9 August 2018
On this day in 1956, an estimated 20,000 South African women of all races staged a march on the Union Buildings in protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act of 1952.
The women left 14,000 petitions at the office doors of the then prime minister J.G Strijdom; standing in silence for 30 minutes before departing while singing the protest song composed for the occasion: a‘Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’Imbokodo’ “You strike a woman, you strike a rock.”
This phrase has come to represent women’s courage and strength in South Africa. Today, we cannot turn on the news or scroll through Twitter, Instagram or Facebook without reading stories about women that are either violently abused, raped or murdered by strangers, their intimate partners, family members or friends.
This, while we live in a country that has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world and solid written legislation protecting women’s rights. After Rwanda and Sweden, South Africa has the most female parliamentarians; yet our constitutions’ provision for protecting women’s rights have made miniature progress from paper to reality.
However, today we embrace and celebrate the women of 1956 as well as every other woman who have and continue to walk in power against all odds.
Bearing this in mind, I will be doing an injustice to the women who have actively guided and supported me on my journey.
Within my direct family, I am the first to have had the opportunity to go to University and thereafter to pursue and obtain an International Master’s degree.
None of this would have been possible without my grandmother who used her life’s savings and monthly pension fund to sustain my academic career.
I must also make mention of my former political lecturer and mentor Dr. Ina Gouws, who continuously encouraged me to open the doors that lead to opportunity; because she believed in me and every other female student she taught.
Women possess a special kind of power.
According to Statistics SA, the majority of households in South Africa are run by single mothers. Mothers who are the primary bread winners and primary care givers, who juggle a career and professional life.
I am such a mother and even though every day comes with its challenges – I am proud that I can use the opportunities provided to me by strong women such as my grandmother and Dr Gows – for the betterment of society and set an example to my daughter: One that says, “It is possible”, “You can be a success” and “be good to others simple because you can be.”
The last South African Business Women’s Association Census Report indicated that the representation of women in senior position in JSE-listed companies stood at 29.3% of executive managers; 21,8% of directors; and 2.4% of CEO’s.
This indicates that the slow advancement of women in leadership roles isn’t just a national one– it is a global issue.
Although there are various obstacles that continue to delay womens’ progress in the workplace and in society at large, these obstacles need not frustrate nor disempower us.
In fact, we ought to view overcoming these obstacles as a positive challenge and an achievable goal.
We are not competing to be considered ‘equal’ to men – instead, we actively endeavor to overcome race, gender and social class barriers.
As women, we continue setting a trend on how academia is fashionable, by becoming Vice Rectors and Vice Chancellors in traditionally male dominated institutions. We work hard to sit on corporate boards and although the statistics may be low, women lead JSE-listed corporates against all odds.
In 2018, women find themselves in the advantageous position to not only influence their immediate circle and community, but to engage with like-minded women on a global scale to help shape a new discourse – one of continual female empowerment.
One of the tools which allows for us to be at the forefront and walk in power against all odds, is the internet.
As a woman who runs a non-profit organization which advocates for and enables Free WiFi access for people in low-income communities across South Africa, I see daily the incredible need for people – and especially women and youth – to be connected to the internet.
Our recent project in partnership with another NPO (Aware.org) in the peri-rural communities of Bushbuckridge (in Nelspruit) and in Botshabelo (in Bloemfontein), have found that 51% of the WiFi network users are women. These women use the Free WiFi every day to do research about educational institutions, job searches or to explore different towns or provinces. They also use the internet for longer periods of time than their male counterparts.
I can only image it is because as women, we are curious by nature.
This is just another indication of the need for us as women to stand together, to continue to press forward and to strive for success and in doing so, empowering each other – because there are still many women out there who cannot afford to apply to go to university or find employment.
If we make a collective effort, we can change this narrative.
Together, we can continue to walk in power against all odds.
BY: Dudu Mkhwanazi – CEO Project Isizwe