By: Rethabile Mashale*
2013 has been a long and trying year. I’ve had many steep learning curves both in my professional and personal life. As a black women’s rights’ activist, operating on the peripheries of a patriarchal and racially divided country, finding voice has been challenging and often laced with threats of physical harm. I could equivocally state that speaking truth to power is something often not welcome in my operational space. Or rather, giving power to truth is not an easy task, yet a powerful act in itself. While there have been a number of lessons, I will share the five that I take away from 2013, which are important in reconfiguring and re-educating me for the work of 2014 and beyond.
Firstly, the empowerment work we do with girls and women is only meaningful if we also work to change the society that we want them to be equal and constructive citizens of. It is not impactful or meaningful to do inclusion work with women and girls if their participation is only to play by the rules of the ‘old boys’ play book.
Secondly, social justice work in development must use intersectional gender and race lenses. It needs to extend beyond issues of mere inclusion and representation of women, but must necessarily also aim to be transformative by foregrounding co-creation of a just, fair, and safe society for all.
Thirdly, transformation and co-creation should not be a reactive democratic process, where the previously marginalised only serve to rubber stamp an already set agenda by the advantaged. Rather, it must be a process whose departure point is a clean slate, where equal representation and voice is given to all those at the table. That is hard, I know, but I believe it is achievable.
Fourthly, transformation work is hard and you never know what will happen next, however, it is necessary and needs each one of us to be committed, present and focused in our efforts.
Lastly, seize opportunities presented by the most unlikely allies because it behoves your cause and slowly gives inroads to an opportunity for dialogue and collective construction of new and potentially transformative discourses. I found an ally in a black man this year; in my eyes, he was an unlikely ally but he proved to be more in solidarity than those that I thought were natural allies. There is a key role for black men to play in supporting African feminism and this role does not include being custodians of women’s rights or reproducers of archaic gender regimes but rather progressive, empathetic listeners who share a common truth.
*Rethabile Mashale is a registered Social Worker, with a Masters degree in Social Policy and Management from the University of Cape Town. She is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Stellenbosch focusing on leadership styles in the management of volunteers in emerging social development organisations. She is employed as a Programme Officer in a philanthropic organisation supporting fledging NGO’s working in education and learner support. In her spare time, in addition to raising a one year old, she works with black girls supporting them with education enrichment, life skills and leadership development. She has an interest in black feminism, gender equality, research and social justice in the African context.