Mama, why can’t girls be the president of South Africa ?

girls be the president

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?

This article was originally written for Jozikids by Sholain Govender- Bateman in 2014.

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Sholain Govender-Bateman

Sholain Govender-Bateman

Sholain Govender-Bateman – New Media journalism lecturer and editor who worked for newspapers & edited magazines. She is mum to two gorgeous girls, Isobel and Aishwari, wife to Barry Bateman. Visit her on Twitter @sholain

4 Responses

  1. If my memory serves correct – 14 or 15 ministers in the latest cabinet are women – just less than 50%.

  2. My 9 year old daughter, Keziah asked me the very same question and wondered if she could be the 1st female president of South Africa. Needless to say I encourage her to dream at every opportunity but also to work towards the goal….

  3. I am sharing my Facebook status from about a week ago – the comments were insightful:
    Rina Coetzee Gous
    May 29 near Monument Park
    A was questioning the government's decision not to celebrate Ascension day with a public holiday noting that one day when she is president she will re instate it. Later in the car she asked if South Africa ever had a female president. I said no and with shock she replied: " But girls are just as clever as boys"
    Like · · Promote · Share

    Ben Cilliers, Dorene Theron Coetzee, Delri Beadon and 31 others like this.
    Tamaryn Shepherd My firstborn has the day off school ascension day.
    May 29 at 8:13am · Like
    Carike Smit Smarter
    May 29 at 8:33am · Like
    Lynette Jacobs We are celebrating today with a service at 10 and the rest of the day is a public holiday at the Mission.
    May 29 at 9:00am · Like
    Rina Coetzee Gous Government schools have to be open but there are no extra mural activities apart from the Voortrekkers who are having a "fakkelloop" and church service tonight
    May 29 at 9:02am · Like
    Robyn Richen I believe government schools could apply for the day off. But A is such a clever girl, man!
    May 29 at 10:31am · Like
    Annette Clavier did you have the courage to tell her that being clever is no pre-requisite for a president nor one of the defining characteristics? that there is a different kind of cleverness involved, cleverness of a kind we do not encourage in our daughters…
    May 29 at 11:12am · Like · 1
    Rina Coetzee Gous Ah Annette, no time this morning. But let her dream that she can change the world. At 9 that is a possibility
    May 29 at 11:17am · Like · 2
    Marcia Francois some would say even cleverer
    May 29 at 1:35pm · Like
    Erica Campbell Champion LOL, te oulik!
    May 29 at 5:48pm · Like

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