IN A COUPLE OF DAYS, JANE HEADS TO SOUTH SUDAN with two other formidable women to oversee our projects in that troubled region of Africa. It happens every year, regardless of circumstances either here at home or over there. Commitment like Jane’s knows no irregularities.
I was asked for coffee by someone last week who wanted me to know that I wasn’t fulfilling my role as a husband because I was letting my wife head into a conflict region. “She needs you there to take care of her, Glen, in case something happens,” he observed.
For the next 30 minutes I took him through Jane’s remarkable exploits around the world, in places like Rwanda, Bosnia and Somalia. I told him of when she travelled for days through the mountains of Turkey in order to drop into Iraq during the First Gulf War. She came down out of those cold elevations only to land at a military camp that was struggling to assist thousands of refugees. When Jane offered to assist, the ranking officer asked, “Do you anything about distributing food?” She smiled and nodded (she didn’t inform him she directed a food bank) and he put her in charge of the entire operation. The thought of it still inspires me: a camp of very strong, dedicated and capable men turning to a woman they didn’t know to take the lead – truly remarkable.
I finally put my hand on the man’s shoulder in that coffee shop and said: “If you were ever in Sudan with us (as so many have been), you would quickly understand that it’s Jane that hits the ground running and that it’s me who looks to her for guidance and not the other way around.”
Jane and I have literally been through the wars in numerous regions around the globe and I’ve come to understand one of the secrets to her effectiveness. Rather than talk endlessly about a woman’s place in the world, she just lives it. She always finds it deeply troubling that so many people aspiring to full equality fail to show any interest in those regions of the world where women have no advantages or access whatsoever. And so she journeys to those regions and fights for women’s rights in places where it’s remarkably difficult to achieve any such victory. There is action to her words and the women in places like Sudan know that they have found someone from the West who can reach out past her own confines to help in those regions where the darkness around women’s lives is the most pervasive.
But it’s not just about Africa, Asia, South America or Eastern Europe. She dedicates herself to working at the food bank because she is fully aware that it is primarily women who suffer through the encroaching clutches of systemic poverty. She always wonders why people who claim equality as a lofty goal don’t undertake greater efforts to assist women struggling on low-income or in aboriginal communities.
True equality between men and women will never come until we all apply our efforts to those very regions where women face the greatest struggles. To seek equality in Canada while ignoring the developing world is to miss the point and, sadly, to miss the opportunity to assist two billion women who suffer for our lack of being able to extend our values to where they are truly needed. For women in general, their community is far more vast that mere geography, and journeys wherever their solidarity is required.
We must always struggle for the right of any woman to lead, follow, run for politics or manage a company – wherever her dreams take her. But surely her horizon can’t overlook women who can’t find water, suffer from HIV, can’t breastfeed their children, or protect their villages from violence. One woman’s fight for equality is necessarily every woman’s fight, and this is something Jane just lives out in her life with no need to preach it. Her life is her sermon. Her actions are her policy. Her faithfulness is her politics. And her husband and children are her debtors.
I was to travel with Jane in a couple of days, but when a Sudanese woman expressed her deep desire to be with her people in their struggle, Jane and I both agreed that I should let her have my seat. But we needn’t worry that in that male-dominated part of the world that Jane will be all the poorer for the lack of her husband’s presence. She will debate, woo, charm, and fight with those leaders to get the schools built, our water projects functioning, and in keeping the woman’s micro-enterprises in the solid ownership of the women themselves.
It will be me who will the poorer for her absence. I will feel slightly lost and somewhat incapable of overseeing our remarkable amount of responsibilities. But I will know that this one remarkably capable citizen will be reminding everyone that a woman’s ultimate place of effectiveness is in the world – shaping it, loving it, confronting it, elevating and refining it. Jane is a constant reminder that a woman’s world must include all women, especially those on the margins. A man married to such a person captures his own hope through such an example.