Intersexuality. Intersectionality. Female excellence. Business. Poetry. Pride. Women.
To deconstruct the South African woman is not an easy thing to do. At the Park Exchange session on the 10th of September, we had three incredible women who shared with us some of their experiences of what it means to be a woman in South Africa.
Our first speaker was Sharon-Rose Khumalo, a proud intersex female and Top 5 finalist from Miss South Africa 2016. Her insights on intersexuality, the stigma it still carries in many communities, and the pride and openness with which she shared on it were inspiring. When asked how she came to identify as a woman, Sharon said “because I choose to be.” Her insights on how she merges her sexual identity with her faith and how she has come to embrace herself the way she is gave us all a great deal to learn from. With regards to the recent issues regarding hair policies in schools, Sharon’s opinion was that the most important thing is to listen, and to love, and how this attitude has come to define the way she lives her life.
Isolde de Villiers was our second speaker. She is a Jurisprudence lecturer at the University of Pretoria, and is currently pursuing a Doctorate dealing with spatial justice from a feminist perspective. Her contributions began with an analysis of the recent renaming of streets. The women whose names were used included Lillian Ngoyi, Florence Ribeiro, Charlotte Maxeke, Albertina Sisulu and several others. Their stories are too long to share here, but all of them are well-known South African heroines. Isolde pointed out the importance of honouring not only these women, but also the heroines of the everyday. She also shared her enthusiasm about women taking up leadership positions in recent social movements such as Fees Must Fall and other surrounding movements, as well as the PHSG hair policy protest, and said that women, who have been so long banned from leading, must be given a chance to lead in South Africa. Isolde ended her part by sharing several poems from Sindiwe Magona, Philippa Yaa de Villiers and Antjie Krog. This led us to our third and final speaker.
Winile Nzalo is the owner of Diana Gordon & the South African Academy of Design and Technology. Her company, as she said, is all-female and working to change the tech space of South Africa – a space which Winile described as being very male-dominated. Her story is one of believing in herself, following her heart and doing the things that she loves. It was very refreshing to hear her pioneering attitude and also the honesty with which she confronted the difficulties of what it means to be a woman in the corporate world; especially a woman who is the owner of her own business.
In closing, it was an insightful and eye-opening session that followed on from our previous talk, Deconstructing the South African Man. I personally was very inspired to hear Sharon, Isolde and Winile’s stories, and the discussion that followed on each speaker’s sharing was a testament to the richness of the issues that were discussed and engaged on. We look forward to our next session soon.
– Thomas Karberg