Creating the World of Our Choice

I wondered why we have different coloured flowers arranged on tables instead of just one kind. But then, as I looked at the flowers, I realised that they are different for a reason.

I recently took some time out from all the craze and hype happening in our country in order to sit back and reflect. I was chilling over a nice cup of tea when suddenly it hit me! In just over one month we will be entering an exciting time for women in South Africa: Woman’s month.

I reflectled for a while on how far the process of gender equality and emancipation of woman with disabilities has come. We are doing comparatively well in gender representation but - for woman with disabilities - a lot needs to be accomplished, especially in the business world where they still need to embrace the potential of women with disabilities as corporate leaders.

There are many reasons why women with disabilities are over-represented amongst the poorest of the poor, one only need look at our history and at the structure of our society. But change starts within and I cannot emphasise enough the need for our communities to stop looking for handouts and start doing it for themselves. Get rid of the “look at what people need to do to solve our problems” mentality and instead focus on building a strong network for change and development.

We have a huge number of people with disabilities who are trying to make a living under conditions that severely restrict any prospects of formal-sector employment. We have just experienced formal recession which has resulted in massive loss of formal-sector jobs and the unemployment rate has increased significantly. If we are to provide improved living standards for people with disabilities and create decent work and sustainable livelihoods, we have got to bring about structural change. The new government has put in place a new Ministry for Woman, Children and People with Disabilities precisely because they have a recognised that we need to address the development of people with disabilities as an integrated process.

Too often our role and contribution in building our nation has been ignored and, for as long as patriarchal tendencies prevent woman with disabilities from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow and, as long as the Nation refuses to acknowledge the important role that women with disabilities are playing as leaders in society, we are pursuing a lost cause.

On Woman’s Day, August 9, 1996, Nelson Mandela declared that “the challenge now, for government, for women and for men is to seize the opportunities provided by these new formal instruments, so that women can indeed play their rightful role in transforming our society, in generating sustained economic growth.” In the 14 years since the speech, a lot has changed but much remains to be done regarding the advancement of women living with disabilities.

I believe that every one of us has a role to play in overcoming these challenges as we are ALL leaders and agents of change. I would like to believe that we are all concerned about the future of this country and the plight of the thousands of women in the same struggle. We must work hard in order to realise a better life for ourselves.

Take a moment and think about why it is important for you as an individual to participate and contribute. What are you doing as a person? What are you doing in your small circle of influence to make a difference? Are you doing enough? We need to stop abdicating all of our power to the state and assume responsibility for the socio-economic injustices and problems that we face as women with disabilities. We require unfailing commitment to work together in all sectors towards ensuring proper representation at all levels of decision making. We must create the paradigm shift required to introduce women with disabilities into top positions and senior management, giving us an opportunity to demonstrate our God-given talents and expertise. This is non-negotiable!

If we do not plan our journey with care and courage we will trample on the sacrifices of everyone who has gone before us, including our own selves, and we trample on our victories. As we anticipate the thrill of Woman’s month let us focus on how we will harvest the fruits of our labours and the labours of the giants who went before us. We are lucky because we are young enough to be part of building a different future with our “different” abilities.

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