Edited by Sharon G. Mijares, Aliaa Rafea, and Nahid Angha
By Paul Chaffee
Matthew Arnold, the distinguished Victorian poet and essayist, is credited with saying,
“If ever there comes a time when the women of the world come together purely and simply for the benefit of [hu]mankind, it will be a force such as the world has never known.”
Were Arnold with us today, and could read A Force Such as the World Has Never Known: Women Creating Change, he would be nodding his head in happy satisfaction.
This book takes on the very toughest subjects: living in the midst of war, terror, rape and abuse of women and children, the dangerous struggle for women’s rights, and much, much more. At a glance, it looked like a tough read – and it goes on for 406 pages!
So I was startled to get pulled into each chapter, slowing down to catch the details, and then, like a good mystery story, finding myself compelled to start the next chapter right away. It was counter-intuitive; story by story I was buoyed. These 28 women, each with a chapter, take us through the nightmares of cultural oppression, unspeakable violence, and poverty. But one by one, in impossible situations, their work turns fruitful, leaving you cheering for the ways human beings, led by women, can make the world a safer, better place.
As Jean Shinoda Bolen says of them in the Foreword, “They are women who rescue, teach, and empower girls and women and are advocates for positive change in judicial and religious institutions.” Their stories come from “Syria, Japan, Costa Rica, Brazil, Bangladesh, Tibet, India, China, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Liberia, United Kingdom, Iran, Uganda, Venezuela, Sweden, Canada, and the United States of America.”
These women come from a variety of faiths, as well, but it is a deep spirituality and a creative genius for constructive cultural change that indelibly marks them as leaders. They are grassroots-grounded, articulate and well versed, walk the talk, take all sorts of risks, and are active nationally and internationally. Each has made a huge difference in her chosen arena. Women’s rights in Iran after Ayatollah Khomeini took over – ending war and chaos in Liberia – using the Dances of Universal Peace to actually generate peace – the environmental passion and raw courage of women in Uganda reclaiming the Earth – a campaign to enroll nurses to address the enormous unaddressed medical needs of the world – inspiring the Dalai Lama to overturn Tibetan Buddhism’s historic sexism – returning Japan to its indigenous heritage of the Divine Feminine (Ama-terasu) through diet – transforming how babies and birth are treated in Russia … the list goes on and on.
These writers have bulging resumes, beautifully captured in 15 biographical pages at the end of the book. More importantly, they are a new breed of leaders, with different assumptions, values, and goals than the dominant culture. In the lead essay, co-editor Sharon Mijares writes:
The patriarchal paradigm, with its extreme emphasis on corporate power, greed and related wars, is moving all the organic life rapidly into extinction. It is time for all humanity to makes choices and related actions that create peace, economic security and environmental care for all – rather than for a small segment of humanity, a specific race, region or gender.
Later in her opening essay Mijares sketches the history of the Divine Feminine, glossing the likes of Quan Yin, Sophia, and Tara, along with lesser known figures from indigenous traditions. (Explicitly or implicitly, all 28 authors address the Divine Feminine in their own contexts.) Mijares also surveys psychological literature about leadership, a discussion packed with provocative notions, such as, “Women need to heal their relationships with other women in order to clear out dominating and destructive behaviors.”
Mijares’ colleagues in editing this book, Aliaa Rafea and Nahid Angha, write the final chapter, drawing conclusions from all that’s been presented. They happily admit the stories are promising, but go on to survey the huge task ahead. They point out that they are a part of what is being called “transnational feminism,” designed “to work as one human family, respecting our diversity and enriching our experiences.” They conclude with a discussion of the “spirituality in action” that characterizes every page of the anthology.
One notes, in passing, that the three editors all are Muslim, though in no way is this a Muslim book. It’s worth mentioning simply because the enablers of this spiritual treasure are representatives of a growing community of mainstream Muslims in our midst who are making pioneering contributions benefiting us all. These three women deserve gratitude and congratulations from all of us.
The best use of A Force Such as the World Has Never Known: Women Creating Change will be as a primary text in leadership training courses for the 21st century. Three stories a week for a semester would offer a rich diet, inspiring long conversations about core values, leadership, and transforming the world. For men as well as women, please, for whom it should be at least as valuable. If you care about what women can teach us about healing the world, buy your own copy. It’s an interspiritual feast.
Women Creating Change’s lasting impression, for this reader, is hope. Not a Pollyanna ‘every thing’s going to be all right’ kind of hope, not a sigh of relief that the work has been done. No cheap hope here. But each one of these writers, and the sisters with whom they stand, indeed represent a force the world has never seen. We are the better for it, and we can learn to be like them.