JOHANNESBURG - Growing up as the oldest of three daughters, there was no lack of affirmation in my home from both my mother and my father that, as girls, we could do and be anything that we wanted in life.
My parents gave us a firm foundation that later on would give us perspective on how to navigate this thing called life.
Mine and my sisters’ journeys have been very different, but we have remained a tight knit trio and support each other through thick and thin. Our mother passed away six years ago, and when your mother is your guiding light, it doesn’t matter that you are an adult and parent yourself, that loss is devastating. Along with my sisters, the strength of my friendships with a small group of like-minded women got me through the worst, dark days and my girlfriends remain my staunchest supporters and sternest critics.
Ours is a friendship and sisterhood that spans over 20 years, one that has stood the test of time. We don’t care much for details (one of my girls gracefully coined this line), we show up and take over when it matters the most. We deal with details later. That’s what women should do for each other - show up!
In celebrating Women’s Month, I want to highlight the value of these linkages with other women.
Only we understand each other intrinsically. As strong as our relationships with our male partners may be and however understanding our menfolk are, there is no denying the fundamental differences between the genders and our respective lived experiences.
But women can also be women’s own worst enemies. Isn’t it hard enough that we are frequently pipped to the promotion post by men, demeaned and belittled by them (some of them, I am not a misandrist), patronised and presumed only to be good enough to be their wives and mothers to their children, without other women imposing their own limitations on us? In the workspace, patriarchy is rife. Men are generally paid more than their female counterparts the world over. But it is in our hands and power to correct these injustices, for our own sake and for that of our girl child.
When I see female on female rivalry, whether in the workplace or anywhere else, it deeply upsets and disturbs me. I have experienced and seen women holding each other back, not speaking up for a female colleague and inflicting injustices on their own sisterhood worse than many men have done. I have personally got involved in many instances where I have stood up for other women because as a woman, I have a duty to do so.
I am a mother of girls and a mentor to three young women. I was myself mentored by a strong, determined woman and she in turn taught me so much about how to treat other women. I lead a team dominated, coincidentally, by female employees, and I remain alert and empathetic to their moods, their personal circumstances and struggles, and celebrate their private and professional achievements with them. I want to know that as we navigate our different paths in life, there will be a woman out who will stand up for all these women I love and care about should the need arise.
When one woman flies, we all fly. When one woman wins, we all win! Lift and be uplifted.
On the strength of women, we cannot fail to mention the word Imbokodo, a stone used for crushing and grinding. A stone that doesn’t break. Women do not break, irrespective of what life throws at her.
We may cry, give up, concede, surrender, but it is how we come back that sets us apart and makes us extraordinary. As a matter of principle, I never tell any woman who is going through a tough time to be strong. All we can do is learn to live and deal with life. I never want to be told to be strong when I go through turmoil. I am human and will feel all my different emotions and that is OK.
Our relationships with other women matter. We know the struggles of mothering and juggling our careers with parental commitments. If we make each other’s lives more difficult and intolerable, who can we expect to make us feel better, achieve more, aspire to more? Women in business must thrive. In the corporate environment they bring a special quality to testosterone dominated boardrooms, calming and diluting confrontation and machismo. As entrepreneurs and business owners, they often exercise more compassion for their female employees when the juggling becomes overwhelming. And to be honest, there is no juggling, but as we go through life, we must find a way to deal with current challenges before moving on to the next.
This is an appeal to all women. Be kind to our own kind and that starts with being kind to yourself. Every woman you come across is going through a struggle you know nothing about. Be kind. Surround yourself with strong women who will be there for you when you need them. Be there when they need you back. Show up! Be a graceful, hardworking and unapologetic woman.
Give a woman a job if you can. Buy from women owned businesses, that they may succeed and grow.
And as my CEO always includes a song in his columns, this is mine by Bongo Maffin, led by the amazing Thandiswa Mazwai - Siyajabula - a song I choose in celebrating women during the month of August and beyond.
Happy MaKhumalo Ngidi is the Chief Marketing Officer of Proudly South African.