I have been apprehensive about writing this particular piece mainly for two reasons. Firstly it might be read as a piece that denies the abusive and oppressive experience of women. Secondly, in some circles, men do not have the licence to discuss anything about the female experience because they are viewed as being somewhat outside of it. However, this piece does not set out to deny the oppressive and subjugating experience that many women have gone through and are going through. The second reason does not really hold for me because even though I am a man I was raised by women and I have been greatly influenced by many remarkable women. That reality has impressed upon me strong views and attestations about women and their strength.
It is very interesting to note that the matriarchs of our democracy, the ones we celebrate (commemorate) in this Women’s Month are associated with strength, defiance and solidarity. They were the ones who took up the mantra that “you strike a woman you strike a rock”. They were ordinary women who understood that they had in them the strength and the courage to make their grievances known. Looking at the era and how hostile the age was, one can only admire them. They lived in a time that oppressed them, politically, their domestic situations and cultural standing can also be said to be have been equally hostile. I think that is something to look to and certainly something to commemorate.
When following the discourse about women, in particular during Women’s Month I sometimes feel the strength of women that I witnessed growing up does not emerge as strongly as it should. It is definitely true that the female experience has been ridden by injustice, inequality and enormous abuse. It makes sense that these must be rooted-out and discussed with great urgency. That conversation must go on. However the role of women, their strength, is often downplayed. I believe that all facets of women should be brought out and that those who also have the strength narrative, myself included, should speak about the rocks that women are.
The strength narrative begins in the domestic space. Many families have that aunt (whose sobriety is sometimes questionable) who is truly a rock and the truth incarnate. These are the women whom one can rely on no matter how small or big the problem is. Here I acknowledge those women who speak their mind and even though we all cringe when they speak something in us rejoices in knowing that they have said what we think. Family life without these aunties would be so vacuous and nothing would ever get done. Even though this seems like a personal observation it is not just a bout of madness in our aunties but a strength that has accumulated over the years. If we cared to listen to the elderly, our grandmothers, we would find that their stories are paved with failures and triumphs. Many of them are were migrants who arrived in places particularly, urban places, without money or even a job. We look at them now and marvel at how they moved from nothingness to abundance. They might not be very wealthy but they have lived dignified lives and built families and careers and communities.
Another group that needs to be saluted for its strength is domestic workers. It is only bravery that makes any person to leave their home and those they love to go and work in other people’s homes. We rarely reflect deeply about how they must feel when they have to raise other people’s children when theirs are left to be raised by someone other than them. Theirs is a two-city reality. There is the reality of opulence (plenty) where they work and then there is the reality of need in their own homes. Every meal and comfort they receive at work (away from their homes and children) only serves to remind them of the absence of such luxuries in their homes. These realities, however, do not do not deter them from achieving their goals. Even though they are often underpaid they still manage to put their children through school and even build proper homes for themselves. Such women are all around us. They sit and sell vegetables and many such items on the side of the road and in taxi ranks. Even though their entrepreneurial endeavours will never be found in the business journals of our day, they display independence and courage every day whether it is hot, cold or raining.
How can we not celebrate those women who work very hard as single parents and even take care of other family members and the community. Their homes are can be safe houses or orphanages every time the need arises. Many of us marvel at how we all had enough to eat even when there were more of us than a mere three-roomed township house could take. With all this, they still belong to a women’s union at church and community projects (societies) and they love all of it.
Amongst us are many women who are really self-made. They come from the most unbearable conditions, sometimes conditions of abuse and utter poverty. These women have moved on to be leaders in many fields. Rarely do they wear their gender on their sleeves. If anything their work speaks for itself. That is their protest and how they carry on the march that began in 1956. I love a comment by Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor when she guest hosted a radio show recently. She pointed out that there is too much talk that women should be given positions and places in leadership in all sectors. She said there is also a conversation to be had about women taking their place in society. This does not mean women are not being denied a place but rather that the narrative of ‘being given’ tends to lean towards some kind of tokenism which for me can seem a bit patronising. Women are able.
Women’s Month also celebrates that forward thinking woman who long understood that the eradication of abuse will come not just from strengthening law enforcement agencies but from instilling a great reverence and respect for women in children from a very young age. Even though we are perhaps not making progress as quickly as we should in the eradication of all forms of abuse of women and children, we can safely say that there are some fine men who are slowly changing relations between men and women. They refuse to be involved in any act of abuse and even refuse to allow any abuse to happen in their presence. Here one cannot help but think of the many men who have signed the “He for She” pledge championed by United Nations Women and many such initiatives. I want to believe that this is because from a very young age they have been raised to acknowledge, preserve and defend the dignity of all people, especially women. Sometimes these young men have been exposed to domestic violence and other such abuses and have made a pledge that they will never put anyone else through what they went through. Whatever the case, I attribute their astuteness of character to their parents (especially mothers) who never neglected to remind them of all those phrases we grew up hearing – “every person older than you is your parent, brother or sister; and whatever you do never hit a woman”.
One could can never write enough about remarkable women in our time but it is obvious that they are everywhere. Even though this month is used, and rightfully so, to speak about the plight of women in this country and everywhere, it is imperative that we acknowledge that amidst all of this many women display a strength that ought to be celebrated. Malibogwe! DM
Follow Rev Lawrence Mduduzi Ndlovu on Twitter: @NdlovuLawrence
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Princess Diana once invited Cindy Crawford to Buckinham Palace because her son Prince William had a crush on her.