She Will Be Heard

After all the Women’s Day Celebrations, where to next? 


Written by: Phumza Dyani


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Phumza Dyani
Photo by Patrick Fore 

The sound of women spread like fire across the globe and was unmistakably audible this year with a resounding message of, ‘less talk’ and ‘more action’ across the board.

What we have learned is that the plight of women was magnified significantly by the pandemic. At the same time, this phase proved to be the greatest unifier through global actions of women participating in platforms never thought of before. It also taught us the importance of an amplified voice and message from women globally.

Let us never forget that women are at the cornerstone of society, women are not just in the kitchen anymore, they have been most of the Angels showing up during the Covid-19 war in the most obscure corridors of society, at war to save lives. Why then, does this significance not translate into harder conversations about equality? Surely, we are not a society that says a female life is of less importance than a male life—or is that what we are saying?

Powerful Voices

One thing we have learned to recognise as women is that our voices are so powerful and can create the change we want to see. What is important is to take the same messages shared in the International Womens’ Day platforms to our individual lives, our corporations, organisations as well as to our boardrooms. We need to personalise them and to further interrogate things that are of concern to us which we say nothing about. We need to look at how our bodies respond to these and find a language for them to bring them to the fore.

The time to be a bystander on issues affecting women is over. What affects another woman affects all of us, and we need to bring the different perspectives, cultures, and context to these conversations. The more it is heard, whether through talks, writing, music, poetry, the more it makes a shift in the world that ‘Enough is Enough’. 

“Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her dissappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.”

— Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explaining Things to Me

Continue to raise your Voice

By raising our voice, we bring this into conscience what is acceptable and what is not. We need female lawyers to be more vocal, educate and assist the rest of us with what legislations and policies that need to change to support women. We need businesswomen to come up with ideas and solutions of how to better assist women become independent, creating businesses and earn their own keep. We need teachers to create curriculum that will assist us in progressing the education of women and men.

The International Women’s Forum is advocating for Harvard to introduce a curriculum on Gender Parity. Every woman is a potential advocate for change, this work should not be left to just activists or major events.

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

— Audre Lorde

Do not miss the opportunity to call things out

Secondly, we need to speak whenever we see behaviours that perpetuate inequality around us. One day at our Exco, which is predominantly 80% male, we had a lady presenting a particularly important piece of work which was critical to establishing a woman’s movement within the organisation. We had a young gentleman that had an interest in this document and kept on asking questions, which sounded helpful initially. As time went on, I became uncomfortable with the extent of the interrogation versus his reactions to others in the past. The tone and the way he did this was irking me, but I held back, deciding to see where this would end. At some point, it was just unbearable for me. I had to intervene and point out my unappreciation for the manner he was doing this.

To my surprise, nobody in the room saw anything wrong with his approach except for me and the lady involved.

This is where I could have left it off. I said, I am sorry, you may not see the antagonistic approach that is being used in these questions, but I see it and I feel it. As a Senior in this room and the only woman that can point this out, I cannot continue and say it is okay. It is not okay. There is a way to raise points and a way a person is made to feel like they are being cross questioned in a court of law. I cannot sit by and not point that out. To my surprise, the senior gentleman in the room acknowledged that there is a long way to go in learning as well as unlearning certain behaviours. He was open to learn.

In hindsight, I reflect on the message I would have sent to this bright young lady who was courageous enough to stand and be a chairperson of this movement. It would have killed the energy of what we were attempting to form here. It would have marked that we are doing all of what we are doing for window-dressing and nothing would, in fact, change. What she saw in action was the endorsement that we build these structures to drive not only change for us but for generations to come. That on its own requires us to be authentic and truthful.

Recognise the contribution some men are making

We must recognise the men that are showing fairness and supporting women either through behaviour, actions and support that they too are playing a role in driving for change. We need to encourage and educate them as to where they can do more. What we need to recognise is that the real fight is not against men but for equal treatment of women. In the celebrations, my consistent question was, ‘Where are the men and what are they choosing to challenge? Are they willing to challenge themselves to understand that this is a bigger war than themselves and what they contribute adds to the tapestry that is important for this time?’

President Biden’s composition of his team as well as the statements he made boldly placed his mouth where his money is at. It was a living action of inclusiveness and not just lip-service. We are forever grateful to the countries that have led this message and look to others to follow suit.

An equal voice in decision making—and more bold and intentional moves to make the change

What we need to recognise more of, I quote from one of my most powerful interviews on my Podcast: She-Unleashed with Modesta Mahiga-Mbughuni:

“A woman who has agency in her voice, is earning her own income and is able to influence things, is going to have a different conversation in her homestead and society vs a woman who doesn’t, and feels is at the mercy of her home and community.”

It has never been more important to have deeper conversations on the types of movements we need to be part of to be effective. We need to lobby and vote for more women in influential positions to drive change. Women need to also, independently, seek for spaces of influence and not lose sight of the purpose they are there for.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

— Nora Ephron

Accountability for change

Now I have been part of many women development focused organisations and at times, it is a tragedy to see that there is an expectation for leadership to drive the change.

Each one has a role to play in effecting change, however small their contribution may be.

In the true words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, we should all be feminists:

“I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femaleness and my femininity. And I want to be respected in all my femaleness because I deserve to be.”

May we all arise to this noble calling knowing that our daughters are dependent on the actions we take to have a future where they are respected, treated as equals and allowed to thrive.

Choose to Challenge

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life is a bitch. You have got to go out and kick ass.”

— Maya Angelou

Meghan Markle was the epitome of strength this year, where a woman took on one of the most powerful institutions ever and refused to be silenced by those perceived to be powerful. It called for all of us to, with fierceness, face those we perceive to be powerful and in turn suppressing who we are.

Stay true to who you are

“You had power all along my dear.”

— Glinda the Good Witch The Wizard of Oz

A powerful lesson for this time is that there is a great need for a female energy leadership, especially at these times where the world is calling for fair, inclusive recovery. We have learned that we are perfect in our imperfections and the female leader needs to appear in her true strength of femininity, nurturing and unifier. Despite the world having told us we are not adequate, not strong enough, not good enough, we are in fact perfect! •