This post is dedicated to the wonderful, inspirational Nathalie. As a member of the SIT (School for International Training) staff she is in charge of our lives outside of school- she sets up our home stays, takes us to the hospital when we are sick, and offers a shoulder to cry on when we have breakdowns. My first night in my home stay I was really overwhelmed- homesick and literally sick, and I was near tears the whole night until Nathalie showed up with medicine and a big hug. I immediately felt at home. I am so grateful to have a Mama like her here in Cameroon. Wednesday was her birthday and we celebrated with chocolate cake and ice cream. Such a treat!
Last week our class took a trip to the English speaking region of Bamenda, a beautiful city full of kind faces and surrounded by mountains. In between classes, Nathalie and I began a conversation about the rights of women and girls in Cameroon. I shared with her that I was struggling with gender relations in this country- “Many of these women do not identify with this western idea of ‘gender equality’ and do not want it forced upon them or their situations. What do I do with this passion for women’s empowerment if the concept does not translate here?”
She thoughtfully responded by referencing the instance of rape in Cameroon: “Those women should be able to be empowered to speak out, not be shamed but helped. Breaking the silence is difficult, but it’s necessary to healing and advancing the status of women. Women should be able to speak out and be heard.”
This is not a new or revolutionary idea, but it is one that has changed my perspective. Women’s empowerment definitely means different things to different women- it is a concept with many definitions and many different applications, but there is an aspect that is universal and that transcends cultural difference: Women everywhere need to be empowered to speak their struggle and be heard.
Nathalie continues to fuel my passion for the rights of women and girls by pushing me me to research, learn, and speak more on the subject of violence against women. Her passion for the survivors in Cameroon has inspired the topic for my Independent Study Project- “Breaking the Silence.” Starting in a few weeks I will be working with an organization that advocates for survivors of rape, specifically researching: (1) The obstacles women face in breaking the silence and (2) if breaking that silence is changing the stigma surrounding rape.
This is a tough topic, but I am too inspired by the strength of these women to let this opportunity pass without studying the problems, listening to stories, and looking for solutions.
I’m super grateful to be here, super grateful for new friends, and super duper grateful for people like Nathalie who support and inspire us all daily.