I have to admit it, I have a secret guilty pleasure - dance shows! Yes, I love them all and will turn the ringer off on my phone so I'm not interrupted when they're on. As I was watching a not to be named dance show, the judges were going on and on about a particular performance where a young women was dressed as a ninja inspired warrior, decked out in leather, and they were gushing what an amazing role model she was for young girls and empowerment. It definitely was a great dance, but I couldn't help but think why is a scantly clad women in leather punching the air a role model for women empowerment?
Visions of "powerful women" began flashing in my head and images of Wonder Woman, Elektra, the business executive in a power suit, ladies at the Women's March with fists raised, bullhorn in hand, and I began to realize that when I think of truly strong women I know they look nothing like what we hail as strength in the public forum.
Thinking about moments in my own life where I felt real "strength," they never occurred wearing a really great leather outfit. To be honest, when I've had to dig really deep it was more often than not doing things deemed as "normal," wearing no makeup and yes, maybe not showered - LOL! For me, they were moments like getting out of bed after my Dad died, facing my fear of driving when I had to go to the grocery store, or learning how to live life again after being sexually assaulted. They are the moments so many of us face each day, the moments we decide to take a step forward. Sometimes they're big and sometimes they're small, but the important thing to celebrate is we take them.
So, I'm writing to share some stories of amazing women that have helped me redefine what I view as strength. These are the women we partner with at AMERICAN NOMAD and their life experiences and resiliency floor me with admiration. I love filling my life with the items they make as a reminder to me that inner strength has many faces. I can not tell you how many times I've wrapped up in one of their handmade kantha quilts channeling inspiration thinking of the woman who made it. These are the stories I wish inspired reality TV show dances and these are the stories I hope we can share more often to help redefine what female empowerment really looks like. They represent each Mom, sister, or friend that goes about their every day lives trying to take care of the ones they love, face their fears or overcome personal hardships.
textile artist at BASHA
I am Hasi. I work in the textile department at Basha Enterprises. I have a daughter. From my childhood, I had a sorrowful life. Even after my marriage, I was not happy. I worked in a Jute Mill (a factory for processing jute that is natural fiber grown in Bangladesh) and there I faced harassment from the male colleagues. I have tried for so many jobs and spent lots of money to get the job, but didn’t get any. I was nearly trafficked, but someone helped me to escape. Now I am working with Basha and it is a safe place. I am happy to have a dignified work. I am glad that I can pay my daughter’s education fees. I am really happy to work with Basha.
stitcher for JOYN, partners with Joy Corps
Beautiful Malti always has a smile on her face, even though she spent her youth on the street, digging through trash to find bottles for money. At the age of 16, she joined the Street Smart program, got valuable training, and soon landed a job with one of our partner businesses.
Though surrounded by a sea of peers who had chosen lives of begging, Malti never gave in. She has an air of dignity hidden beneath her giggly teenaged exterior. When you look at Malti, you would never guess that she is the main breadwinner for her household. She works a full-time job as a stitcher for one of our partner businesses and then goes home to prepare meals and care for three siblings.
After the requisite eight months working full-time, Malti couldn’t wait to approach the local Community Fund board with a formal proposal she’d written out—a request for a $200 loan. With this money she could finally secure a lawyer to help her recover land that was rightfully hers. She got her land back! And now she and her sibling are off the streets—all because of $200.
Within a few months, Malti had paid back her loan in full. She was eager to pay back the money because she knew that once it was back in the Community Fund, someone else just like her would have the opportunity for a brighter future as well.
MARIE CHANTAL MUKAKALISA
weaver at All Across Africa | Kazi
Weaving has brought me out of a very tough life that I wasn’t sure I would be able to escape. My troubles started from age 7, when my parents divorced and abandoned me and my younger siblings. They left us alone to look out for each other. We had some relatives in the area to give us food and the government forced my father to build us a house, but the raising my siblings was my responsibility.
At eighteen, I married a man who did not treat me well. The marriage and mistreatment destroyed me emotionally, and I carry the pain with me to this day. Even as I tell you my story, I feel tears coming to my eyes. Growing up, I cared for my siblings and I had always been responsible for looking after my own children, so I knew that when my husband and I divorced, things would be okay. It took a lot of strength to walk away, but I needed a safe life with my children. I do not plan on ever marrying again because it only brought me hardship. Even if I wanted to remarry, it would be difficult at my age to find someone who wanted to care for my three children. I really am proud to be an independent woman surround by other amazing women in my cooperative.
I love weaving because it keeps women from begging and allows a single mom like me to provide my children with everything they need. Not only has it lifted me and so many other women out of extreme conditions of poverty but it provides us with a safe place. I no longer feel alone because I have kind-hearted people in my life, with whom I can share my thoughts and experiences. A lot of women share similar stories about how they found the courage to leave their husbands who brought them trouble. All Across Africa has made it easier for me to create a happy life and pushed me to overcome all my past troubles in order to look forward.
beaders for 31BITS
These women grew up during a horrific, twenty-year war in Eastern Africa that left their community in drastic need. Most of them had little-to-no education as kids. Some are HIV positive, single moms, or were left without family or a home because of the war. But these strong women didn’t let their circumstances define them. They began rolling beads from paper, and searched for ways to sell them. After forming a partnership with 31BITS to sell their jewelry, they implemented a five year program that offers fair pay and holistic care. This means 31BITS provides finance education and business training, promotes physical and mental wellness, and cares for their families and communities. After five years in their program, an artisan is ready to graduate. This means she is educated, healthy, and confident while managing her very own business where she has an ongoing and sustainable income.
Krochet Kids International knitter
During the war, Grace and her mother were forced to relocate often and lost many of their belongings along the way. Grace, a mother of five, had hope for a brighter future for her children but worried they would face similar struggles like she did. It wasn't until being introduced to KK Uganda that Grace and her husband had hope for their children. Grace has been able to earn enough money to provide education for her children. She hopes to continue to save her money and buy land to start her own business so that she can educate her children to the highest level, something she was never given the opportunity to do.
Her dreams for the future is to educate her children since she did not get a proper education so that they may help in the future. She also hopes to start up a business to give a constant flow of income in her family.
These are just a hand full of artists that craft each item we curate at AMERICAN NOMAD. As you shop our site you will find countless inspirational stories of the artists that hand make each piece and learn how shopping ethically truly changes the lives of others around the world not just for the artists, but also for any person that brings these items into their lives. They are not only beautiful, but also a humble reminder that inner strength has many faces, and yours is one of them!
And I just want to take a minute to thank all of the strong women in my life that have believed in me during some of my most challenging struggles and help lift me up when I doubted my own strength. As Isaac Newton said, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Thank you for being my giants!
Lisa C. - Shari S. - Tara K. - Braswell G. - Grace P. - Margie O. - Danielle W. - Renee W. - Amy S. - Lucy S. - Shannon P. - Melanie M. - Debbie D. - Fran - Patricia M. - Caroline G.