In November I had the distinct privilege of being part of a group, invited by The Global Fund, to travel to Ghana and witness first hand some of their efforts at eliminating HIV infection from mothers to infants. To call the trip humbling is almost meaningless. While my family is far from wealthy, there is no denying that as middle-class Americans our lot in life is infinitely easier, and as an educated woman, I did not expect to find much, if anything, in common with the women I would meet.
But then I did.
The second stop on my first full day of clinic visits was by far the hardest for me and also the most amazing. That's where I met women like Doreen- a 38 year old mother of two who is HIV positive. Her children are the same age as mine. We're practically the same age. We chatted about sleeplessness, teething and the individual quirks of our children. During that conversation her daughter Angela went right for my "O" pendant--just like Olive does. There we were, so much to share and so many worlds apart. Oof. Here's the more professional take if you are so inclined.
Beyond just making a connection and developing a deeper perspective on those parts of our existence that unite us, I was reminded that, in the front-lines of life, it is women who are our strongest foot soldiers. Every mother I met was motivated by a true desire to be present and to stay alive for their children, knowing that fact alone would ensure their better world. Every clinic I visited was staffed with nurses, almost all women, who worked ridiculous hours at low wages but who knew, and would tell you, that the best way to improve the lot of all Ghanaians was to take care of the women and children first.
And in that I think is the real lesson. It's hard to think of women as the real leaders in this world when so many remain disenfranchised second-class citizens. In my own country women make up a pathetically small number of actual elected leaders and must still fight for the basic right to control their bodies and hence their own economic opportunity. But yet here we are, persisting, forging ahead, more often than not motivated by a drive to better the world not for our own immediate gain, but simply for the act of betterment. That, right there, is what real leadership is all about