One of my favorite things about traveling is the opportunity to experience other cultures, and then share those experiences with you, my small community around the world, in an attempt to educate and enlighten. I rely heavily on my community for learning, sharing, challenging one another, and unconditional support. I’m writing today because it’s an important day in South Africa – Women’s Day – and I’ve been moved by the talks, celebrations, dedication, and commitment to honor this day by the strong women around me.
Today commemorates the national march in 1956 of women who petitioned against the “pass laws” that required all South Africans defined by the government as “black” to carry a pass, or an internal passport that stipulated where they could live, work, and travel. These passes reinforced segregation, oppression, and inequality. On August 9th, 50,000 women gathered to protest against the pass laws by marching to the Prime Minister’s office, leaving signed petitions on the doorstep, standing for 30 minutes in silence with their children wrapped on their backs, and then singing a protest song. The song was composed in honor of the occasion and it’s message was, “now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock”. In the more than 50 years that have passed since that day, the song and the message, which has evolved into it’s current incarnation, lives in the hearts of many.
To honor the day, our workplace held a celebration that included a networking lunch, 2 speakers, and distribution of reading material and tools to help the women in the company build strong community circles for the sake of sharing, learning, and support. It instantly made me think of my circle and all of the strong women in it, who I am so honored to have in my life.
One of our talks during the lunch hour came from Justice Leona Theron, who is a Fulbright Scholar with a Masters of Law degree from Georgetown University. She grew up poor in the Eastern Cape, rose above her circumstances and went on to be appointed as a judge at age 33. She is also the mother of 4, and has managed to balance work and family life in superhuman ways. She spoke about the challenges in society, the glass ceiling, and the guilt that women often feel for wanting to have successful careers which may mean less time with their children. I have often witnessed the women I know experience this same guilt when they’re late for their child’s school play, or for picking them up from sports practice or for encouraging them to watch TV in the evening because they just need 20 minutes of quiet to enjoy a glass of wine. Justice Theron echoed what I witness all the time, women often have to do it all. She went on to talk about the corporate world and the need for more than just accommodation or inclusion… she talked about the need for total redesign. Do we as a society want to force our women to be mothers OR corporate professionals? Or can we design a world where they can be both? Do you view childbirth as an interruption of a woman’s career or can you bring yourself to recognize it as an augmentation of life skills, and a cultivation of tolerance, patience, and determination? Skills that are inherently necessary in the workplace. Today is a day to raise awareness, to provoke thought, to challenge the norm, and to honor the strong mothers, sisters, daughters… the women in your life.
Ladies, as one of my strong South African mentors says, “Fly your own plane, stay on your flight path, and monitor your radar”. Don’t let the world throw you off course.
And remember, you are as strong as a rock. My heart is revelling in gratitude for all the women in my world.