The speech is done. The State has announced its priorities for this year. Women were not highlighted as a core group, other than to be mentioned as victims of crime, and the occasional few mentioned as entrepreneurs.
Before I get to the ‘what now’, I’d like to begin with a story. I hope you’ll take the time to bear with me for this.
I first heard this story in Uganda, surrounded by women just like myself who had come together for the privileged activity of writing. I think at the time we watched it, it was raining outside, the type of persistent and thorough rain that you experience in warm humid climates. The type that doesn’t take the heat or humidity away, just cements it in, closer to your skin.
While it rained outside my new friends and I listened to the story of a fire. Wangari Maathai, leader of the Green Belt Movement, told the story on a youtube clip that we all leaned forward to watch, eager to hear the sound.
The story went along these lines: Many animals of different sizes inhabit the forest, each with its own purpose. There is no animal that is insignificant, and each animal’s actions have an impact on the others. Some might call this the circle of life, or the food change, or simply nature. One day, in the forest of Maathai’s story there is a fire. Many of the animals flee their homes, running away to the edges of the forest away from the fire for safety. They watch as the fire grows and grows, feeling helpless to do anything to stop it. Watching as their beautiful home is slowly destroyed.
One animal chooses not to watch. It is the animal that you least expect, a tiny hummingbird. So small that it seems useless. Whilst the other animals stand and observe, the hummingbird takes tiny droplets of water in her beak, and releases each droplet down onto the fire. Drop, after drop, she doesn’t give up.
The other animals mocked her – and perhaps to them her impact seems insignificant, her effort purposeless against what seemed an obvious destructive force that would not be reckoned with. Eventually, on her return flight to collect water, the animals stopped her with a condescending question: “What do you think you are doing?” Her response? “I am doing the best I can.”
For many of us watching the SONA from home there was a lot to reflect on. It’s possible that from where we are, there seemed to be a fire of magnificent proportions, a fire that is harming many of us whilst we watch from the sidelines feeling powerless. There may have even been the sense that there was nothing to be done, that this blaze would continue around us regardless.
So, what does that mean? What does that mean for the women in your life? How do you go into the weekend, and the weeks that lie ahead knowing that you are not the focus of development plans, and that they will not be focussed on your needs? But, if you feel a sense of your smallness, ask yourself are you doing the best you can?
I have a suggestion. Take your energy and make the country you want to live in.
Vote in the 2016 local government elections. Before you do that, find out who the candidates are and make an effort to meet them. Find out who your representatives are here. Send them a letter/email or make a phonecall and ask them how women are being represented in your area, and how our interests are being taken into account.
Participate in community meetings and forums. Get to know your neighbours. Talk to them about issues in your area. Encourage them to attend the meetings and forums with you.
Send letters and petitions to government and parliament. Comment on laws you don’t agree with, suggest ones you do.
This is not a chance to give up, sit back, and complain.This is a chance to consider that little girl who listened to President Zuma from the audience. Who had tea with him and told him that she wanted to be President one day. Let’s not give up on her dream.
This is our most important chance to act.