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BOOKS From Women to the World, Letters for a New Century

Timely counsel from the worldly wise

IN THIS collection of writings from women across the world, letter-writing is put to work to declare women’s solidarity, strength and resolve.

Edited by Elizabeth Filippouli, a journalist and founder of several networks to promote women’s leadership through partnerships, the book draws on “a global group of accomplished women,” made up of political activists, diplomats and business executives, with a smattering of royalty, writers and artists.

Each letter is a declaration addressed to someone admired, missed or hoped for in the future.

Many testimonies are of long and eventful lives, from women such as Iman Aoun, born into the ravages of Palestine —  “I will never forget how you and your brother used to hide under your beds when the Apache helicopters flew over our rooftop” — to those who endured an oppressive family life: “No-one at home was really caring about me,” writes Italian activist Paola Diana to her daughter, Sofia.

The strength of women who have survived the most brutal attacks on their young selves is shown in a letter from Hellen Lunkuse T Waiswa. As a young girl in Eastern Uganda she was raped by a man who she was later pressured by her father to marry.

With the help of her mother, she went on to found the Rape Hurts Foundation, following her achievement of a BA degree — she was the first woman in her village to graduate.

The Covid-19 pandemic haunts many of the letters, with the sense of despair just about kept at bay by the performing artists who contribute.

The increased burden on women is evident, including the huge rise in rape cases, in domestic violence against women and in the penury many single mothers face through their pandemic losses.

For every testimony of backwards steps, positive strides are celebrated. In her letter to New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ahern, British-Turkish novelist Elif Shafak notes: “Ours is the age of anxiety, fear … an existential angst looms everywhere.”

In contrast, she shows Ahern bringing a particularly female approach to the global stage: “You brought emotional intelligence into mainstream politics, proving that sometimes the best way forward is simply to follow your intuition and to be human.”

A book to delve into when in need of wise counsel.

Published by IB Tauris, £17.09.

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