On Friday I’m going to the Champion of Women Awards – a ceremony that recognises and honours successful women who excel in their fields. Women who have demonstrated extraordinary talent and provided support and encouragement to their peers, paving the way for the next generation. I’m a huge advocate of women championing other women, and I don’t think there can be many who haven’t been moved by the phenomenal courage and determination of Deborah James as she raises over six million through her Bowelbabe fund for Cancer Research UK – and in less than a week. I am humbled by what she has achieved.
Her tireless campaigning since she was diagnosed with cancer – funny, honest and always with a smile – and openly sharing her story to raise awareness and help others living with cancer is beyond inspirational. There are no words. Yet the power of her words and actions, of speaking out and using her voice for change, is yet another example of a woman whose legacy will hopefully go on to help shape the course of history – and it’s also a recognition of just how powerful women can be.
Of course, the knowledge that we are powerful isn’t a revelation to us. We know our strengths and fight to achieve our standing in what is still, essentially, a man’s world. If you go back over the centuries there are a significant number of outstandingly powerful women who challenged the political landscape as leaders, or whose achievements influenced history with their strength, determination and passion. Literature is littered with remarkable female writers whose societal and political observations enlightened the women of their time and paved the way for feminist thinking today. It continues with each generation, but the problem we face is that, despite all of these examples of prominent women throughout the years, it’s still not considered the norm.
When we attach the word ‘powerful’ to men, it goes virtually unnoticed as an acceptable norm. When we talk about powerful women, they stand out and their achievements seem so much more marked because they are – well – women. The Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘powerful’ is: ‘having great power or strength’. That works, but it goes on to clarify this characterisation with a list of synonyms: ‘strong, muscular, sturdy, strapping and mighty’. All male words. If you attach these to women – with our ability to be as powerful – they sit uncomfortably. They are not our definition of what being a powerful woman means.
Women have an incredibly strong work ethic. As natural carers our brains work overtime to establish and balance the needs of those who rely on us. With determination we work diligently to put in place our own ambitions and successes. We are constantly alert to change and the demands this brings. Over the years we have honed our innate ability to multitask to such a high degree of proficiency, we know how to make things happen. We are used to negotiation, with diplomacy and tact, on a daily basis. Tapping into our empathy and compassion, we recognise who needs us, when they need us and why. Finally, and significantly, we understand the importance of solidarity. Women supporting women to empower each other by coming together collectively. You can forget the Oxford Dictionary Definition – it is all of this that makes us powerful women.
So I want to buy Dame Deborah James a drink. I want to support her tireless campaign to raise funding for clinical trials and research that could result in new treatments for cancer patients. I want to thank her for the humour she often gave her cancer and that made it more bearable for others living with the disease. And I want to thank her for the phenomenal courage she has shown, because this is our example. Courage gives us the power to be the change we want to see in the world. I’ll raise a glass of champagne to that.