Why Women’s Rights (And My Personal Life) Became Better Thanks To Nelson Mandela

Nelson-Mandela

This past weekend I went to see the new movie Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom based on Nelson Mandela’s autobiography of the same name.

The fact that the former South African president died a week ago, Friday 6th December, 2013, was crazy timing. I am a huge believer in the power of being a revolutionary. After watching the Julian Assange movie The Fifth Estate it made me realize how passion can drive you to do crazy things, but also great things for humanity. It can force changes in societies, governments, corporations and most importantly, hearts and minds.

It made me realize what we are doing at GTHQ trying to help women accept themselves and allow young girls to view themselves in a healthy way by promoting positive, inspiring and empowering messages, is something important and I am not about to give up. You just never know how much of an impact you are going to have on someone’s life. I get emails every week saying how much girls love what I am doing and they really appreciate the messages we put out there.

Sure we don’t have a tonne of big name advertisers throwing stupid amounts of money our way, but having women consistently getting in touch with us asking how they can be a part of this movement and how they can work for us is more important that any dollar I could personally earn. It means what I am doing is important to other women, and that they have been looking for content like this for a while!

When reading and researching more about the man the South Africans affectionately called ‘Madiba’ (meaning father) I came across some awesome info about how passionate he was about women’s rights. It makes sense doesn’t it? Someone who is for the freedom of humanity, would naturally therefore advocate the rights of women and children also, recognizing their crucial role in communities.

Here are some of the things Mandela did during his term in office.

At the opening of the first parliament in 1994 (just after he was elected as the first black President), Nelson Mandela declared, “Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression… Our endeavors must be about the liberation of the woman, the emancipation of the man and the liberty of the child.”

After he was elected he chose over a third of his cabinet as women and even today females make up 44% of the country’s government. They have a goal to reach 50/50 Gender Parity by 2015, and by the looks of those numbers, they are not far off. Bravo South Africa and Mandela for instilling and important facet into government.

Nelson Mandela encouraged women to speak up during protests as he said their role was crucial in the abolishment of apartheid. On August 9, 1956, when 20,000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest legislation requiring black women to carry passes in urban areas.

“The women were courageous, persistent, enthusiastic, indefatigable and their protest against passes set a standard for anti-government protest that was never equalled,” Mandela wrote in his book.

Almost 40 years after the protest, in 1994, he honored those women by declaring August 9 Women’s Day, a national holiday. That’s right, Nelson Mandela created a national women’s day in his country, honoring these brave females who fought hard alongside him. How many country’s leaders can boast the same thing? Not many (sadly).

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In 1995, at the time of drafting South Africa’s constitution, he said, “As a tribute to the legions of women who navigated the path of fighting for justice before us, we ought to imprint in the supreme law of the land, firm principles upholding the rights of women.

On International Human Rights Day in December 1996, Mandela signed the final draft of the country’s constitution granting South Africa’s women one of the most comprehensive set of rights in the world.

South Africa’s Constitution, states “The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.”

It even called for the establishment of the Commission for Gender Equality, with the vision to create a “society free from gender oppression and all forms of inequality.”

Before he became president in 1993 South Africa signed the United Nations Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, also known as “the international bill of rights for women”. The treaty was ratified while Mandela was president, and the reason this is so significant, is because not even the United States has ratified this treaty yet! Are you shocked? Because I certainly was.

On August 9, 1996 (Women’s Day in South Africa) Mandela have a speech urging equality and the end to all sexual violence toward women.

He famously said: “As long as women are bound by poverty and as long as they are looked down upon, human rights will lack substance.”

“As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow. As long as the nation refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself, it is doomed to failure.”

During his presidency, he introduced free prenatal and postnatal care to mothers in the public health system as well as free health care to children up to the age of six.

It did strike me that there were aspects of his life which many scrutinize. He was married 3 times, and during the time of his greatest work, he has spoken about how lonely he was and how isolating it can be doing something revolutionary. I guess it is not for everyone. But in his autobiography, he talks about telling his first born son (who died in a car crash while he was in prison on Robben Island) that what he is doing is for the greater good and he will see why later on. It was a deliberate choice he made, while at the same time his family life suffered a great deal.

Does that mean he shouldn’t ave done what he did and chosen to take the easy way out? I believe he knew in his heart just a glimpse of what the future wold hold if he continued on his path. He talks about his Christian beliefs and perhaps God revealed something special to him, and he knew he had a responsibility to carry it out to the end.

Today, South Africa still has a lot of work to do, but the conversation was started 20 years ago and he turned that talk into action which we hope the future generations of South Africans will continue. He was by no means perfect, but he is one of the world’s greatest examples of changing hearts and thought patterns by non-violent, intelligent and clever ways. His intention was never to outsmart or manipulate anyone, it was to emphasize the unalienable right of freedom for all.

I thank Nelson Mandela for every thing he did for women and children, because without his radical, revolutionary actions, where would we be today? Men, we need you. Women, you need to speak up. There is much work to be done, and we can’t give up now. Just as Mandela knew the impact his work would make on future generations to come, we also need to think the same. It becomes a selfless way of living when all our actions and motives are kept accountable by the consequence it has on others.

Thank you Madiba for the impact you have had on my heart and mind, it has spurred me on to be a better women, daughter, sister, friend, cousin, colleague, girlfriend, mentor, aunt and member of society. I have hope that even though the journey may be rocky, it is a path well worth traveling down and I will not give up.

Power to ALL.

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