Yesterday was International Women’s Day. Do you know what? I nearly missed it. My Mother-in-Law happened to mention it on Skype, which got me thinking over dinner. Dinner, I might add, that Mr Incredible whipped up on the braai for us. Mr Incredible who had just returned from a business trip 1000’s of miles away. He had left me un-chaperoned in vast city full of vices for 10 whole days. It’s easy to forget that our grandmothers did not have these freedoms and shocking to realise, particularly as an expat, that many of the women on our beautifully scrubbed doorsteps still don’t.
While my husband was far far away, I had a selection of credit cards at my disposal to spend money with at my own discretion. I had a car and a license to drive it. If I wanted to, I could help myself to a glass of wine from the fridge. I could come and go at my leisure. I had unrestricted access to all the information on our bookshelves, our TV set and the Internet. But then I have those things every day and I take them entirely for granted.
Meanwhile, in pretty much every household on our estate, a woman or women will be employed to clean, perhaps to cook and mind the baby. These women are low skilled and lowly paid. Many have children of their own and culturally, when relationships break down, they are absolutely the ones left holding the babies. The lot of a girl growing up in poverty isn’t too rosy and there is a great deal of poverty in South Africa.
Education is maybe the most obvious escape route until you learn that once they hit puberty, the poorest girls miss around 25% of their schooling due to lack of affordable sanitary products and underwear. In other countries, it’s culture rather than poverty that narrows women’s horizons with social norms and often laws dictating that they are less. That they, (we!), are less intelligent, less capable and less valuable. That dreadful word chattel springs to mind, some are not even second-class citizens, they are possessions.
I still remember being introduced to business associates of my father, 20 years ago somewhere in Asia as ‘number 1 daughter’ and barely being acknowledged, whereas number 1 son (younger than I), was fawned over, hand shaken and treated with grovelling respect. I didn’t feel less, I felt angry and still do when I think about it. Access to university, the ability to work, to own property, to have the vote, to drive cars and roam the world un-chaperoned should not be privileges, they should be givens.
Certainly any woman reading this is probably on a much better deal than the bum one that millions are on, but it doesn’t mean that things are quite as fair as they should be. If we choose to look, (and some choose not to), as expat women we often see first hand how different our lives could have been had we been born under different stars.
We are the lucky ones. We must count our lucky stars, but looking around us in our temporary adoptive homes, we must not forget about those women who can’t reach their lucky stars because they can’t even see them. We should be asking ourselves: What can we do to help them to help themselves to #MakeItHappen ?