There’s a popular phrase, adopted from a resistance song, which was coined during the 1956 women’s protest against carrying passes, which gave black people permission to enter urban areas under apartheid in South Africa. This isiZulu phrase is known as ‘Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Imbokodo’ which loosely translated means ‘you strike a woman, you strike a rock’. The use of this phrase has evolved over the years, and has been symbolic of the strength, resilience, and boldness of women. It has also been a double edged sword, in that it has also been used as a tool to put women in unfavourable circumstances, so that they can prove the strength they speak of.

In the year 2020, almost 60 years post the iconic protest, what does it mean to be a woman and in this instance, a “rock” who rises above challenges? For me, being a woman means standing on the shoulders of those who fought to have my voice matter in this day and age. It would be erroneous to discredit the hard work and dedication of my ancestors and the women who took part in such protest. They form part of the reason why I can boldly speak my mind, and have my voice echo in spaces that were previously thought of as only accessible to men, or women who do not look like me. They fought the good fight and passed on the baton to us. We are also faced with a challenge of rising up beyond our challenges and embodying strength to face challenges relevant to our time. These include fighting for the voiceless and victims of gender based violence, fighting for equal pay, and dismantling patriarchal practices that choke our voices and purpose, irrespective of where they come from. It also means playing a role to dismantle systems that keep us at the very bottom of the food chain, by constantly oppressing us and calling us strong for enduring unfairness.

For women to stand in their strength, and rise above their challenges to reach for their dreams and live out their purpose means that although we have been perceived as “rocks” who can face adversity and make the most out of it with the little we have, we should be careful to not succumb to systems that require us to constantly fight and never enjoy the fruit of our labour. By this I mean every system that is designed to oppress us should be uprooted, and women should enjoy opportunities without having to prove their strength. That means women should enjoy their softness or be whoever they are called to be, without fighting just to have their voices heard.

Considering the backdrop of the phrase ‘Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Imbokodo’, women should be recognized as rocks and anchors of society without fitting a single specific standard. To rise up and be a change maker means recognizing who you were created to be and being able to express that without fear. You get to decide what you want to be. You get to decide life on your own terms without fashioning it according to societal standards that fall short of the vision God has for your life.

Lebogang Tisane is a certified gender advocate, educational innovator, and an eCommerce enthusiast, who loves research and innovation. She works in eCommerce and also helps women establish their businesses online. She is dedicated to changing the narrative about black women, and advocating for marginalized groups.

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