The Peoples of the World Foundation

Education for and about Indigenous Peoples

Op-Ed February, 2017: Empowering Dianas
Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

Diana was the Roman goddess of hunting. In his eulogy for his sister, Diana, Princess of Wales, Earl Spencer pointed out the irony that: "... a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age." Last month was the twentieth anniversary of that same Princess Diana walking through a minefield in Angola. She did so to bring attention to one of the causes she supported: destroying unexploded land mines in former war zones. On the anniversary, Paul Heslop, her escort that day, recalled the danger involved. Ironically, nobody knew at the time how much more dangerous it would be for her to be escorted through a tunnel in Paris later that year. She became an empowering Diana in her short life. I have no doubt that the global solidarity achieved by women marching on the twenty-first of last month was empowered, at least in part, by her.

The young girl in this month's photo is not named Diana. Nor is it likely she will ever become a Diana — even though hers is a community of hunters. She is an indigenous Akha girl whom I photographed many years ago. Unlike Romans of the modern age, the Akha people still believe in gods that guide their hunting. But those gods guide only hunting by men. I have accompanied Akha men on hunting trips — but always without girls or women. Akha girls and women are not empowered to pursue hunting because of gender discrimination.

Many Akha of the modern age live in poverty. Many who run for political office campaign, euphemistically, on the ticket of curing poverty. The charity, Oxfam, pointed out last month that the global wealth gap is wider than anyone had imagined: the world's eight richest people are, combined, as wealthy as the poorest half of the global population. The late Christopher Hitchens explained the real cure for poverty as well as anyone ever can: "It's colloquially called 'The Empowerment of Women'."

The disturbing results of an experimental research project were published in Science a few days ago. It concluded that girls become disempowered as early as age six. A Syrian girl, Bana Alabed, aged seven, is not among them. Empowered by the humanitarian attitude to Syrian refugees that she has received, last month she attempted to empower the "leader of the free world" to bring hope to the children of Syria. Instead he condemned those children to an indefinite life without hope.

Aisholpan is an indigenous, Kazakh, teenaged girl from Mongolia and she is a Diana. Last month she empowered me to write this opinion when I watched a documentary about her: The Eagle Huntress. It is one of the most inspirational films I have ever seen. Spoiler alert: we see her successfully overcome gender stereotypes — that girls cannot become eagle huntresses — as she becomes the first female to compete in her people's annual Golden Eagle Festival.

We vainly celebrate our culture of western education. Yet Nurgaiv — Aisholpan's father who helped empower her to become a Diana against all odds — is a nomadic herder whose people have survived for thousands of years without western education. He understands why we should empower Dianas. Is he correct? At last year's Golden Eagle Festival two other Dianas competed alongside her. Aisholpan is now, herself, a Diana empowering Dianas.

The Akha are featured in our documentary, Peoples of the World: Southeast Asia.

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