Almost a decade ago I found myself less than enthused with the real world. It was a monotonous kind of existence get up, eat breakfast, go to work, come home, eat, sleep, rinse and repeat.
Prior to, I was a student. In those days I had all these dreams about what I wanted my life to be and all these amazing goals, but here I was bored and not really sure what I had to look forward to. And goals? What goals? 9-5 living provoked a passive kind of existence with only enough energy for the next day.
I began to think if I feel this way, there must be others who do too. With this inkling I decided to start a “Women’s Empowerment Group,” (i.e., a sister circle). I wanted to create an intimate space where women could gather to network and share resources—inspiring each other to revive old goals, make new ones and move towards them.
Almost 9 years later, we’re still together. Since that time, I’ve obtained a doctoral degree. Another woman, who was a teenage mom, went back to school, completed her Bachelor’s and just finished a law degree. Three of us write for this blog, while there are others who’ve started businesses, got married, had children and shoot…there’s even a County Legislator among us, now.
On a monthly basis, I set up numerous workshops for the women some I conducted, some I invited special guests for. However, the truth of the matter is that there was magic happening just because we were together. “Oh wow, look at you, you inspire me. I want to be my best too,” and that was the aim of the group as I fully believe as Marianne Williamson said, “As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.”
Now it’s time for you to start your own sistah circle! Our group has a general focus, “empowerment in every aspect of our lives,” but you can start one around a particular topic such as home ownership, single motherhood, getting out of debt or entrepreneurship. Below are a few tips based on my tenure as group leader of Empowered to the Third Degree, Inc.
- Decide how regularly you want to meet. Weekly? Monthly? Quarterly?
- Determine what the mission of your group is. Answer the question of why you exist. It serves as an anchor for who you invite to the group and the regular activities you participate in.
- Be picky about who you invite to the group. You want people to get along, as well as you want every one to feel comfortable and safe.
- Keep the group intimate. I recommend 8-12 people. Not everyone will come to every meeting, so it’s nice to invite enough that there are at least 5 people each meeting. But not so many that you lose your intimacy.
- Decide where you will meet. We meet monthly at different people’s homes. Either the host provides all the refreshments or we do pot lock.
- Decide the kinds of things you want to happen in your group. Volunteer and charity activities, anyone?
- Keep everyone motivated. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees, so on a yearly basis review individual and group goals and mark progress. People are often surprised with their progress, as well as they are motivated when they see where they’ve fallen short.
These questions challenged us and the others working with us as we struggled with the impact on women of all the social ills that inequality continues to breed in and out of war. Domestic violence, child abuse, sexual violence, deprivation, exclusion, unspeakable atrocities. The list goes on and is far too long. As we (feminist activists, change agents, analysts and others) worked together to find solutions, some things became clearer to me. Tinkering and tailoring is not enough, nor for that matter is change.
What is needed is transformation – a complete turnaround that will bring about a world where women are safe to walk the streets at night, alone. How do we make that happen? We decided that one of the keys that unlock the situation is the empowerment of women. When women realize their potential and are able to access their inner strength, knowledge and power, miracles are known to happen. This is what inspired the writing of this manual. To empower women to access what they already have but which has been suppressed, repressed and oppressed through various forms of violence.
Many of the issues covered in this manual are interrelated. Do not be bound by the layout of each workshop. If for instance, you would like to run a workshop that focuses on the impact of self-esteem or violence against women. Choose the activities from each workshop that are most relevant to your objectives and create your own training. Perhaps you feel that an exercise from the economic justice workshop can be adjusted to bring home a point about peace with justice. Adapt it! Otherwise you can join several workshops together and host weeklong leadership training. The workshop guides in this manual are sparks to ignite action and empowerment in young women. Let the exercises here fire your creativity to mobilize young women in your community to take action on the issues that affect them. The exercise “Catch the Ball” can be used to close any of the workshops as can “Moving to Action.”