August marks Women’s Month in South Africa. This significant day pays tribute to more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 to protest the extension of Pass Laws for women. What better way to mark this historic occasion than by hosting one of the country’s most historic events, Miss South Africa, on Women’s Day this year.
“August 9, 1956, could be described as the birth of the women empowerment movement in our country,” comments Miss South Africa finalist, Lisa Stoffela (26, Margate). Errin Brits (22, Randpark Ridge) adds, “women have been disempowered for decades, and now we are slowly starting to take our power back. Platforms like Miss South Africa give women a voice.”
Major sponsor of this year’s pageant, LFP Group backs youth and women empowerment whole-heartedly. As a company with 51% black female ownership, LFP started a Women’s Month-inspired conversation by asking the Miss South Africa Top 16 finalists questions around the topic of gender disparity in the workplace, what female empowerment means to them, and why they think it is so important in South Africa.
Women in male dominated industries
The finalists have remarkably varied responses to the question “What fields or industries would you like to see more women in, and why?”.
Those who work in predominantly male-dominated industries such as Eloïse van der Westhuizen (24, Panorama) and Keabetswe Kanyane (25, Pretoria) – both work in logistics and planning – cited the need for more diversity in the field.
Similarly, ‘male-only’ industries like mining and construction have a “shadow cast over them,” says Nompumelelo Maduna (24, Soweto) “we need to shift the narrative!” Others like Chuma Matsaluka (21, Nyanga) called for more female entrepreneurs or, in the case of finalist Kgothatso Dithebe (24, Centurion), specifically more female ‘tend-trepreneurs.’ Lisa Stoffela and Xia Narain (23, Chatsworth) would love to see more women in politics, saying that “women should be in the position to shape the laws and policies that actually affect them.”
The remaining finalists are reluctant to restrict the call for gender diversity to just one industry.
“The solution is to take the lead from President Cyril Ramaphosa who has a 50% female-led cabinet. That same principle needs to be replicated across all public and private sectors,” says Sibabalwe Gcilitshana (24, Nqamakwe, Eastern Cape).
What does female empowerment mean to you?
To Kgothatso, female empowerment means sisterhood. Noluthando Bennett (24, Krugersdorp) agrees, saying that “in a world where the odds are stacked against women, standing together and supporting each other is the key to succeeding as women.” She continues, “if this generation succeeds, the next generation of women will be empowered and liberated to pursue their dreams.”
“Women empowerment to me means being fearless and powerful. Be unapologetic about who you are and know that as a woman you can shine throughout,” says Xia. “And don’t let anything, or anyone, hold you back – ever!” interjects Danielle Wallace (26, Umhlanga).
“For me, female empowerment boils down to equal pay, equal responsibility and equal opportunity,” says Sasha-Lee Olivier (26, Alberton). Her fellow finalist, Loren Leigh Jenneker (24, Centurion) adds that she feels empowerment “shouldn’t even be something we’re still working towards, it should be the norm in society.”
Women coming together to present a united front was very important to the finalists. Keabetswe explains that this is because “in the case of female empowerment in South Africa, we as women need to take charge of it ourselves. We compare ourselves a lot to men, and that comparison often clouds female achievement. We need to stand together and support each other.”
“United women are unstoppable,” adds Zanele Phakathi (20, Soweto).
Zozibini Tunzi (25, Tsolo, Eastern Cape) concludes: “The misconception about women empowerment is that it means giving power to women. That isn’t its purpose, women already have the power. Women empowerment is about enhancing and encouraging those deep reservoirs of power.”
In conclusion, spokesperson for LFP Group, Nthabiseng Phoshoko mirrors these general sentiments saying: “The power is in our hands and our time is now. As a brand that stands for youth and female empowerment, we are so excited to back initiatives such as Miss South Africa as a platform to give rise to phenomenal females in South Africa.”