Now with wings

The news, here, is full of politicians telling us lies, spreading hatred and declining the offer of a swords-at-dawn ‘conversation’. It’s election season, and they’re all at it, telling us how awful it would be under the other guys and promising us the world. Talking and talking and talking but never actually listening. I was bored of it all two years ago, and I’m bored of it now. I will vote, but only so that I can say that I did. I have said it before but it does seem to be universally true (in places where you get a vote, at least): it truly doesn’t matter whom you vote for, you always end up with a politician.

So, while the politicians carry on behaving like politicians (truly, I’ve seen more civilised behaviour around the sand pit in a nursery), I will look elsewhere.

To start with, I mark the passing of Taylor Alesana, bullied to death in California last week. The fatal blow was struck by her own hand, so the people who drove her to it will walk away scot free, of course. There are always some people who see someone else’s suicide as funny or as a victory or as something other than the life-shattering tragedy that it is. For her friends and family, I say a prayer; for her tormentors, I say another; for myself, I say there, but for the grace of God, go I. For the California Department of Education Office of Equal Opportunity, I say shame on you. Shame on you for being nothing more than a sign on an office door. Shame on you for not actually caring about the children you are legally required to care about. Oooh, it makes me mad.

On a more positive note, though, I turn to Ghana. It is not easy for a woman to break into a traditionally male-dominated field anywhere in the world and even less so in Africa where cultural roots run deep. Not to be limited by things outside herself, however, Patricia Mawuli knocked on the door of Kpong Airfield, the busiest General Aviation airfield in West Africa and asked for a job. It’s a pretty good place to work: in addition to learning how to fly an aeroplane, the site has a well-equipped maintenance facility where a determined apprentice can learn to maintain and fix the planes and the engines. I can well understand the allure.

They said no, of course. Women don’t do that kind of thing. Undeterred, she said ‘fine, then I will work here for free.’ And work she did. Freed of the macho desire to prove herself by feats of brute-force-and-ignorance, she applied her brain to the task of wielding a machete and clearing the trees from the airfield, so she was better at it than the men were.

She didn’t just cut down trees, but she became the first woman private pilot in Ghana and the first woman in the whole of West Africa to be qualified to build and maintain Rotax engines.

In turn, she is now a flight instructor, and is teaching the women of Ghana (and further afield) how to fly.

This is a real life example of the principle that the most powerful force for economic improvement of entire communities is the empowerment of women and girls.

Because women, like everyone else, are people, and holding them back holds everyone back.

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