that ensures we go forward ever, backward never.

Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu is a lawyer, author and women’s rights activist