It has been 64 years since the great Women’s March on 9 August 1956 when wives, mothers, working women, Indian, black, white and coloured women united and stood for what they truly believed in. As women in South Africa we stand here in 2020 because of the paths these women drew for us. In 1956 it started with ordinary women signing the petition, the march and suddenly women could run nations…. Well not really, it has taken longer than that and been a tougher journey because patriarchy has fought back. And so in 2020 the fight continues for women. As a millennial black South African women it is my time to stand up and say enough is enough, I do matter and I deserve to take up space – whatever space I chose.
This is a journey from being domestically shacked to one of creating your own spot in the world, paving our way for what could someday be our children’s inheritance – that as women we show up in every place we choose and recognise our higher selves; embracing that which we know we are capable of, taking on roles and making moves that allow us to shape and change nations. This is a move from creating presidents to being presidents, from typing speeches to giving speeches. As a millennial woman, standing at the tip of the African continent on 9 August 2020, I embrace all those that have come before me and I rise to create a better world for all those who come after me.
Telling my story
My story starts in the villages of Giyani located in Limpopo, in the year 2010 where teachers called my father to the side in primary school and suggested that they send me to a better school because they saw something that could be cultivated within me. And as glorious and amazing as that moment was for me, imagine a world where every woman had the opportunity and a circle of people who would stand together to say ‘This one deserves the best education, this one is capable, this one can do greater’. Imagine circles of people – men and women, across schools and organisations, who recognise that she has potential, that she can lead, that she is brave and changes things – and who can create real opportunities for her, for more women to step into glory. To help them to rise. Like the uncle who drove me to my residential place in university, the sister who referred me to a vacancy in her organisation. These are the ‘circles’ that we need to create for ourselves and also the opportunities that our schools, our organisations, our communities and our governments need to create. This investment into women multipliers – women are incubators – they receive, multiply and give back.
To a certain extent, it takes bruised hands and cracked heels to show up as the version of our higher selves. And sharing my story as a young black woman allows you, at least for a moment, to be alive in my own world and existence. It is in essence an opportunity to relive and look at the world through my eyes. Our stories make us who we are, and we need to make peace with being uncomfortable as women. Dealing with the challenges that come with womanhood is not an opportunity granted to us, it’s an obligation bestowed upon us. There will never be a day when you can exist outside of your own skin, not a day without another woman being asked when they are having children, or getting married, or where is your man and somehow overlooking the two degrees that she has, and how she’s actually working for her masters and redefining what it means to be a free woman. These questions are asked in full purity, in innocence because success for women has been told and retold in countless ways. From being just married and having kids, to co-existing between the world of work and creating a family, from running a multi-million dollar company to driving kids back from school, we have all of this within us and it is just about having the opportunity to access it all.
We need to change the narrative.
We also need to take concrete action.
This takes companies investing – teaching women about financial wealth, giving women the role models they need, creating opportunities for mentoring, coaching and networking; offering career guidance and the necessary resources to young women aspiring to start their own organisations. It takes women’s sweat, commitment, hands bruised and heels cracking. It takes women changing the encryption within us, where we can look at the world differently and see ourselves in any space we choose – because in our minds we have already been there.
The truth is, we do not have to put a brave front to convince anyone that we can rise; we do not have to act like we are emotionless to be recognised as fit. There are so many silent battles that women have had to deal with, especially during this pandemic. Times have changed and may never go back to being the same. Many countries are reporting how their numbers have shot up in reports of violence and the fight against women abuse. This is a second pandemic, the ‘shadow’ pandemic, one we’re walking right alongside, and only noticing when someone loses her life. It’s also the wage gap, the guy who suddenly strokes your shoulder, the guys who laugh as you pass by, the boss who touches your arm and says ‘how much do you want this promotion’, guy who whistles as a woman approaches, the jokes about how you are overreacting. This is a fight we must fight and win, and raise our sons and daughters to know what respect for all genders is all about. And this is where we need men by our sides, fighting alongside us.
It is time for women to step into their glory, for a united sisterhood to rise up and be re-born. The poem Born Again (author unfortunately unknown) allows us to step-In to these roles with a level of confidence that the tribe that we are stepping into has always been our tribe, that we belong, and although we may have walked on different routes, there is ululation on our arrival. There is an assurance that this is your circle, a community that knows your struggle, and that our challenges have built our strength, as we learn to embrace and tell our stories. There is no room for shame, there is no room to dwell in what society has defined us to be, we walk courageously with faith that we are reaching for the sky and no walls can keep us on the surface, allowing me to feel my emotions, to be human, to love and speak my truth. Fully proud of the nation that I come from – a nation that has been re-defining the norm, a nation of mothers, grandmother’s, aunts, sisters and daughters to a nation of presidents, engineers, accountants, front line doctors, CEO’s, pilots, rugby players and rock starts – we are rising! Creating spaces for the women who come after us and making our mark in the world.
Of women I’m born again
Can you hear their ululating
Announcing my arrival
Fragrant smells of impepho
I’m welcomed to the world of sisterhood
My birthing cloth, a quilt, a pink quilt
Made of strong fragility, courage, love, integrity, laughter
It is a soft landing
In tears that I’m bathed
The salty water becomes my armor
I’m pampered and spoiled
For I’m a child of the sisterhood
Guided by the teachings of
Mangwane yo tshwarang thipa ka bo haleng
I’m taught to name my fear
They let me fall, get up and try again
Fiercely protected and gently rocked
Lulled by Namutebi’s melodies
I emerge from my cocoon, of fear and pain
Courageously my wings flutter
Omama ,the wind beneath
Gently I take to flight and
soon will be soaring above all injustices
I learn that it’s okay to cry, to wear pink, to be proud
My midwives…poignant poets, heavenly healers, courageous comrades
the carriers of the future, those who love freely, those with gentle strength
My beautiful midwives ; crying, singing, praising, praying
I feel welcome in the house of mothers
Those on whose backs , the nation is built
Imbokodo, the rock
I have come a long way
Feeling the fear and doing it anyway
I have come home
And it’s good to be back