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Women who show up

Posted in Life & Love

Alissa Rubin in Iraq, 2008

It’s mostly women who give a voice to other women who don’t have one, or whose voices are drowned out by war, violence or power. Being the weaker sex has its share of advantages: we can be annoyingly accommodating and too adept at peacekeeping, but we also have innate empathy and sense of justice, and both serve many professions well.

When I read that Alissa Rubin of the New York Times had won this year’s Pulitzer for international reporting, first, I smiled and rejoiced, not because I know her, but because I have been following Alissa’s courageous reporting for the last twenty years. The Pulitzer committee stated that she delivered deeply reported, moving articles about the struggle to improve the lives of women.”

The piece of writing, in particular, that caught the Pulitzer’s attention was the voice Alissa gave to Farkunda Malikzada, a bright, young woman who, a year ago, while going about her business in Kabul was falsely accused of burning a Koran and brutally killed by an enraged mob while onlookers took cell phone videos. The meticulous, minute by minute, reconstruction of Farkunda’s last few hours is painful to read although the point was not just to memorialize but also to underscore the moment in which Afghani women rose up, demanding justice, and carried Farkunda’s coffin on their shoulders, an unprecedented act in one of the most patriarchal societies on earth.

I remembered we profiled Alissa Rubin here, at C&S, three years ago, in a blog post titled: 5 women we admire.

Among the five women we picked was also Hillary Clinton, at the time Secretary of State. The reason sofagirl gave for picking Hillary was that “without apology or explanation, Hillary shows up” (we also mentioned we were hoping she would run for the Presidency in 2016, and here we are).

Afghani women carrying Farkhunda's coffin
Afghani women carrying Farkhunda’s coffin

Showing up is something else women do well: we show up for our children, for our families and for each other, a by-product of having to for centuries, when showing up was all we could do.
And we still show up; maybe it’s what most of us do best. Whether reporting from the front lines, legislating for women’s rights or simply catching the back of our neighbor when she falls, doing what needs to be done and getting on with it, sometimes to the point of self-sacrifice, comes second nature to women.

A couple of years ago, Alissa Rubin was on board a helicopter that was ferrying Yazidis to safety from the side of the mountain where they were trapped, chased by ISIS. The helicopter crashed. 48 hours later, with an astounding amount of broken bones but alive, Alissa dictated her story from a hospital bed in Kabul- not for any self-aggrandizement but out of concern for the pilot and the fate of those around her. She showed up so that the story could be told.

On those days I am a bit down, or unmotivated, or the blues is hitting the lower notes, all I have to do is look around: at my girlfriends, female colleagues, writers I admire and female politicians I am choosing to trust. There is no shortage of women to lift my spirit and to remind me that showing up is often half the battle.

And who are the women who lift your spirit?

Alissa Rubin, portrayed in Iraq in the top photo, is currently the New York Times Paris Bureau Chief. Many NYT stories cannot be embedded, as is the case for the two I mention here, but can be easily found online (the NYT lets you read 20 stories a month for free).

Five women we admire

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8 Comments

  1. Val du Toit
    Val du Toit

    Cheers for your lovely blog and the great comments. Although S.African myself, I hadn’t heard of Nancy Charton – good to know and admire. Strangely, my comment was about the quiet but strong women we have forming the core of the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement. Although not Catholic myself, I was privileged to be invited recently to the ordination of a good friend, Dr. Ann Ralston. It was a beautiful ceremony, Sadly, Ann and the other women priests are refused recognition by the Pope, and are automatically excommunicated. Are we supposed to be grateful that they are no longer burnt at the stake?

    May 2, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I am a long lapsed Catholic and I remember how I would rail and rant against the Church when I was a teenager for the lack of care when it came to women’s rights. What I have come to understand is that the Catholic Church is a massive behemoth that moves at snail’s pace. Maybe it will get there when it comes to ordaining women – probably not in our lifetime.

      May 3, 2016
      |Reply
  2. I’ve been meaning to tell you of the woman I admired above all others. Nancy Charton who died in 2015 aged 95. Born and raised in South Africa she went to an Afrikaans university (although not Afrikaans herself) worked as a teacher in the small Karoo town of Graaf Reinet married and had three kids. She had strong political opinions and was a founding member of The Black Sash movement. When her husband died in 1967 she moved to Grahamstown and joined Rhodes University as a lecturer in politics. She rose to be deputy Professor. She had to retire aged 65, and then she (being a committed Christian) went to study theology at Oxford and in the USA. She returned to SA and was ordained as SA’s first woman priest. After managing a parish in Grahamstown for several years, whilst regularly protesting against apartheid – often she was the only one picketing or protesting something – she felt it time to retire and moved back to her home town of Graaf Reinet. Needless to say she did not retire and spent another 15 or more years as a local vicar, and fought a tireless battle against the local government who wanted to move all ‘non-whites’ out of the town area and shut down the areas where they lived. She rallied her troops and won! In 2013 -aged 93 – she was in the forefront of a group opposing Shell who were applying for permission for fracking in the Karoo. She would sit in the front row of the meetings between company spokesmen and the locals, and she would give them hell. She had done all the research, and could quote streams of facts and figures to countermand their arguments. She was also the kindest, least judgemental person I have ever met, with a wonderful zest for life, jokes, fun and friendship. She ‘married’ two of her grandsons, and baptized three of her great-grandchildren. A year or so before she died we took her out for dinner in GR, and she arrived at the restaurant with her clerical garb on a hanger – she apologized but said she had just collected it from the dry-cleaner as she had an ‘away match for the opposition’ the next day. I asked what she meant by that, and she said that the local Methodist minister (priest) had fallen ill so she was going to step into the breach and take the service for him.

    Sorry to go on so long, but your post really made me think about her – and my words above do not even begin to encompass what an extraordinary woman she was.

    May 2, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      What a wonderful story and am so glad you shared. There are more women out there who, unrecognized, go on to change the world one act at a time and I find it so inspiring and heartwarming.

      May 3, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I think women are so much better at creating these support villages than men are.

      April 27, 2016
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  3. On the immediate front, you and Sofagirl uplift me. I can always count on either of the two of you to make me think, give me reason to smile or just enjoy something well written and with wonderfully appropriate images. Thank you both! ღ

    April 26, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Way, way too kind. But I have a big grin on my face.

      April 27, 2016
      |Reply

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