Now, much more than ever, International Women’s Day (IWD) is becoming well-celebrated and publicized, with organizations hosting events to commemorate the day, and people (men and women) across the world sharing pictures with gestures depicting the year theme. In fact, the month of March is fast becoming one for awareness and sensitization on gender inclusion and equity. This is rightly so. The IWD is indeed an essential reminder of the role women play in the development and sustainability of any community, sector, or economy. I join the rest of the world to celebrate women and the many efforts (small and large scale) towards recreating the environment as an equal enabler for women.
I recently read Numbers 27 (It’s a book in the Bible), and it struck me that even as far back as 1450 BC there were women already advocating for the rights of women, for more inclusive laws (policies), especially in the distribution of productive resources. What an evolution!
They were 5 sisters, but this will do; LOL!
If you’d like to know the back story please read Numbers 27:1-11, Numbers 36, and Joshua 17:3. Here, I will dive into four, plus one extra lesson we can appreciate and emulate from the actions of the Zelophehad sisters as we continue to advocate for reforms and policies that are gender inclusive and equal.
The power of Agency:
There were five sisters affected, and five of them showed up. If only one had shown up, she may not have been taken seriously. She may not even have communicated as clearly and firmly. In today’s world, you don’t have to be affected; merely knowing that your future daughter, your beloved nieces, or your sister may face some form of discrimination, or disenfranchisement should make you eager to stand with and for gender equity at any and every level.
Perhaps if the entire women of Israel had come and spoken with the Zelophedad sisters, the new law may have been even more inclusive.
I do believe in the power of one. However, taking Nigeria for example, we would find that there is more power vested in ‘agency’ than ‘individuality’ when it comes to advocacy.
These sisters did not go to the market square, stripping themselves naked, pouring ash on their heads, and crying – we have no help! We have no help! No. They developed a speech that appealed to the irrefutable quality of the ultimate decision-maker – Justice! God is just. They were likely thinking this way – “We need to let Him see how excluding us from the land allocations is unjust”. We know He cannot be unjust, we know it, so we must build our case on that”. “Our father died, he had no sons, will you wipe out his name from the fold for something that is no fault of his? He has daughters, through us his name lives on, give us his land!”.
Who is the policy maker? Where do their interests lie and what is their mandate? If this situation is turned around, how does it enable or contribute to their mandate? We must put forward our competence and strength of character, not sell weakness. Women have value and tremendous abilities, and we must show the world what it is missing. This works way better than organizing a pity party. Pity parties get hand-downs.
Also, we will be clear about what we want without infusing insults into our message.
Approach the right office or channel
These sisters did not go to the leaders of their clan or the wives of the priests. Some folks know your pain, but they don’t believe your pain is unfair, they think you should just suck it up because that’s just how the world works. They’d tell you “That’s how my mother lived, that’s how I am living too, why should you want different?” These ones will either make you lose courage or stand as roadblocks. Besides they have no real power to effect the change you want to see. You have to get it right with the channel of advocacy.
These sisters came to the doorway of the holy tabernacle, where Moses and all the priests were gathered. Here Moses would have no choice but to consult God – “so how do we tackle this one Lord?” It was God the sisters came to meet, they knew Moses would have to consult him if they came here.
Be content with changing the norm in small steps
One would imagine that success would have looked like a new law allowing all women in all 12 tribes of Israel to inherit and own land. Well, they didn’t get that. Instead, where there are no sons, the daughters could now inherit land. This is change, progress, and impact because it is one step better than what it was before they spoke up.
The extra one: The power of precedence
This is one word every HR person is familiar with, and while I worked in that space, it always helped stir the heart or force the hand of the management team towards a policy amendment or development. In this story, one cannot miss how God did not just say, ok give these ladies some land and let’s be done with it. No. He went further and made it the law. If we can be courageous enough to do it even though it has never been done, to say it as it has never been said, and to demand what has never been given; when we succeed we raise the bar, and others after us need not fight that battle again.
Picture from https://www.internationalwomensday.com/theme