Heroines blaze new trails from their trials

When I was growing up, I was mostly influenced by women. My mother, with the help of my great-aunt and grandmother raised me during my formative years. Only once I approached primary school did she become involved with my stepfather.

Our lives together were stable for a couple of years. The cracks started to show when my stepfather started exhibiting aggression toward my mother. I didn’t think, it would escalate into anything else.

I just thought that was the way they interacted with each other. It all came to a head, however, when I was 12 years old. My mother was washing dishes at the sink while having words with my stepfather.

Their arguing escalated and before I knew it, he was in the kitchen with us. I remember watching helplessly as he started punching her in the ribs. I screamed for him to stop, but he didn’t.

I remember thinking I could not stand back and watch someone do this to the woman who had given birth to me.

With my gangly arms I used all my might to pull him away from her. He eventually stopped but the damage had been done. She turned away, from the sink, wincing in pain and started vomiting. The pain was so severe that she had to be rushed to the emergency room. The doctor said, she had two fractured ribs.

I usually don’t speak about the abuse I saw my mother endure, due to the shame. I used to feel about what happened when I was young.

I would plead with her, “Mommy, why don’t you just leave him?” She said she would, but things remained the same. I remember being afraid to go to school because I thought he would kill her while I was away. I became her protector from that point on.

The emotional, physical and economic abuse continued throughout my teenage years. Each time he would go for her, I would step in between them and say: “Rather hit me.” I remember that she always fought back. She never just took it.

When I was in my matric year, things came to a head. He moved to punch her and I stepped in between them. He continued punching and I was left with blue marks on my legs. That incident prompted her to seek a protection order.

They eventually divorced. I don’t doubt that he loved her. He did. But what I have learned as a young woman is that love is not enough. It’s just not. I want women to be cognisant of that during August which is Women’s Month. I think it’s important for women to remember that they can get out of abusive relationships.

I have spoken to many women who have been victims of domestic violence and many of them don’t leave because they are scared. Either they feel they won’t be able to make it on their own; they fear for their lives or they feel they will never be able to find a partner who can love them unconditionally.

My experience left me reeling for many years. I found myself unable to truly trust men I became romantically involved with. During my 20s, I lacked the support and emotional tools to face the pain I still held inside of me.

Last year, life catalysed me into doing an emotional audit: one of the best decisions I have ever made. I had to exorcise the demons or live a life in the shadow of my past. Experiences shape you and they have moulded me into a strong, independent woman with an impactful voice.

Today, my mother is in a emotionally healthy relationship, one I doubt she ever thought she would be in. As they say, when one door closes another opens.

Traditionally, women have been seen as nurturers tasked with keeping the family unit together as men went in search of food. As times have changed, women have interrogated their prescribed roles and fought for equality in a patriarchal society.

Single-parent households are common in South Africa and many of them are led by a women who must fulfil the role of both the mother and the father while being the sole breadwinner with little to no support.

Socio-economic issues, substance abuse, emotional and physical abuse as well as migrant labour have all contributed to this phenomenon. One can only look in awe at the fundamental role women play in society. The notable catalyst for women’s fight for equal rights was by the suffragettes in Britain who took to the streets in the early part of the 19th century demanding the right to vote.

In South Africa, “You strike a woman; you strike a rock” became a rallying cry for thousands of women who marched to the Union buildings in Pretoria in 1956 to protest against the apartheid state’s pass laws.

However, the struggle for equality between the sexes is still far from over. In 2017 women are still largely seen as the “weaker”sex and continue to earn less than their male counterparts, and management positions are kept out of their reach in many companies.

Femicide is also one of greatest tragedies in our world today with many women still at the mercy of their intimate male partners. In South Africa it’s particularly dangerous simply being a woman. Just last week, the body of Aviwe Jam Jam, 26, was found at the Vygieskraal Stadium. Her boyfriend has been arrested in connection with her murder.

A woman is killed every eight hours in South Africa – five times higher than the global average, according to statistics from a 2009 Medical Research Council report that noted the large majority of perpetrators went unpunished with less than 38% of intimate-partner femicides leading to a conviction.

A recent Stats SA survey reveals that 21 percent of women over the age of 18 have reported violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

It has never been more important for women to assert themselves… our lives increasingly seem to depend on it.

Our girl children need to be nurtured to value themselves so that when the time comes for them to counter discrimination, they know who they are and how they want to be treated.

Malala Yousafzai the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize stands as a beacon of hope in an unforgiving society.

Malala’s fight started in Pakistan where she defied the Taliban who banned girls from going to school. Her activism led to her almost being murdered by a Taliban operative.

Despite almost losing her life, the courageous young woman started the Malala fund and wrote the best-selling book I am Malala. She was also featured in Time Magazine as among the most influential people of our time .

Malala refused to be chained down by old notions; she was tenacious in her fight for the right to education as well as providing a voice for many young women and children. Her heroic actions will echo through time and inspire future generations of women to fight for their rights.

May heroines – both the famous ones, like Malala, and the unknown ones, like my mother – continue to shine their light and blaze new trails in the face of oppression, bringing balance to a world dominated by men; owning their sexuality as something more complete and nuanced than simply being an object of male desire; and showing the world that feminism isn’t an ideology it’s who we are.