Yesterday my 6 year old daughter asked me: “Mama, why can’t girls be the president of South Africa?”
I immediately told Isobel that girls can certainly be president if they wanted to and we went on to have a chat about how she needs to study hard and know what’s going on in the world in order to become president one day. She was thrilled and wondered aloud about how she will get people to choose her as president when she is all grown up… but I was heartbroken that my child’s exposure to a male dominant political set-up in SA had resulted in her perceiving leadership positions like being president as a ‘boys only’ club.
29 May 2014
An Open Letter to President Jacob Zuma
President Zuma, my two little girls watched your inauguration in awe and stood up with their hands on their hearts to sing the national anthem. Isobel was curious as to why all those people were shaking hands with you when your cabinet members were sworn in this week. Last year, they watched as President Nelson Mandela was laid to rest and they listened to stories of how he fought for their rights and equality alongside many others.
I realised that even though my husband and I have chosen to raise our daughters with gender neutral toys so that they are able to oppose the
stereotypes like girls must play with dolls and boys must play with cars and diggers, more needed to be done. Their exposure to a variety of people, activities and jobs, and an assertion of gender equality in the way things happen in our home with both mum and dad doing cooking, chores and caregiving in equal parts, was my way of nurturing them to expect, demand equality and mock discrimination of girls and women.
I am proud that Isobel knows that she can love the colour blue if she wants to even though some playmates tease her because it’s a ‘boy colour’. I am proud that both my little girls don’t turn their noses up at having their faces painted as Spiderman and love being fairies and butterflies as much as being a robot or pirate.
I am not proud of the fact that we live in a society where even a 6-year old has already imposed limitations on what she can aspire to be because this is what she is witnessing in a political landscape of a democracy that has passed its teenage years yet still has less than 50 percent of women cabinet members.
Why are there so few women who are in line for leadership positions? It’s a vicious cycle and we need to break it before we have another generation of young women who think that girls can’t be president!
I’m relieved that Isobel asked me the question…but what about all the other little girls out there who are internalising the same limitations and don’t question it? What can you do to change this? What can we all do to change this?