To Free a Woman

By Suvani Naidoo

It has been agreed upon by the global community at large that women around the world have been unjustly oppressed and abused by their respective communities for centuries and that this grave miscarriage should be corrected.

The question is: how? Legislation granting women suffrage and equality with men in economic, political and social arenas is all well and good but they will only be effective if people respect and adhere to them.

Mindsets must be changed and this is easier said than done. People find it difficult to part with custom and tradition. There are also those men who are none too eager to relinquish their power over their womenfolk. Why would they want to?

Men play a pivotal role in the empowerment of women. That goes without saying. The so called former oppressors need to reset their attitudes and behaviour in order for a new mindset to prevail in society.

The more crucial role, however, is that of women themselves. Empowerment can only be achieved if women embrace it. There are women who are afraid of freedom, unsure of what it will bring. We still teach our daughters to behave meekly, to cater to the whims of the men in their lives, to place themselves second. We teach them limits to their potential and set boundaries, which we do not do with our sons.

It is our responsibility to foster a generation of women who know that they are capable of as much as any man, women who know that they are complete without a man.

The latter assertion is of great importance. In the past, women were not allowed to own land, attend educational institutions, entrance into certain career fields or vote. Their worth was attached to their husbands whom they were totally dependant on for survival.

It follows then that “bagging a husband” was foremost in the mind of a young girl and of course, the mind of her mother who would advise her of the best way to do so.

Women today still attach their sense of worth to whether or not they “have a man”, more out of a social preconditioning than anything else.  We are brought up listening to stories of knights in shining armour and valiant princes who will save us from the big bad world but what of the warrior women who fight in civil wars and join resistance movements and teach and empower the people in their communities? Why aren’t we telling stories of strong, independent women who fend for themselves and don’t merely survive but thrive?

These are the qualities the daughters of the future should be taught. They should be reminded that to be a woman is to be beauty and power and tenderness. To be a woman is to be awesome and unstoppable and a million things all at once – because they can.