OPINION: Pioneering black women are blazing a trail, Newsline

By Happy Ngidi

JOHANNESBURG – If there was one common thread in the columns our female guests wrote for us in August, it was that they showed how resilient women are, no matter what life throws at them.

We all know what Covid-19 has done to the world, but within each of our own spheres of home and work, women have kept families together, kept children learning (with or sometimes even without the help of teachers many of whom are also women) and kept ‘home fires burning’ as the tempest of the corona virus raged around us.

It has been a long, cold winter, in both the physical and emotional sense, but finally, it feels like we are emerging, as the weather warms up, the green shoots of spring appear, and we have gone into a more relaxed level 2 of lockdown.

But many women will be counting the cost of the economic lockdown and the damage it inflicted on their families and businesses. It has been hard, with the best will in the world, for many to remain afloat, and so starting over will be a reality for dozens of women owned businesses. Our own membership base at Proudly SA has seen some casualties and we mourn the loss of these livelihoods along with those women who fought valiantly to stay in business.

But for many, Covid-19 will not be the first hardship they have faced, and in which they have prevailed.

Women continue to experience discrimination and patriarchy in the workplace (even in companies they own!) They are judged differently from men and held to different standards. And when we meet and exceed those standards, we are ‘hard’ and unfeminine. I hold a position as a leader and am a ‘boss lady’, which sometimes requires me to take a hard line but most important to me is that my team knows my heart’s truth, always. My female staff each know that I uplift as I rise.

We are deemed to be lacking in maternal emotion if we choose a career over being a stay at home mom. If we do choose not to work and rather to dedicate years to raising our families, we are seen as dependant on our partners, and economically unproductive.

We can never win. Men make choices they can be comfortable with amongst their peer group, whereas women are in the invidious position of knowing they will be judged harshly whichever choice they make.

But I am nevertheless heartened by the number of women owned businesses that are part of Proudly SA. Young, pioneering black women are blazing a trail and starting enterprises in sectors traditionally dominated by men – energy, logistics, construction, as well as the more ‘traditional’ fields of fashion and cosmetics.

We applaud all the women who have shown fortitude and determination not just in the recent months but throughout their lives. Rising above low expectations and going on to excel in the fields of science, justice, education and industry, amongst others. Women who have taken on their male counterparts with grace and skill.

Shown them that we can have it all – a career, a partner, a family and we can juggle all these elements and they all continue to run smoothly alongside each other.

Where do we find our strength and support? Usually from other women who know that the struggle is real. Women stand up for each other. Women raise others as they themselves rise. Women laugh and cry together.

Women show the vulnerabilities they hide from the world with other women. We rely on each other. I for one try always to impart the best of myself to others, and this includes working closely with my young female mentees, and sometimes unwittingly being an influence on others through my work and uplifting social media posts which sometimes have a much greater reach than I could ever imagine. This is my legacy.

So, as we close out another Women’s Month, we can celebrate many milestones but at the same time we must lament many others not achieved. We continue to suffer at the hands of our intimate partners and gender-based violence seems to know no bounds of cruelty and horror. Another of the tenets by which I live is ‘be kind, always’.

We can never truly know what another woman is going through and so it is incumbent upon us as sisters to be kind and tolerant at all times.

In December there will be a month of no violence again women and children and on August 9 every year we will remember the brave marchers of 1956. These are just days in 365 days a year of unrelenting struggle. But you cannot keep a good woman down, and our resilience will continue to be one of the most formidable weapons in our arsenal of our fight for equality.

This time of Covid-19 has given us all an opportunity to pause and take a deep breath. I know as a woman – a daughter, a mother, a sister, aunt, godmother and friend – I am not alone. My mental strength depends on all those women on whose shoulders I lean.

Ladies, I hope your Women’s Month has given you time truly to pause, reflect and recharge. I hope it has given you and continues to give you much needed faith, strength and a sense of gratitude that surpasses all human understanding.

The principle of faith has kept me going for years. The bible tells me that faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of this things not seen.

Yima njalo (keep the faith) MAKHOSIKAZI!

Happy Ngidi is the chief marketing officer of Proudly South Africa.