A blog from our founder for Women's Day
Every year on 9 August we celebrate Women's Day and honour the women of our nation. But what is the real meaning of Women’s Day? I believe it represents something inimitable to women: unity, equality, recognition, achievement, respect, appreciation, solidarity, hope. It was the Suffragettes who started International Women's Day, with the first officially named "International Women's Day" event held in 1911. In South Africa, this day celebrates the national march of 20 000 women in 1956 to petition against legislation that required African persons to carry the 'pass'.
I recently read about the life of Emmeline (Emily) Pankhurst who fought for the social and political freedom of women in Britain during the 1900’s. During the 1800s and early 1900s, women did not have equal rights, and Emily became the leader of the British suffragette movement who helped women eventually win the right to vote, which sadly only transpired after she died. Although she was a controversial figure for her use of violent campaigns during her struggle for equality, her tenacity, spirit, grit and determination to fight for what she believed in, is the focus I want to capitalise on for this women’s day post.
Women are still far from equality – excuse me if I'm a little cynical, but my experience as a ‘woman’ ‘entrepreneur’ has not been an easy feat to say the least. E-Classroom was borne from a passion I believed in – access to equal education for all. Initially, it was a Foundation Phase venture which allowed me to help Primary Schools by providing them with quality educational resources. Gradually, the demand for additional resources developed, and I unexpectedly found myself knocking on doors to get the Intermediate to FET phases funded! During this chapter, my hobby became a fully-fledged business, which I am so passionate about and dedicated to today and am grateful we can provide a service that truly bridges the education divide.
However, the process has not been easy. I spent many occasions during our growth phases, pitching against my male counterparts for funding from various business lenders, trusts, foundations, development organisations, entrepreneur opportunities etc., only to be thwarted, discouraged, blocked…the list goes on! I lost more than a little hope as the challenges kept increasing. Women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs, and women-led businesses are outperforming their male peers in many VC portfolios, but investors are not seizing the opportunity to invest in women. Women remain underrepresented in many senior management roles in the private sector, with only 13% of women on boards in listed companies and less than 10% of venture-backed companies have a female founder. Ninety-two per cent in the top 100 VCs is men.
Read: For the past seven years, Bain & Company have researched how and why the career paths of women and men differ.
So, what is the point of educating our girls, if the society they find themselves in does not equally enable and encourage their growth?
In a report by African News Agency (ANA) on March 8, 2018, President Ramaphosa called on South Africans to use International Women’s Day 2018 to decide what they can do in their personal lives, communities, businesses and organisations to advance all aspects of gender equality. He mentioned that “We must work together to significantly improve the status of women – and especially young women – in the economy, ensuring that we achieve gender parity. Women must be equally represented in the workplace and must receive equal pay.”
Mr President, I humbly respond:
“Society needs to tackle the economic and social factors that prevent young women from completing school and accessing further education.” Can we have some support, please? There are many opportunities for learners to access e-resources today, but access is prevented by high data costs. A start would be a zero-rated APN for all education platforms (not just the chosen few) – without data, access to learning is prohibited.
…” The government will strengthen the support it provides to women entrepreneurs and business people.” When? Access to funding is challenging, especially considering the state of the economy! Supporting women-led businesses is an important element of a country’s economic growth strategy. A culture reset needs to happen FAST. Diversity at the investment decision-making level is a start.
“The renewal of our country must entail a renewal of societal values that will position women and men alongside one another in a nation of equals. Patriarchy has no place in South Africa we are building today.” What steps are being made to ensure this happens? Women-led businesses need support to scale up and to enter into collaborations with other businesses.
“Women's Day is certainly a day when women are recognised for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political.” Can women be recognised every day for their achievements and not only on Women’s Day?
Women need change to happen, and this we can do together. Perhaps I am, again, grasping at straws, but maybe those who shout loudest……
Let’s salute the women who are using their voices, leadership and influence to make progress for girls’ education globally:
Malala Yousafzai - By daring to go to school as a young teen and becoming a global icon for the importance of educating girls.
Graça Machel - Through her philanthropy and advocacy of girls’ education and children’s rights.
Ann Cotton - in recognition of her career in giving learning opportunities to girls and women in sub-Saharan Africa.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women - founder of the Umlambo Foundation, which focuses on raising learning outcomes in South African public schools.
I too am indebted to my own team of ladies, who work so passionately every day to ensure our learners have access to resources that can help them succeed.
For now, let’s continue to remember the values that guide Women’s Day and celebrate the important and impressive achievements of women. Whoever you are, where ever you are, you are magnificent. In every way. Here's to you. #PressforProgress #WomensDay
I must humbly thank our E-Classroom friends who have supported and believed in our initiative from the onset and continue to support our vision and mission today. Without them, E-Classroom would not be able to provide access to quality, affordable education for all. #PressforProgress #educationforall