What is empowerment?
Empowerment (as defined by Wikipedia) refers to an increase in autonomy and self-determination, and is –
the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.
Why is empowerment important for women in today’s modern society? At the outset, women’s rights and opportunities have advanced tremendously in the last few decades, with gender equality implicated in all facets of life including jobs, salaries, domestic living, society expectations, and even dating and relationships. However, beneath this bustling world of opportunity, is a rapidly growing societal issue – the rise in mental health illness.
Research shows that women experience certain mental health conditions at higher rates than men. The statistics are alarming. In Australia, 1 in 5 women will experience depression and 1 in 3 women will experience anxiety during their lifetime.
Some mental health conditions are also exclusive to women, for example those brought on by biological and hormonal changes, during pregnancy or following the birth of a child. However whilst these causes are broadly acknowledged, there is now more research around the detrimental impact of a more intangible cause – the need for perfection and the feeling of pressure both external and internal, facing women and girls from a very young age to meet unattainable standards. Imposter syndrome is prevalent, with many accomplished individuals feeling inadequate despite a glowing list of documented achievements. Yet the dichotomy is apparent – how can one be depressed when you have everything at your fingertips, including food, shelter, education, entertainment and opportunity?
What’s clear is that over time we’ve collectively lost the power within us to understand and choose our own happiness. We’ve been led to believe by mainstream and social media that to be happy we need to:
- Look a particular way
- Own luxury brand items, progress in our careers, live in hip apartments or vogue inspired homes
- Yet at the same time, also be travel gurus, wandering across far fetched corners of the world, living freely in the moment (yet continue to make millions?)
- Be busy, filling our lives with hobbies, friends, dinner partners, exclusive events and nights out of wild fun
- Find Mr. Right, have children, raise families and still to continue achieve all the above.
…And when occasionally, we meet that rare individual who does not tick all these boxes, or conform to societal standards, yet is radiating happiness and contentment with just being themselves, we can feel genuine surprise. You know the person I’m talking about – how can they be happy without travelling or seeing the world? How can they be happy staying at home every night or being single? How can they be happy in a mediocre job? How can they be truly happy just being?
Whilst we’re fortunate to have all the opportunities that we do today compared to our previous generations of female forebearers, we sometimes forget to take a step back and reflect on whether we’re taking up these opportunities truly for our own inner happiness or to meet the expectations of others. By becoming more aware and confident in ourselves, we can start to take control without fear of the implications of breaking away from the heavy pressures of perfection or judgement.
Beginning the journey of empowering ourselves should start with making choices based on our own truth (really listening to our instincts); and this applies to all parts of life from careers, to friendships, relationships, how we live everyday and what we do with our spare time. By working on mindfulness and being aware of where our choices are coming from (is it a place of fear, obligation, logic, expectation, authenticity or love?) we can start to adjust the way we’ve been educated by modern society to think and behave, the latter being generally based on squashing the inner gut feeling in lieu of accepted reasoning. This is particularly relevant for women who have been in or come across toxic or abusive relationships. Little girls have traditionally been conditioned to be kind, helpful and accommodating; which are wonderful traits when there’s no compromise to one’s own mental or emotional health; but too often we see this early conditioning manifest into notions of self-sacrifice and the difficulty of saying no and coming across as unkind, unhelpful or selfish, eventually leading to the constant need for validation and the development of unhealthy relationships.
By slowly investigating and readjusting our choices to follow our personal truths, passions and internal “yesses”, we can start to feel a greater sense of purpose and inner confidence. We can then begin to be more open and vulnerable to sharing our inner thoughts, dreams, hopes and fears; bringing us a feeling of connection and empathy to others and vice versa. Once we start to reach out, we discover that every other women has also at some point experienced the same fears, insecurities and judgements as we have (either by others or themselves). …and through community, we can strengthen each other.
By empowering ourselves and eachother, we can aim to slowly combat the rise in mental health conditions and pave a different road for the new generation of females behind us, starting by abolishing this need for perfection or attainment of unfulfilling standards and acknowledging that it’s enough just to be our authentic selves.
Chiara is the founder of CIIARA. A French-born Vietnamese living in Melbourne. Passionate about dance, fashion and social change.