Igniting Women!

By Audrey Riley and Ednah Khosa

For our blog on Igniting Women, Ednah and Audrey sat down with Kerrin Miller, the founder of Factor10, to talk about the Women Ignite programme and why it is so important to Kerrin.

In August, we celebrated Women’s Day in commemoration of the 20,000 women from all walks of life, who united in protest at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on the 9th August 1956. These brave, fearless women stood for 30 minutes in silence before breaking into song – “Wathint` abafazi!” which means ‘you strike a woman, you strike a rock!’. The women also made a unanimous decision that if the police tried to stop their march, they would all go down onto their knees and pray, and that if one of the women was arrested, they would all be arrested, in the name of solidarity. After singing Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika at the end of their demonstration, the women peacefully dispersed, unaware that they had created history.

Amanda Gorman, a National Youth Poet Laureate and widely known for the poem, ‘The Hill We Climb’ which she wrote and performed at Joe Biden’s inauguration, asks two questions at the beginning of her TED Talk. They are ‘Whose shoulders do you stand on?’ and ‘What do you stand for?’. In the context of South Africa and women empowerment, these questions are so very pertinent. It is clear that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us – Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn and the 20,000 other brave women, who made that march. We can look to those women to inspire us and motivate us, but only if we know what we stand for. And here at Factor10, under the guidance of our founder, Kerrin Miller, we definitely know what we stand for. We stand for Igniting Women which means, in Kerrin’s words, ‘we believe that women should have the ultimate say in who they choose to be’. An Ignited Women is a ‘fully unlocked women and is able to step into her potential’.

Why though, is it so important to Ignite Women? Well, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index of 2019, it is estimated that it will take the United States another 208 years to reach gender equality. And according to the McKinsey Report of November 2019, titled, ‘The power of parity: Advancing women’s equality in Africa’, at its current trajectory, it will take the continent 140 years to reach gender parity. McKinsey, in an additional report on Covid-19 and gender equality [July 2020], has estimated that female job losses are 1.8 times higher than male job losses globally. Given these gloomy statistics, it is probably safe to say that 140 years is, at the moment, an optimistic target. However, it is not all doom and gloom and South Africa, in particular has a much better record of improving gender equality compared to the rest of the continent. In addition, South Africa has committed to full gender parity by the year 2030 and any improvement in gender equality ultimately improves the overall GDP of the country. As Melinda Gates said in her book, The Moment of Lift, ‘The data is clear: empowered women transform societies. As women gain rights, families flourish, and so do societies … Gender equity lifts everyone.”

Kerrin was born a feminist, with a driving passion for gender equality and a burning need to create a better world for all. These are lofty ambitions, so where and how did she start? One of Kerrin’s favourite quotes is by Arthur Ashe, ‘Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.’ And that’s just what she did. Using the creative resources within the Factor10 team, Kerrin brought her vision of a women’s empowerment to life as the Women Ignite programme was born and has been designed to address all areas that will help women rise and ignite, into their full potential. In addition to her noble goal of making the world a better place for all women, Kerrin also shared how strong the business case is for empowering women. The world is changing, albeit slowly and organisations are under increasing pressure to develop and grow their female talent. For a number of organisations, helping women rise, improves their bottom line, making companies more profitable. It may not be the most moral of reasons to empower women, but for now, we’ll take it. As Arthur Ashe said…!

Work has always been such an important aspect of Kerrin’s life, as it is for most women in South Africa. Work for women can unlock a meaningful, purpose-filled life and in Kerrin’s words, ‘Women should be able to do something that is meaningful for them and not be held back by their gender. In the workplace, it’s about casting aside beliefs that hold us back and building space to become everything we want and desire to be.’. With this in mind, Kerrin located the Women Ignite programme within the professional working world, as ‘it’s a good place to start and it’s an environment where we can make a lot of impact and those women that we touch can impact their wider circles too’.

So while it may still take some time before women can take their rightful, equal place in the world, we each have to do our part to help women rise. We can continue to draw our strength and inspiration from the shoulders of those heroines upon which we stand, and it is our duty – and our privilege – to provide solid shoulders for the next generation.

Next month, we will share more of our interview with Kerrin, as we delve into the beliefs and guiding principles of the Factor10 founder.

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