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Sholain Govender-Bateman’s open letter to President Jacob Zuma on the occasion of “Take a Girl Child to Work” day.
Pretoria - My 6-year-old daughter, Isobel, asked me why girls can’t be the president of South Africa.
I told Isobel that girls can certainly be president if they want to, and we went on to have a chat about how she needs to study hard and know what’s going on in the world in order to become president one day.
She was thrilled and wondered aloud about how she would get people to choose her as president when she is grown up.
But, I was left heartbroken that my child’s exposure to a male dominant political set-up in South Africa had resulted in her perceiving leadership positions like that of president as a “boys-only” club.
President Zuma, my two little girls watched your inauguration in awe and stood up with their hands on their hearts to sing the national anthem.
Last year, they watched as president Nelson Mandela was laid to rest and they listened to stories of how he had fought for their rights.
Their exposure to a variety of people, activities and jobs, and an assertion of gender equality in the way things happen in our home with both mom and dad sharing chores and caregiving, was my way of nurturing them to expect and demand equality and reject discrimination against girls and women.
But I am not proud of the fact that we live in a society where a 6-year-old has already imposed limitations on what she can aspire to be because this is what she is witnessing in our political landscape where less than 50 percent of cabinet members are women.
Why are there so few women in line for leadership positions? It’s a vicious cycle and we need to break it before we have another generation of young women who think that girls can’t be president.
I’m relieved Isobel asked me the question now, but what about all the other girls who are internalising the same limitations?