Amazon Women – Giving us the courage to speak out

Posted on: February 19, 2014

In Greek mythology, the Amazons were a tribe of warrior women who were very successful in battle and were powerfully in charge of their destiny. As a girl I was fascinated by them as they seemed so different from the passive way in which women were portrayed in those times.  This January I had an extraordinary opportunity to travel to Ecuador and meet the real women of the Amazon. I attended a Summit of the Global Alliance of Rights of Nature, an international network of organisations working to transform our legal and governance systems so that they put the health and integrity of the Earth first. I then travelled to the Amazon rainforest with The Pachamama Alliance to meet tribes of indigenous people who live deep in the rainforest and who are working to preserve their way of life in the face of constant threats from oil exploration and mining.

photoI was struck by how active and outspoken the women are. In contrast to many other parts of the world where public life and politics are a largely male domain and women are relegated to the background, women are very much in the lead in Ecuador. They are running for election, working as community activists and speaking at meetings and conferences.  They speak out with passion, courage and power – even in the face of threats of arrest and imprisonment.  They take a stand for the indigenous way of life, living in harmony with the rainforest and challenging an economic model that sees no value in a living forest until it is cut down for timber or cleared for mining.

Pablo Solon, former Bolivian Ambassador to the UN and speaker at the Summit, commented to me: “On environmental matters it is women who take the lead. I find that they are more courageous”.

Back in the UK I reflected on ways in which I prevent myself from speaking up.  I am fortunate that I am not likely to be put in prison for expressing my views, yet sometimes even the fear of being ridiculed or left out because I express what deeply matters to me is enough to stop me from speaking. I stay silent in order to fit in and belong.

I have found a very reliable support to speaking up is to listen to my body.   When there is something it feels important for me to say I notice that I feel heat rising up in my body – a visceral need to give voice. If I pay attention to this and act on it I can usually claim the floor and find the words to express myself in a way that engages others. When I ignore this I both deprive the group of my contribution and I take a step backwards to conformity and away from courage.

Where are you silencing yourself?  Where do you duck out of taking a risk and expressing what matters to you?  It does not need to be a life and death situation.  It could be as simple as challenging a colleague about their behaviour or being willing to disagree when everyone else in the team seems to be going in a different direction to you.

Next time you are in a meeting take time to ask yourself the following:

  • What do I truly want to say?
  • How am I holding myself back?
  • How can listening to my body support me to speak up?

Each tiny act of courage makes a difference.  As William James said: “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”