This International Women’s Day, our Foundation’s Fundraising and Marketing Manager reflects on how female empowerment, and the celebration of women, has become a fundamental part of who she is today.
This International Women’s Day, I consider the constructs of how I identify myself as a woman, sister, wife, mother, and friend. I think about the women I surround myself with, and the idea that female empowerment is a fundamental part of who I now am. It reminds me of the last most inspiring woman I met. She is who I am celebrating this day.
She is fierce and an advocate for female empowerment, whose work helps to protect children. And she is my colleague.
The moment I saw Ronel Stevens, I thought, ‘hmm, she is going to be my new best friend’. While this was the internal dialogue, in reality, there is much more behind that. If I’m honest, every time I identify someone who I believe is inspiring – and who I intend to elevate my personal standards up to – I go through a ‘mental refurbishment’. I learn something new from her every day. I first met Ronel at the interview for my current role at the African Impact Foundation. She sat with a posture of royalty, an intense deep-green turban wrapped in heavy swathes around her head like a crown. It’s hard not to notice the fabulous turban, earrings, and makeup, but more than that, her intense, serious, focused expression, listening intently that gave way to brilliant eyes. No, I’m not in love, I’m just in awe, and surely that’s what female empowerment is about? It’s about seeing the greatness of another woman and celebrating it.
This International Women’s Day, challenge yourself to elevate your own thoughts and ideas of gender equality
To my great delight, I was invited to join the all-women foundation, directed by an equally inspiring woman (more about her in my next blog). As I become inducted into the team, I learn that Ronel is part of the organizing committee, celebrating ordinary women doing extraordinary things and that she wrote our Foundation’s Child Protection Policy, and now heads up African Impact’s Study Abroad department. I am DONE! Just wrap me up, and send me off to whatever QUEENdom she rules and I will gladly fight behind this woman! Ok, perhaps I’m not that brave, because (I say with respect), Ronel can be rather formidable, but that’s also kind of the point. Inspiring women like her are not always easy women to deal with. They do not smile politely and agree with a carefree impartial attitude. Great women of our time should totally scare you because they are in the middle of a war. They are scary because they are angry. They are rising up against abuse, against manipulation and marginalization. They are rising up against the mental constructs provided to them by the societies they grow up in. They are fighting to eradicate the insidious messaging that boys are stronger, that one day if you’re good enough, pretty enough, that some man will pluck you up (from what exactly?) and make you his wife. That you will be chosen, great, taken care of? I wasted so many afternoons watching ‘Days of our Lives’ and ‘Santa Barbra”. These ‘soapies’ were deeply misleading to impressionable girls living in South Africa in the 1980s.
Today, I am inspired by Ronel because she has had to overcome so much more just to sit in the same chair as many of her peers. Sure, there are others who have had it worse, much worse, but, in this instance, I know the road has been long and arduous, and she wears her battle scars with pride. She must carve out a new path, she must defy so many socially acceptable norms that see her miss out on a good education, to find her at home impoverished, unhealthy, disconnected from society, from her pure and best self. It is her drive and focus which inspire me to focus on my goals, to uncover what is authentically essential to me, so that I can drive the change I want to see in my home, my circle of friends and my society. I find her well, better than well, thriving and influential. She sees the opportunity for change, and she takes it. She has built a robust network of influence, and she is able to leverage great thinking to enhance her work. She has the ear of great minds who also identify her potential and who support her causes. She is in her prime, and she has only just begun.
This March she will fly to the US to attend the 63rd United Nations ‘State of Women’ address in New York and represent African Impact and the African Impact Foundation’s gender equality initiative, The Girl Impact. And let me tell you, there is not a more deserving and more suitable person to step into the convention center and go and make her mark. So, this International Women’s Day, challenge yourself to elevate your own thoughts and ideas of gender equality. Find great people to build your new reality, past or present, in books or on the news. Listen to their stories, find out about the causes they fight for and how they live their lives, and more than anything, seek out the greatness of other women and girls. Because behind all the greatness is love, deep love for her people, all people, for her fellow women, for her child, and for all children. Because when a strong, good woman is allowed to grow, she can nurture a society that can become more inclusive of women, children, and various gender identifications, so that as a nation we can hope to progress and thrive together.