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How Ancient African Beliefs Are Empowering Women Today

Empowerment and advocacy organization Living Your Gifts (LYG) is among the countless groups focused on helping girls and women in the world today. One major reason why self-esteem problems continue to plague women – especially young girls – can be traced to the immense pressure that societal norms and cultural ideals place on them. Issues concerning girls and self-esteem have grown so complex and pervasive in the United States that some experts refer to it as a self-esteem epidemic.

With modern concepts such as media pressure, increased intercommunication through social media, and other factors, it’s easy to see why this troubling phenomenon seems more prevalent today. For organizations such as Living Your Gifts, getting to the bottom of the issue does not come through trying to find answers within sources like the media, particularly since they are part of the problem. Instead, LYG represents a growing number of women’s rights advocates who are looking to the past to better address contemporary issues.

Society and Women Today

A recent report from independent psychology social network PsychToday discussed the growing trend in greater detail. As Dr. Carolyn Cooker Ross described, society’s positioning of women often makes it seem like their value comes from their proximity to unrealistic body ideals projected by the media. Resultantly, many young women suffer terribly because of the pressure.

In Dr. Ross’s words, “In modern times, we’ve witnessed a ‘thin at all costs’ movement that now defines Western culture. The U.S. has the highest rates of obesity and eating disorders in the world. As a melting pot of people from all backgrounds, there is no genetic reason that explains this increased vulnerability to weight, body and food issues. Instead, we have to look at the messages our society sends about how we value our citizens.”

That message, as Dr. Ross continued, is that value in girls and women seems to come through their body image and trying to match it to the cultural norm.

Living Your Gifts has come up with their own solution for individual women and girls to combat the personal effects of the self-esteem epidemic- by bringing ancient indigenous wisdom to bear on this modern reality.

Utilizing the Past to Find Inspiration Today

A representative from empowerment organization Living Your Gifts recently spoke at-length about the importance of the past in shaping the present.

The group heavily references noted African tradition and ritual scholar Sobonfu Some’. Some’ has gained international celebrity through her teachings about African rituals and healing practices for the mind, body, and spirit.

As the Living Your Gifts representative explained, “I’m not one who reads a book and thinks it will transform my life, but when I read Sobonfu’s first book, The Spirit of Intimacy, and then Welcoming Spirit Home, both talked about the ‘Hearing Ritual.’ This is where the women of the village gather with a mother before a child is born, to hear the gift the child will bring into the community- and then it is the job of the community to nurture the child’s gift. When I read that, something awakened inside of me.”

Through this book, the organization has found an even greater wealth of methods to identify and empower girls and women, no matter where they are in life. “We believe we can help them to hear and distinguish their individual gifts, and that our programs can help them bring those gifts out into the world.”

Meeting Girls Right Where They Are

Looking back into history, spiritual rituals and practices showcase an imperative component to addressing the self-esteem epidemic that is affecting culture today. In a society marred by social stigma and unattainable ideals, the solution is not embedded in this society; instead, the key to helping girls find empowerment will have to come from sources within.

This type of caring approach to rehabilitation meets girls and women at the exact spot they live and shows them there is nothing wrong with who they are. And there’s no need to strive toward something that isn’t possible to reach in the first place. As the Living Your Gifts representative reiterated, “Girls can begin to ‘hear’ their gifts and be supported by that community to live as they are, not as who they are told to be.”

Initiatives such as the emPOWERed Summer Camp succeed precisely because they utilize the knowledge of the past to identify and nurtured individual gifts in girls today- showing them, “that that is the valuable part of them. The programs allow girls to begin to test and use the ‘muscles’ of their own strengths, characteristics, and abilities, sometimes for the first time. They can see, understand, and experience themselves in a new way. In a sense they become enlightened to who they really are.”

It’s this type of shift in thinking that drives LYG’s emPOWERed programs. These programs, which include both workshops and summer camps, are designed to help girls recognize and value themselves authentically, independent from what societal norms may dictate.
The Living Your Gifts representative mentioned that the emPOWERed programs also help girls create a sense of togetherness- their own supporting community- which reinforces their own, ‘new’ individuality.

“There’s something to be said about coming together, face-to-face, and sharing your pain as well as your joy in a supportive group instead of being alone,” the representative continued, “there is so much more that can be learned from that. That’s something else that girls who get involved with us can expect. We can create community in an otherwise lonely and cold world.”

As programs like this continue to emerge and grow, more girls will begin to understand their indispensable value in the world today.

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