Friday, January 25, 2008

Y(Our) Precious Democracy

A continuation of my previous mental note....

I had been meaning to blog about this right after our leadership training back in August, but I kept forgetting, then I didn't have time, then the holidays were up and I didn't feel like thinking. But anyway, there we were, 10 Filipinos with the rest of our neighbours from all around the region. Men and women who were already in decision-making positions and a handful of us wide-eyed (relative) youngsters.

In the opening session we were given the etymology of the word "leadership" which literally meant "go forth and die." The connotations are obviously military. A leader was someone who launched a leader was probably exclusively a man. A leader was a commander of an army, implying hierarchy and control. We were then asked if this model of leadership was still relevant today.

Obviously not.

In one of the sessions we were asked to name people whom we thought personified leadership. So many of the examples given were involved in wars - generals, men in uniform. Almost all were exclusively males. Napoleon, Hitler, Lenin, Mao, Ghandi, Bill Gates, etc. etc.

Asked to define what leadership meant in the contemporary world, I sat there arguing with a Bangladeshi a decade older than me. With his body language it was obvious he didn't think my views mattered much, or that he even wanted to continue discussing with me. Was it because I was younger and female? Perhaps I grew accustomed to being treated differently by Filipino males - whether younger or older, that was why I felt ill at ease.

It was surprising how the definitions of leadership given by our neighbours still hewed much closer to the old meaning. Ego-centric, top-down, masculine. My other Filipina colleague verbalised it for me, "Its amazing how our closely-held democratic values are so different."

At the farewell dinner I sat next to another Bangladeshi woman. During our small talk I had mentioned we had a female president, and I implied the generals she has surrounded herself with may be getting antsy. Matter-of-factly she says, "Well, because she's a woman and they sense her weakness." I sat there, brows furrowed, thinking of a response. I must've said something about her not being the first and so her being a woman was never really an issue. As the words escaped my lips, I felt both bewildered and relieved - that we are different, that we seem out place, that we are a unique breed.

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