In a world where a 14-year-old girl, Malala Yousafzai, can be shot in the head in Pakistan for being an outspoken advocate for educating girls, it’s logical to feel we are making little progress on women’s rights. But in another part of the world, in the sprawling township of Khayeltisha, South Africa, where the majority of people live in poverty, where rates of HIV infection are some of the highest on the planet, where many still lack access to clean water and sanitation, progress is being made. And, in many cases, it’s women who are creating change.
The expression, “If you want anything said ask a man, want anything done ask a woman” is especially true in our work in South Africa.
Acacia Global was invited by two of our long-time partners, the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) to provide leadership training to their staff and volunteers who work on issues of access to clean water and sanitation (SJC) and the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS. Topics to be discussed included: characteristics of good leaders, decision-making and conflict resolution. Of 36 participants in the leadership seminar, approximately 2/3 were women.
When asked why the majority of people attending the training were women, both men and women agreed it was because organizations like SJC and TAC intentionally involved women since their inception. And they just didn’t involve women as volunteers. These nongovernmental organizations made a commitment to recruit, train and promote women throughout their organizations, including top leadership roles.
At one point in the training, participants were asked to come up with a list of good leaders. The list of names considered included some of the usual suspects: Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Desmund Tutu. Initially, few names of women made it on the list.
When asked specifically to come up with a list of female leaders, one woman’s hand immediately shot up. “My mother!” was her excited addition to our list of good leaders. That was followed by another women pointing to the female friend sitting next to her and asking that her friend’s name be added to the list of good leaders. Then another woman spoke up and, pointing to her chest with her thumb, proudly gave her name and said, “Me. My name should be on that list because I know I am a good leader.”
Some days it might not feel like we are making progress on women’s rights. Other days we know we are making progress.