Dear Women of Africa
An Open Letter by Elizabeth Makumbi
There are certain moments in life when we are humbled by the prospect of our future and in awe of our own accomplishments. This is when we are rightfully allowed to bathe in our narcissism. It is our chance to discard our humility, whilst laughing in the face of all of the adversity that once diverged our goals. These are occasions that we should aim to achieve and live for. Yet, we often forget our fortune as we long for greener pastures. We have a hope that there are better things/opportunities/people out there.
In certain circumstances this statement rings true.
There are people that have been able to find happiness as far away from their home as possible and will never look back. An example of this occasion is having the opportunity to study abroad. Now, I would never deter or discourage a person from grasping this prospect. In fact, anyone who has the financial stability, talent, skills and determination to further their studies overseas should embrace this dream! You will spend endless nights drafting various versions of your personal statement. You will fill out more application forms than you thought possible will and fear they may never end. Every email and phone call will make you hold your breath for a long second, in hope that it brings news of your success as an applicant. Upon finally being accepted at your first or second choice of college, you are filled with the utmost excitement! But this is the easy part. The real journey is to venture across the seas to your temporary home.
Whether you intend to study business, human rights or fine arts, the chance is one that cannot be wasted. You have to be effective, diligent and resilient. It takes courage to leave; yet in the mass of students you feel the most vulnerable. Although my hope is to encourage you to apply for further education programs that enrich your abilities and knowledge – I urge you to return back home to South Africa or wherever home may be on this remarkable continent. It is devastating to witness a young, bright mind lost to the “land of the free”. America, the United Kingdom and several other developed nations provide an opportunity to be able to network with persons in your field. If you play your cards right, you can apply for an internship as it will contribute to your overall personal experiences as well as personal growth. What we do not need is for Africa to lose another innovative mind!
During South Africa’s Apartheid era, black women were deprived of numerous rights, freedoms and privileges. It is black women who suffered multiple oppressions through occupying the lowest ranks of employment. They were exploited as domestic and agricultural workers, were underpaid and were discriminated against for not only their race but also for their gender. Today we have access to basic, secondary and tertiary educational facilities. There are laws and policies implemented to allow us to have an equal opportunity to progress in the workplace. We are engulfed by a Constitution that permits that our rights to equality, human dignity and security are protected. Of course this is only true to a minimal extent. We are also starkly aware that black women lag in ascertaining managerial and executive positions in the employment industry and we are continuously plagued by the ideal that black women are inferior, not as smart as their counterparts and only are accomplished because of being pushed through the system by “reverse” discriminatory provisions. But the idea that we hope for, yearn for is that we return back to our home countries and resolve these deficiencies. Africa is in need of all its exceptional women, and the continent has suffered enough from brain drainage!
We need to recognize the space for reformulation, review and vision to ensure that we develop a strong female voice. That we enter into dialogues and communications to re-affirm our presence in civil society. We hope that – not only black women, but also all women – are seen as equal partners in the fight for economic and political emancipation. We cannot be upset when the business hierarchy model leaves women in the bottom tier anymore. Instead, we should be motivated to use the positions we were meant fulfill: mother, friend, daughter, aunt and CEO, as the stepping stone to create self-definitions and introspective evaluations that disparage gender stereotypes and the negative representation of black women-hood. So when you step onto that plane to get your international degree, look back and be immensely proud of the fact when you return – you will be better, stronger, smarter and ready. As eloquently stated by Professor Derrick Bell “we have attained all the rights we sought in law and gained none of the resources we need in life. Like the crusades of old we sought the Holy Grail of Equal Opportunity and having gained it in court decisions and civil rights statues, find it transformed into one more weapon that society can use to perpetuate the gender status quo.” Return back to Africa ready to face the status quo and be equipped with the power to no longer ignore the inequalities. Then bathe in your stream of narcissistic achievements.
- Elizabeth Makumbi is a Leadership and Advocacy for Women in Africa fellow as a well as a Women’s Law and Public Policy fellow whilst completing her Masters in Law (LL.M) at Georgetown University, Washington D.C, USA