Women’s rights are human rights; these powerful words were uttered and echoed by South African leaders at the Sowetan Dialogues in Bloemfontein, which discussed women’s roles, rights and progress in a democratic South Africa.
Nompi Zim (19), originally from the Free State province, established a dairy farm in 2014 and currently supplies major multinational Nestlé.
Zim’s inspiring story was highlighted at the Sowetan Dialogues at the Bloemfontein City Hall in the Free State.
The dialogue, one in a series that continues throughout the year, commemorated Women’s Month. The dialogues are a joint initiative run by Brand South Africa with the Sowetan newspaper. They allow for South African communities to come together to discuss issues facing them, and those outlined in the National Development Plan, with the country’s leading thinkers.
The dialogues aim to encourage community members to play their part in driving the social, developmental and economic change of their communities through active citizenship.
Panellists at the dialogue included: the Honourable Sisi Mabe – Speaker of the Free State Legislature; Mbuyiselo Botha from Sonke Gender Justice; Kenosi Machepa from the Ministry of Women; and Zim.
In line with the Bloemfontein dialogue’s theme – The Role of Women in Nation Building 20 years after Democracy – Zim described her career path, and what it took to become a female dairy farm owner at just 19.
She was born in the Eastern Free State at Khayalam Farm and attended Majweng farm school. She completed her Grade 12 at Sekgutlong High School in Qwaqwa before enrolling at an agricultural college in 2014.
In 2014 she used her savings to buy ten dairy cows and has since purchased another 15 cows. Subsequently she was honoured as the Best Dairy Producer of the Year in the Eastern Free State and has been nominated for the award again this year.
Zim encouraged the women in the audience to improve their lives, saying: “Ladies our time is NOW – start your own businesses and let’s nation build; you won’t achieve anything by waiting for hand-outs – I’m a 19 year old female entrepreneur who supplies Nestlé.”
As the dialogue continued, each speaker made important points about gender and the role of women, and men, in South Africa’s democracy.
Botha believes that men have a duty to support the leadership roles of women.
Botha said: “Men have somewhat lost their places in the world because of the rise in power of women in this century, but, on the same token men don’t need to just be ATMs for women – our support needs to advance.”
He asked that men support women to build families, and to support women physically, emotionally and spiritually to build a successful nation.
Machepa agreed and added that there needs to be a change in government policy: “For policies to uplift women, they must be women- and gender-friendly in order to eradicate the stereotypes which hinder women in the workplace.”
She added: “These dialogues help us speak up and cement what is rightfully ours and women should not aim to be like men. The challenge is that women want to lead like men but our femininity helped build the men of this nation.”
Mabe said, “The role of women in a country has no boundaries. It is not defined by colour, class or religion.” She said women still felt voiceless in South Africa’s patriarchal society, which could be attributed to cultural practices enforced to ostracise women who progressed.
When the discussion turned towards men and traditional practices in a world of courageous women, the audience was animated, responding to Mabe saying, “We need to sympathise with men who are led by women when they have been raised to believe otherwise; we need to allow our men to cry and not see it as weak – women empowerment works both ways.”
She added: “We are like a puzzle; a puzzle has several pieces which make it a complete picture – we should bring people together by listening and analysing which will help combat the challenge of professional jealousy in the workplace.”
Machepa emphasised to the audience that “women’s rights are human rights” and that women and men must fight together to protect these rights. She said women should guard against their rights being eroded.
The dialogue end on a positive note, reiterating that “when you empower a woman, you empower a nation and everyone wins”.