Empowering Women

The tragic death of a UCT student Uyinene and other similar tragedies has served to mobilise the country to unite against Women abuse. Our President made a landmark speech in which he called for stiffer sentencing against perpetrators, this is symbolic of a nation’s growing awareness of protecting and advancing women’s rights.

Yearly, as we celebrate the anniversary of the Women’s Charter we are reminded that the The Women’s charter, as penned down on the 17th of April 1954, states: “We, the women of South Africa, wives and mothers, working women and housewives, African, Indians, European and Coloured, hereby declare our aim of striving for the removal of all laws, regulations, conventions and customs that discriminate against us women, and that deprive us in any way of our inherent right to the advantages, responsibilities and opportunities that society offers to any one section of the population.”

In South Africa’s rich tapestry of history, the Women’s Charter aimed at creating a voice for women. South Africa has many iconic symbols of speaking the truth and of hope; amongst them is the iconic Steve Biko who can be described as the personification of The Black Consciousness Movement. The crux of the Black Consciousness Movement was defined by the South African Students’ Organisation as “an attitude of mind, a way of life whose basic tenet is that the Black must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country of birth and reduce his basic human dignity.” The philosophy revolved around being consciously aware of self and one’s own value systems. This meant liberating personal thinking and not allowing one’s own thoughts and perceptions of self and reality to oppress. The Black Consciousness movement therefore called for a “psychological revolution” which was “directed towards the elimination of all stereotypes by Blacks about themselves” (The meaning of Black Consciousness in the struggle for liberation in South Africa, Ranwedzi Nengwekhulu).

Today, we need a similar liberation. We need a business women consciousness movement. Women need to free themselves psychologically from the self-imposed stereotypical roles and characteristics that limit them in the business environment. These stereotypical roles have contributed to the self-inflicted fear that many women feel towards their place in the corporate business environment and have restricted their self-belief and, therefore, their reality. Women struggle with motherhood and career responsibilities; women are offended when they are called bossy, authoritarian, cold, callous, pedantic, too soft, push-over, too emotional, not emotional enough, or weak. Why is it that these thoughts have become women’s thoughts? Hillary Clinton once said, “Women are the world’s most underused resource.” Why is it, then, that women do not believe it? Is it fear: A fear of failure; or, perhaps, a fear of success?

“Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination causing us to fear things that do not at present, and may not ever, exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real but fear is a choice.” – Will Smith

Let’s propose a business women consciousness movement where women may focus on an attitude of mind, a way of life whose basic tenet is that women must reject all value systems that seek to make them feel inferior or inadequate (including themselves) so that they may feel equally empowered and equipped to live, work and play authentically. What it boils down to is the ability to value self and others; an eradication of stereotypical views of women; and a celebration of diversity. This starts with self.

One of the ways in which women, and men, can start valuing themselves is by communicating assertively to themselves and with others. We need to change our vocabulary. Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman wrote in an article entitled, “Words can change your brain”, that if you were placed in an fMRI and the word “No” was flashed for one second then “you’d see a sudden release of dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters. These chemicals immediately interrupt the normal functioning of your brain, impairing logic, reason, language processing, and communication.” Women need to stop saying “No” to themselves and start saying “Yes”! Women need to assert themselves, “lean in” as Sheryl Sandberg propagates, and stop using their gender as an excuse.

Assertive behaviour is not a trait that people are born with. We are all naturally more passive or more aggressive. It is the fight or flight syndrome. Assertiveness is a communicative skill that can be learnt and must be developed. To develop assertiveness, you have to first create a platform for honest introspection. When your self-awareness is enhanced, you will be able to identify whether you act assertively, passively or aggressively.

Once you are self-aware, only then can you make the necessary changes. Everyone can enhance their assertiveness skills through applied effort; the desire to change your behaviour; and the ability to value yourself.

When you have made the decision to stand up for yourself, to voice your opinion in a constructive manner and to boldly go where you want and need to go, then we can say that you have liberated yourself from your negative thoughts. Maya Angelou, a phenomenal woman, gave us some lessons that we can hold dear. She said that, ““Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” And “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”

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