“I have on many occasions wondered what it means for me to be a woman today. I ask myself questions like, ‘what greater purpose will I serve for my country, as those marching women did 65 years ago?’”
This month South Africa celebrates Women’s Month, with 9 August being National Women’s Day. The day commemorates the historic march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria by more than 20,000 women of all races 65 years ago on 9 August 1956.
They were protesting against a proposed amendment to the Urban Areas Act of 1950 aimed at tightening the apartheid government’s control over the movement of black people in urban areas, which required that they carry a passbook (the infamous dompas).
As I’ve grown and matured over the years I have on many occasions wondered what it means for me to be a woman today. As a black South African woman who is a medical doctor, I am aware how hard it is for most black women to have the opportunity to access tertiary education. And once being able to access it, the odds are heavily stacked against their successful completion of said studies.
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I graduated from the then Medunsa (Medical University of South Africa) in 2002 (the Health Professions Council of South Africa notes that in 2002 only 27% of all registered medical practitioners in SA were women. In 2000 4.4% of doctors in SA were black women).
I often ask myself questions like:
- What greater purpose will I serve for my country, as those marching women did 65 years ago?
- What can I do to uplift other women or fight to turn the tide against the plights women face today and advance “womanity” (and humanity overall)?
- What meaningful acts will I engage in for the betterment of humanity that will leave a long-lasting legacy so that my name will be remembered for a long time to come?
Whenever I ponder these questions during my daily introspective moments, I shut them down as quickly as they pop into my head. I do this not because I don’t want to live a meaningful life or leave an indelible legacy. Rather, I become apprehensive when facing these uncomfortable yet pertinent questions because I fear that answering them will come with pressure for me to start doing something urgently about the answers I get.
I sometimes tell myself that as a woman in the 21st century I have many more challenges than the marchers of 1956 had. I recognise that they had to fight apartheid, while raising families and working, and even obtaining academic qualifications for those who had the opportunity to. But I still feel that women today face more challenges.
After much overthinking and even making lists of which of the social ills that affect women I can try to “cure”, and which organisations I can collaborate with to assist and uplift other women, I decided to shift my focus away from chasing the idea that I need to “do better than those who came before me”. Don’t get me wrong, it is good to have role models and something to look up to for inspiration. But I was approaching it in a manner which gave me so much angst that it left me paralysed with indecision and inaction.
It became a futile exercise that defeated the exact thing that I wanted to achieve.
Upon reflection and introspection, it became apparent that I should draw inspiration of what to do from within. The more I looked at my life and all that I have overcome since birth, the more I realised that I have gone through and overcome enough challenges to be able to use those experiences to help other women overcome the same or similar experiences and inspire them to heal.
I have since kept stock of challenging experiences that I felt could have broken me had my spirit not been determined to heal and rise above the challenges. Alongside that list is another inventory of events that I felt are worth celebrating as my “great achievements”. Doing this exercise regularly has made me feel worthy as a person and woman living in post-apartheid South Africa. It has validated that I am doing enough small things daily to uplift “womanity” and humanity.
I encourage you to try it. It really is not a daunting exercise and it is never too late to start. It will take just a few minutes daily to journal, taking one experience at a time. I use an ordinary book and call it my gratitude journal. This is because I have adopted an attitude of gratitude for everything that I have gone through and achieved. This helps me to keep track of my goals and dreams. So think of this as more than just a stock-taking exercise and more like a GPS of where you’ve been and what you have overcome, and, most importantly, where you’re going and what greatness you are capable of achieving.
My name will never go down in history next to the names of Lilian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph for being avid anti-apartheid activists and spearheading the historic march which we commemorate every August. And that is okay.
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There are many social issues and struggles we face today as women. Too many for us to tackle and overcome in our individual capacities. But I have come to realise and accept that perhaps in trying to “do more and better” in my effort to uplift and empower womanity and help save our world, my approach should be simple so that I don’t overwhelm myself. I have gone back to the basics — being grateful for the many opportunities I have to make a difference during my daily interactions with people through my work as a doctor at my practice, and also as a woman who shares on social media what I have overcome and achieved to inspire others, especially girls and women.
Many people live their entire lifetime as the walking wounded, hanging on to traumas they experienced at some stage of life. This is not the way to live a fulfilled life. I want to inspire others to heal through showing them my healing from the trauma in my own life. I want to show them that choosing to learn lessons through confronting trauma and taking something great from all those experiences has allowed me to achieve great personal growth and soul enlightenment. I believe we cannot move forward to our future if we do not heal our past.
I grew up admiring Oprah Winfrey as a role model who overcame and rose above her traumas and turned them into something great. I believe my own healing from experiencing traumas similar to her came from seeing her speak openly about them on TV. That is when I knew that I did not go through what I went through in vain.
This is the power that role models have. I am very aware that I am a person of influence and others see me as a role model. So, I too have a responsibility to use my story and talents to help heal and uplift those that I can reach and touch.
Dr Maya Angelou said: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Using my story to inspire and heal is the indelible legacy that I will leave behind.
This article was originally published in the Daily Maverick