What women in business take from 1956

 

Midrand Reporter met up with four women in the oil and gas industry to reflect on the role played by the Women’s March of 9 August 1956, in relation to women in business.

In 1956, thousands of South African women from various backgrounds, cultures and racial groups marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the pass laws.

Khumo Nthla, CEO of Women in Oil and Energy South Africa (Woesa)

Khumo Nthla the CEO of Women in Oil and Energy South Africa.

“Democracy opened a chapter whereby women can explore everything before their eyes without being mocked. We are who we are because of the women of 1956 who did not allow a system to exclude them at a time when it was easy to do so,” she said.

“The Albertina Sisulus and others showed us that we do not have to accept suppression in any form, and further showed us that when women are united there is nothing they cannot achieve if they set their mind to it.”

She added that post-1994, women no longer had to be subjected to the old traditions and stereotypes of what makes a woman or how far a woman’s reach is.

Nthla shared her message with young people and said, “The young ladies of today have to reflect on the courage of the 1956 generation and need to exploit the opportunities that their mothers today have opened for them.

“We had to kick open the doors of opportunity and are still doing so because we want our daughters to not to have to do the same but to only turn the handle and open the door.

“I worked with Mama Sisulu in the ANC Women’s League and I was able to learn and see the hopes, wishes and commitment they had to grow the country, especially to empowering women and allowing them to also play a role in the country’s economy.

“The generation of the 1956 women worked across class and race. Therefore, I regularly remember their struggle when I am facing my open struggles in trying to empower women in business and open up opportunities to them in male-dominated industries. We should constantly remember that we are not free until our sister is free.”

Nthla said she feels as though there is something that women are missing or are perhaps not doing right where abuse is concerned. “We have been able to kick open doors of opportunity but are failing to close the gates of abuse. So many of our sisters are victims of abuse and this is a growing monster that needs to be killed,” she concluded.

Priscilla Selele, general secretary of the National African Energy Wholesalers Association of South Africa

Priscillah Mabelane, the CEO of BP SA, and Priscilla Selele, the general secretary of the National African Energy Wholesalers Association of South Africa.

“Not much has changed with the society our parents grew up in regarding a woman’s role, because women are still the natural builders of society,” she said.

“We have not only kept the strength of those that came before us, but we have been able to improve on it. Women are now careerists and are also entrepreneurs who have to go out into the world and compete with their male counterparts – and still return home with the ability to nurture and hold the family together.

“We as women cannot give up until there is a full emancipation of our people.”

Priscillah Mabelane, CEO of BP South Africa

Mabelane said the role of a woman has not changed because, like their grandmothers, women of today are also nation builders and have the responsibility and duty to improve society together.

“Women should not compete with each other or have to get ugly towards one another in order to get ahead, because the past generation has shown us what the power of unity can achieve.

“We are raising sons and brothers but have to learn to perhaps change the methods we are using to raise them to ensure that they grow up into men that will protect women and not harm them, and they also need to be men that will not stand on the sideline and watch a woman being abused and violated.

“Like the class of 1956 we need to unite and face abuse head-on together so we can achieve our objective of bringing an end to it, or at least starting the cycling of change.”

 

Pria Hassan, CEO of Women in Fuels and Oils

Pria Hassan the CEO of Women in Fuels and Oils.

“The march of 1956 is on our blood, I can still feel and see their stride, pain and sacrifice. This reminds me that we often forget about rural women and that is not right because when they marched on that historic day, it was about more than class and backgrounds.”Women have a lot figured out for everyone else besides themselves because we are naturally the unifiers of our homes, therefore, we constantly have everyone’s wellbeing in our minds. “We have for years been improving our communities and the business sector, but women are hardly acknowledged for their role in building this country. Women carry so much pain that they cannot talk about it because we are taught to carry the burden and hold the knife at the sharp edge in order to keep the peace.

She concluded that there needs to come a time when women remember themselves and create spaces where they can feel and express their pain, heal and let go of the burden.

 

Also check out:

The multiracial women who led the march to the Union Buildings in 1956

Tuesday Life Hack: 5 important safety hacks for women

  AUTHOR
Welisa Nene
Journalist

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