When women change, society changes

COMMENT

Women’s Month is a time to commemorate and celebrate women’s hard-won rights and freedoms but we need to remain mindful that there is still work to be done.

Too many South African women continue to face significant difficulties in everyday life. It is imperative for women in corporate positions, like myself, to introduce those important discussions to improve the status quo.

The turning point in my career came when I made the decision to stop fearing the unknown and to pursue my passion for helping children to get the vital preschool educational foundation that they need, not just for the best chance at success in school but also in life. I then found a whole new world of effecting social change through business resources opening up to me and I am now involved in a variety of extremely rewarding projects that I had never dreamed of before.

Education is one of the pillars in Ford’s corporate social responsibility strategy. Investing in equal education opportunities is fundamental to the growth and development of individuals and entire countries. A sustainable society is paramount for sustainable businesses. The two go hand in hand.

Through various programmes, motivated and deserving candidates get invaluable training and development opportunities. Education initiatives include the Enactus Ford College Community Challenge (C3), for which teams of university students develop innovative, sustainable and entrepreneurial solutions to address critical needs in their communities. There are also internship, bursary and graduate trainee programmes.

For those women out there who can’t afford to get an education, my advice would be to ask around, to find out from companies whether they have programmes that could equip them with the skills they need to kick-start or boost their careers.

For example, the Ford Resource and Engagement Centre offers free courses to residents of nearby Mamelodi. There have been 326 graduates to date, and 90% of them are women.

Nonprofit organisations (NPOs) are also a good place for women to find out whether there are any opportunities. Anyone can go to the department of social development and request a list of NPOs in their area. It’s also not only the youth who can benefit from these opportunities. It’s never too late to change the trajectory of one’s life story.

When women are educated, there is a positive effect on their health and economic future, which in turn improves the prospects of their community. Education increases income, reduces poverty and cuts crime. When women are educated and financially independent, they can make informed decisions about their lives. When women are educated, there is a ripple effect on society as a whole.

This Women’s Month, I would like to challenge other women, and men, to be honest about what progress has been made to further the cause of gender parity in education and to create and drive education-based initiatives to narrow the gender divide.

We need to take up the baton that was passed to us by courageous women like Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn and Frances Baard, all of whom were part of that historic march to the Union Buildings on August 9 1956, not just for the benefit of this generation but also for generations to come.

Duduzile Nxele is the manager of the Ford Fund for South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa

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