Gender balance is a great idea, but it’s time to teach our girls to earn their positions

By Thandekile Moyo

I grew up in a family that has always been obsessed with education.

My parents are readers and my brother, my sister and I have been bookworms all our lives.

I remember how back in the nineties, my parents decided to pursue their Masters degrees together.

They must have been in their late thirties, an age I am about to reach. It was a happy day when they both passed and went on to graduate together.

Monday night, the third of April, was one of the happiest days of our lives as a family.

My sister did us all proud by graduating with a Master’s degree in Tourism Management, from the University of Johannesburg.

I felt all sorts of emotions as I watched her, looking stunning in her little blue dress and that majestic gown with the beautiful stole.

The youngest in our family, but the first child to reach that level of education. I felt proud, inspired and challenged to follow in her footsteps.

After the ceremony, her professor, Tembi Tichaawa came to congratulate us and told us how happy he was.

He told us what a difficult journey it had been and that he was happy that unlike some, she had not quit along the way.

My parents were in their element that night; dressed to kill and bursting with excitement; it was clear that they were extremely proud of their daughter’s achievement.

As she was getting capped we all stood and I ululated; I heard my father’s voice booming across the packed auditorium saying, “well done Sakhile, we are proud of you!!”

My brother, dignified as always, clapped so hard I was afraid his palms were going to swell, or even worse, bleed.

I have never seen anyone pound his hands together so hard, and so fast that it sounded like a machine was making the sound.

My mother seemed to have momentarily “lost herself” in all the excitement for she leapt out of her chair and screamed “Sasa!!! Sasa! Sasa!! We are proud of you Sasa!!” and finished off with a loud “Like mother like daughter” that echoed throughout the room as my sister received her hood.

She claimed afterwards, that she did all that subconsciously, she had not planned it and she did not hear herself; part of me does not believe her, for she had spent the entire day asking us what we were going to say or do when Sasa went on stage!

When my mother said those words, “like mother like daughter”, I was struck by how far we have come as women in the drive to be empowered.

She attained her doctorate degree after she had had all three of us and I have always wonder how she managed to do it.

It cannot have been easy, as a working woman, with three children, to have reached the levels she has. My heart burst with pride as I watched her and I felt myself basking in her glory and success.

I looked at her, Dr Ngoni Moyo, a woman from a tiny rural village called Tjehanga, deep in Plumtree, Zimbabwe.

I wondered if as a young girl, while herding her father’s cattle or tilling the soil in the harsh Plumtree heat, in a war torn Rhodesia, she had ever imagined she would one day wear the coveted red robe.

Having grown up in an era where only a few girls went to school, it is a miracle that her traditionalist father, not only let her go to school but supported her all the way to university. He must have been a man ahead of his times; I wish he could see her now.

My mind went to the stage, where the female Chancellor of the university sat in her high chair and was happily capping all the graduates. We have arrived! I thought to myself.

The entire ceremony was dominated by women and was like a mass display of women empowerment.

The majority of the professors and doctors seated on the stage were women. The majority of the graduands across disciplines were women. More females got distinctions than men.

The star of the show was a woman called Karolina, who was the only PhD graduate, a beautiful young girl who got into the hall as Just Miss Karolina Laba and left the stage as Dr Laba.

For a moment we were as one as everyone cheered and was genuinely happy for her. For a good ten minutes we were all clapping our hands, smiling, laughing and the emotional ones crying as we all marvelled and took pride at the young woman’s achievement. She got a standing ovation as she walked the long route back to her seat! Dr Kaba, I wonder how she felt!

I then realised how the fight for women empowerment has been won and maybe it is time we now concentrated on human empowerment.

For years I have felt that the development and nurturing of boys has been put on hold as we tried our hardest to champion the girl child.

I believe, in education in particular, we have attained a level where we can say equal opportunities are available for both boys and girls.

In most of Southern Africa, especially in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, the need for affirmative action has been reduced drastically and the time has come to teach our girls to earn their positions.

I have heard people complain that fewer girls are being given scholarships, fewer girls are studying sciences and technology than boys and less girls are getting this and that as opposed to boys.

Whose fault is it, I ask myself. Where a scholarship requires you to achieve a certain pass mark to get it, should we then prejudice a boy who has attained that mark, in favour of a girl who did not, just so that the list is “gender balanced”?

At whose expense are we pushing the girl child towards a world where there is an equal number of male and female scientists?

Have you stopped to consider the boy child who would have worked his body off to get an 85% pass mark in Chemistry, only to be told he did not qualify for; because we want gender balance, we had to take 5 girls with 80% pass marks and 5 boys with 90% and above.

Are we really doing our girls much justice by teaching them that where they fail to meet the required standard, they will still get on any list simply because we must have females on every list? We teach them that they do not always have to earn their success, as it can be given to them for free.  This is the reason why we enter boardrooms and men, and some women think, “How did she get here?”

By dishing out positions and accolades in a bid for gender balance we are fostering a culture where; every time a woman or a girl meets the standard, she will still be viewed as inadequate because some before her have got to that point simply because they were female.

Gender balance is a great idea, but would it not be more beautiful if we achieved it and not just painted a picture of it by forcing undeserving girls onto the list.

April 2017
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