Updated: Dec 30, 2020
How empowering women elevates us all: an interview with Shana Abraham, author of RISE
With all the chaos that has the world holding its breath and a U.S. election that has a whole country waiting anxiously by its mailboxes, there is certainly a lot to talk about. Whether it is the disparate impact of COVID-19 or the senseless killings of Black Americans by police, it is clear that we are far from achieving equity.
People are taking to social media and the streets to engage in activism and demand change on a number of issues. But the question we must not forget to ask is:
Is our advocacy intersectional enough?
Kimberlé Crenshaw, the law professor that coined the term 'intersectionality' in a 1989 paper advocating for inclusiveness within the feminist movement, describes it as “a prism for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other”. Despite all the progress that has been made since the suffragettes, the reality is that the feminist movement has never been inclusive enough of minorities.
We have to understand that there is no oppression that exists in isolation. It is, therefore, important to be intersectional in our activism so we can effectively use our voice to build equitable systems for the marginalized communities that have been silenced.
Shana Abraham, author of RISE, is one such voice. She believes in the power of uplifting women, specifically women of color, and fights alongside those who are often not heard. In her words, empowering women creates better communities that uplifts the women that reside within them. Empowering women builds a generation of changemakers.
Empowering women elevates us all.
Shana is an Indian-American changemaker of her own. Exhilarated by the potential to reduce the global health disparities of women of color through innovation, she carved her own path and created her own specialized major at Duke University: “Culturally-Specific Innovation to Reduce Health Disparities for Black and Brown Women”. With it, she hopes to create sustainable social impact programs that empower women across the world in the future. When she saw the need for a female empowerment guide for young women of color, Shana wrote it.
RISE is a book about intersectionality and female empowerment and how we can support the next generation of changemakers. It follows the narratives of women across the globe, many being young women of color.
Shana says “It was written for the young women who don't know how to become changemakers, who are looking for guidance and role models and a way to understand why they may be hesitating, or guidance on how to begin.” Who can be a changemaker?
Women like Angela Davis or Malala Yousafzai are praised and looked up to for their incredible influence as changemakers. They often seem like unattainable, one-in-a-million catalysts of change.
However, there is an ordinary young girl somewhere doing extraordinary things for her community, and for the world, that may never be pushed into the spotlight. And it is for that girl that Shana wrote RISE.
These women, regardless of class, race, religion, nationality, sexuality, or ability are the backbones of their communities. In fact, a growing body of evidence shows that investing in women boosts productivity, increases economic diversification and income equality in addition to other positive development outcomes. We see that empowering women leads to societies flourishing because they are finally able to tap into the power women were meant to exercise.
Shana says this is why “We need more young women of color and their narratives at the forefront of the media. We need visibility, representation, and to acknowledge, recognize, and appreciate their diligent work in many of the spaces we are in today.” How can we empower other women in our daily lives?
The Womxn’s Room is rooted in intersectional feminism, empowering women from all walks of life to support one another and be more like drunk girls in bar bathrooms. I wanted an inclusive space for women to show up as their authentic and multifaceted selves on the daily– professional and silly, vulnerable and safe, honest and judgment-free.
So, to empower women in our daily lives, we need to be willing to show up as our authentic and multifaceted selves regularly and allow the space for others to do the same without prejudice.
Shana says “It starts with shifting our perspective and addressing biases and stereotypes that we may have grown up with. We need to address how our cultures have kept women down for too long.” We have to ask ourselves questions such as what do we praise young girls for? What do we scold them for? Are we giving them enough space to show up as themselves? Where can we give them more representation, especially in political realms where policies that affect millions of women are made?
RISE goes through five specific sectors with actionable strategies and ideas to empower women, but this is just the beginning. The point, as Shana articulates it, is “Start somewhere. Any progress is better than no progress.”
Get your copy of RISE: How Empowering Women Elevates Us All today and leave a review! You can follow Shana and her work on Instagram. She is currently building an executive team for RISE and has a number of positions open.
Read the full interview with Shana Abraham here.