Women of Courage

We miss the point entirely if we see National Women’s Day as merely a day to be wished well or given a flower at church. It is a day to make our voices heard for the changes still desperately needed for women in our society. It is also a day to name and celebrate the women of courage in our lives.

The courage of the women who marched against the pass laws on 9 August 1956 – my grandmother among them – fills me with awe. Their strong solidarity brought over 20 000 women together, many in traditional dress and saris, some with babies on their backs. They risked arrest and imprisonment to voice their protest at the Union buildings, in song, in thirty minutes of silence and in a petition that made it clear that they would continue to fight this battle for the sake of their families and children.

As I look around me today, many women of courage inspire me:

Dorcas sells crocheted blankets at the side of the road. She sends the money home to her family in Zimbabwe. She struggles on, even though the pandemic has meant that for days she may not have a customer.

Jacinda, prime minister of New Zealand, and mother of a two-year-old takes time to explain the pandemic to children and assuring them that the ‘Easter bunny’ has been declared an essential service worker.

Nokukhanya, coming from extreme poverty, stands in her graduation gown. She worked three jobs while studying for her honours degree and is committed to building a house for her mother.

Sr Helen at age 81 still fights for prisoners on death row. Sr Joan whose writings on peace and the role of women in the church have come at a personal cost. Vanessa is a young Ugandan climate change activist. Ofentse owns and conducts an orchestra – the first black South African woman to do so.

We all know women of courage: women raising the children of other women; women struggling to find a way to leave an abusive relationship; women caring for elderly parents; women recovering from the experience of rape; women battling illness; women speaking out against injustice at personal cost. The list is endless.

What can we do to support women of courage?

Notice. Tell them: “I see you. I applaud your courage. Keep going.”

If you are a woman with privilege (as I am), mentor and amplify the voice of a younger woman with less opportunity. Affirm their gifts. Encourage them. Share your hard won knowledge, experience and resources generously.

If you are a man with influence where women are excluded or marginalised; speak out in support of women when they take the risk of speaking boldly. Use your status to fight injustice. Intentionally create opportunities for women’s voices and contributions to be received.

In 1956, women came together in a national protest that made women’s voices clearly heard. We celebrate their determination and the inspiring leadership. Can we draw on their strength, so that in renewed solidarity, we may continue to fight the scourge of gender-based violence? Will our children look back on our collective action and say that, as a result, the country is a safer place for them and their children?

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell has worked in the area of Ignatian Spirituality for 19 years and heads up the work of the Jesuit Institute School of Spirituality. Her primary focus is the training and supervision of spiritual directors and the giving of retreats. She is also a registered Psychologist and her PhD focused on the interface between Christian Spirituality and Psychology. Annemarie is an editorial advisor to “The Way” journal of Spirituality and has authored a number of articles relating to the training of Spiritual Directors in an African context. She has contributed to several books, most recently co-authoring a book of Lenten Reflections: “Long Journey to the Resurrection”. She has contributed to international conferences and consultations in Spirituality in the United Kingdom; the United States; Rome; Spain, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

a.paulin-campbell@jesuitinstitute.org.za @annemariepc_c
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