When women are empowered, society as a whole is empowered – socially, economically and educationally.
Studies have shown that the bottom line relates more to economics of empowerment and includes satisfaction, contentment, security, freedom and happiness, says Australian author and speaker on transforming women, Caroline Ward.
“Women who are more submissive can empower themselves without hurting their marriage; it’s not impossible but it is tricky because the woman who acts submissively is usually with someone who is used to being in the power position in a relationship. Taking charge and renegotiating power positions is not something that she would normally be skilled at initiating and leading. She would need external support,” she said in an email interview.
It would take a lot of awareness, courage and support to step away from such a mindset and attitude of submissiveness.
Ward, 57, has vast experience in empowering communities and organisations. She travels around the world to empower women and has inspired and shaped the lives of many.
She wrote two books – one on women’s transformation, Four Faces of Woman (2008), and the other, book on women’s courage is My Courage, Your Courage (2009).
She was recently in Malaysia for several speaking and workshop engagements organised by the spiritual movement Brahma Kumaris at Asia Retreat Centre in Dengkil, Selangor.
“When my mother started asking questions about her identity – who she was beyond being a wife and a mother – the very act of asking and then starting to explore, turned our family upside down. It was disturbing but in the long run, fantastic for her four daughters, a son and husband. They did divorce, but eventually they returned to each other,” recounted Ward, of her earliest influence.
In the 1960s, empowerment was “a lot about the power that men had and women wanted equal power, rights, voice and income to create a world that was more just and fair and, safe and kind – for everyone”.
Nowadays, she opined, empowerment still has many of those components. In addition, people are seeking “holistic empowerment – an authentic self and a sustainable life based on healthy choices for mind, body and spirit”.
In the end, if a woman’s empowerment always depends on an external source – even other women or government policy or laws – then she is still not fully empowered.
“Literacy, or rather education, is a must for women to be empowered,” stressed Ward.
“We see from Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect (2008) that education makes all the difference. It stops girls getting pregnant early, helps her to establish and grow independent sources of income, then she goes on to create employment in her community and generates economic growth in her village or town,” she said.
Four Faces of Woman
Ward has been travelling around the world conducting talks and workshops to help women attain true empowerment by supporting them to recover their true selves, based on the concept of the Four Faces she outlined in her book, The Four Faces of Woman, which has been described as “a powerful guide to greater awareness
It is an evolutionary model that has guided tens of thousands of women back to their authentic selves, said Ward.
The book’s concept of Four Faces, however, did not come from her. She “inherited” it from Helen Chapman, an Australian.
“It’s based on the cycle of time in the teachings of Brahma Kumaris, which one can also find in some form or another in Buddhism, in various European philosophies and indigenous teachings too,” said Ward who was drawn to the Brahma Kumari’s teachings in 1990. Then, she and her late husband, actor Michael Long, was searching for ways to fight his cancer.
They found many cancer survivors who spoke about meditation, which led them to Brahma Kumari, a spiritual movement which teaches that human beings are eternal souls and the body is not the essence of who you are. The essence is the soul.
“Although meditation didn’t save Michael physically, it saved us both emotionally and spiritually. We had much more mental and emotional resilience and much more joy,” she said.
After he passed away just six months after his diagnosis in 1991, she continued to meditate and later began to study with the Brahma Kumaris and has been with them for 28 years.
Ward has since then developed and taught the concept of the Four Faces to help people gain self awareness.
“The First Face is The Eternal Face – our true self, the essence, whom we were born as and to be,” said Ward
The Second Face, the Traditional Face, has to do with traditional roles and is about complying with norms and rules of society, family, and religion in order to feel secure; for a sense of belonging, acceptance, approval, love and peace.
The Third Face is the Modern Face, which is about breaking free from the chains of someone else’s rule.
“The Modern Face is that archetype within all of us that fights back for power, which resists being controlled. Sometimes, this shows up as grand gestures of rebellion like the suffragettes or the first big wave of feminism, or Joan of Arc or Malala.
“Other times, it is as subtle as refusing to answer your husband’s questions, saying ‘Everyting is fine’ when everyone knows it really isn’t.
“Thus, the Modern Face is an unconscious attempt to regain freedom and independence and a sense of oneself,” she said.
The fourth, The Empowered Face, is that of “the wise woman, the awakened observer”.
“Her work is as an agent of transformation. This face is the bridge across, the return to the true self. This is about being the non-judging, compassionate, wise, firm and loving advisor to ourselves,” explained Ward, who conducted her first Four Faces workshop in 1996 in India which was attended by 350 women from 42 countries.
She only wrote the book in 2005.
She regards the Four Faces programme and book as her “passport” to working with women all over the world. “Sometimes I really think that the one who has learned and gained the most in all these years is me!” she said.
Her second book on women and transformation is My Courage, Your Courage, which was published in 2009.
The book came about after a 12-month social transformation project in Chile where Ward and her team engaged 3,000 women as change agents in their homes and communities.
These women taught their husbands, children and parents to recogise their courage as a power to face crisis and bring opportunity and hope to what often seemed like impossible situations.
Recently, Ward returned to Australia to help look after her ageing father and pursue some new ideas related to her work.
Now that she has planned to stay put in Australia for the next year or so, she is looking for a good ceramics school.
“I just love the quiet, creative, hand-mind connection and the practical art of making something both beautiful and useful,” she said.
She also wants to rewrite The Four Faces of Woman to make it more accessible and powerful. After that, her next book may likely be about women and leadership.
She hinted: “It’s utterly different, super challenging and exquisitely powerful and inspiring.”