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I am woman, hear me whisper

By Rizwana Bawa 20 September 2020

Rizwana Bawa. (Photo: Supplied)

As a slightly older black woman, I find that others have laid claim to the stage at my expense. Patriarchy is still in place, and we are sometimes our own worst enemies.

We’re living in unusual times. The pandemic of 2020 has changed the landscape of our spaces and of our lives. As I have grappled with trying to define a new normal, I have realised that my reality has changed – perhaps forever. 

This realisation has been accompanied, predictably perhaps, by a fair degree of introspection. Mainly pondering the meaning of life and whether I have made mine worthwhile. This has forced me on a journey, sometimes painful, of discovering and of uncovering truths.

My formal qualifications are in the geography of urban spaces and the economics and development thereof. I have, however, worked for the past two and a half decades in the area of brand, reputation and strategic communications.

I’ve covered the spectrum, working on projects big and small: election campaigns, party political propaganda, brand development for businesses, aid agency communications and personal branding.

I have a particular work style; it’s a quiet approach aiming to deliver excellence appropriately and with integrity. 

With age comes experience and wisdom – I have bucket loads of both. But here’s the thing …

I have found that as a slightly older black woman in this space, it has become harder to offer one’s experience and expertise. Yes – firstly as a woman and yes – as a black woman.

In my experience, the patriarchy still rules. Despite the charters, redress policies, quotas and whatever other descriptive term might be chosen – the patriarchy is still firmly in place. Men are still considered to know more and to be more – often, even by other women. 

Younger women believe that older women don’t know – that we’re not in touch, we’re not woke. I’m the first to admit that this is often the truth. 

However, what is also true is that older women have learnt more and done more than younger women could ever imagine. We really should be teaching each other and learning from one another. 

In my experience, women in general do not do enough to support other women. 

Most interesting for me is the increasing occurrence of my views and perspectives – derived from years of experience – going unacknowledged, then considered profound when repeated by someone else. 

And so I have to ask …

Have I, in fact, been complicit in allowing this to happen?

Allowing others to claim the stage at my expense?

We are sometimes our own worst enemies; I believe that there is fair truth in that.

There seems, however, to be a pervasive culture of denying those who prefer the quiet; those who prefer to move forward without herald; those who believe in the value of collective product.

Whatever the reason, as an older South African black woman;

I am finding that every day presents a challenge to be heard. 

DM/MC

Rizwana Bawa is a consultant who has worked in the field of strategic communications and reputation management for over two decades. She works actively in the social justice space and is passionate about ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights.

 

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  • Thank you for this honest reflection Rizwana. I am also an older woman who grew up in South Africa. I am not black so was not personally confronted by others’ racist views of my skin tones.
    As a child I experienced patriarchy in the family, in the church, in the school and wherever I engaged with society. It continued to be my experience despite the rise of feminism of the ’60s and ’70s when I was at university, amongst political activists and even friends. In employment I have been paid lower salaries than men in the same post and have experienced sexual harassment by senior academics.
    Patriarchy is ever present in South African society.
    The assumption internationally remains that to be human is to be a man.
    I am a woman. I am strong and proud to be me. It isn’t always easy but I know that something of this struggle has made me a more compassionate human. I hope I have grown into a deeper person. I have lived a full life and am perhaps a little wiser; I know the magic I experienced through our earth as a very young child must never be lost.
    I have great admiration for young women who are confronting patriarchy and other discrimination in South Africa and internationally. I wish it wasn’t necessary. This is their journey. It is not easy for them and we cannot do it for them. I don’t know better than them.
    My message to young women is “it is okay to ask for help, it is a strength not a weakness”. There are older women who will be there for you.

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