How about we talk about the women of South Africa (both black and white) who decided to march in 1956 to the Union Building to demand their human rights as people? How about we talk about Yaa Asantewa of Ghana, who as a grandmother in her 60s, lead the fight against the British and almost beat them? How about Beatrice Webb, who, together with her husband, planted the foundation of the modern-day welfare system? How about we talk about present-day women like Kah Walla, who, in the face of great opposition, contested the presidential elections in Cameroon when the odds were stacked against her? How about simple women like Adiya, who ,as a single parent in her 40s, quits her job to pursue further education in an unknown terrain? How about Esenam, who works by day, goes to school by night and takes care of her kids by night and dawn only to start the process all over again? I can go on and on...
August 9 is dedicated to the strength of women in South Africa and I was privileged to be a part of their celebration in Washington, D.C. As I sat there and listened to Kunyalala Maphisa, who had flown all the way from South Africa, my heart swelled. Swelled at all these women who continue to strive. Strive, despite the difficulties of existence. She brought home a very important point. That the issues that hinder women are not external, but internal. The mindset of a people is what matters most, she says, the structures only come second.
Mindsets that sought to stop women like Dr. Mae Jamison as she stood looking at the stars at night and wishing she could be amongst them. Little did she understand then that the very star she sought was within her, and that she would one day be amongst those stars -- literally. As Mae stood up to talk, she made a profound statement: "Never limit yourself to other people's limiting imagination," and so she took her place amongst the stars as the first African American woman to go into space.
It was interesting to find that South Africa is actually ahead of the U.S., 16 percent to 42 percent, being the percentage of women that are empowered politically and economically. Ironic that in this day and age, when a pregnant woman gets a top position in the U.S., the discussion is not about her skills and ability to deliver on the job; the conversation predominantly is about her pregnancy and its possible limitations. Of course, people forget that the differences between men and women makes the world a better place. As I sit there listening to this beautiful woman who celebrates her womanhood and the brains and skills that took her into space, I wished my little daughter the future Mae projects when she says, "A woman who strives to be like a man lacks imagination." I truly wonder, what woman will want to be a man?
And what man will want to live without a woman? We can go on about the rights of women and all of that. But let's put that aside for a second and just consider the role of the woman. She rocks you and then rocks your children and then rocks your grandchild. "The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world." Any man who refuses a woman her rightful place by him either at the office or at home can only be half of a man! He can only be achieving half of his potential. It is like running without shoes and sunscreen or hat or clothes even, because that is what the woman is... a protector, a healing balm. As I sat in the midst of these powerful women and felt their healing presence wash over me, I wished the world knew exactly how I felt.
Go South Africa, Happy Women's day indeed!