The (Wo)man of the House

(I have to confess that I had already written a blog post before International Women’s Day last Monday. I was frustrated with myself that I had not actively acknowledged the day in my blog. Here is a post I wrote a little while ago that I had intended to publish on the day, but also seems appropriate to publish today on Mother’s Day).

Old people are lovely.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with quite a few of them several times when volunteering in Lourdes, the Pilgrimage site in the French Pyrenees. I have always been humbled by helping the older pilgrims. Many are full of joy and are so grateful to the young people spending time with them.

After getting stranded in Barcelona over three years ago now, I was able to stay with the grandparents of my Catalan host family. Even then with my limited Spanish, the elderly couple welcomed me in like a grandson. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit them again and it was beautiful; it was like visiting the Spanish version of my own grandparents.

What struck me when I was there was the marriage of these two old people. They are both now late into their eighties and were married at 20. Up close, you notice little things about people and their relationship.

Blanca told me that she had made her husband Juan’s breakfast every day for the past 60 years. They had grown up at the end of the Spanish Civil War and lived through 40 years of dictatorship. They had witnessed the transition to democracy in Spain. They were of a generation where the husband was supposed to be the ‘man of the house’ – earning, providing and being an authority figure in the home, at work, in the church and with children.

Juan told me those 60 years had felt like 60 days. But beyond the sweetness of the couple and mutual love for each other, what I saw was a deep-rooted strength in Blanca. She and every other woman of her generation was the real rock of the household. She provided for her husband. She raised their children. She was the cement to the bricks Juan would provide. There was not one without the other.

As we mark another International Women’s Day, I know that I have a part to play as society begins to move forward. We need to recognise that women have been the engine of homes, communities and societies for centuries. Wherever women are – as single parents, in relationships, as bosses, family or community leaders – their life-giving nature cannot be denied.

Injustice, sexism, inequality and discrimination still reign. But each and every individual has a role to play to educate themselves, to challenge stereotypes and inequality, working for a more just world.