I went to this event for information as to how to promote women in political leadership and how to get more women there. 40% of the panel spoke in languages other than english with no translation available, but their passion and frustration was fully felt through the tone of their words. The panel was a cross section of high level women in government from countries across the world, most touched how the support system surrounding them allowed them to get to where they are today.
As H.E. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka time came to speak of her experience becoming a woman in her position, the room perked up to listen to what she had to say. She began with her attitude as a young women working in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and how she was more than willing to die for her cause because the threat of death was very real for her at that moment in her life. She looks back now on her younger self and shakes her head, over time she developed a type of resilience and a need to live, so she could insight change and continue her valuable work. She went on to reflect that many people she grew up with and went to school with have now perished or been exiled, and that she is very lucky to be where she is today.
Moving to discuss how her advocacy influences her policy work and using policy to break down the barriers that are very much in existence in South Africa and all over the world. She emphasizes that if you build a policy or program for women, that works for women, it will 100% of the time work for men. The opposite is not true. Building policy that strives to work for women and for other marginalized groups works to equal the playing field. She used the example of her position in the South African Government as the Minister of Minerals and Energy, she created and maintained policy that required mining companies to employ women and people of colour to be re-licensed, to ensure that the those populations were stakeholders in areas of economic gain and work to make the industry reflective of the population of the country.
The most engaging part of her speech was when she described her conversation with Nelson Mandela. She was elected into South African government, passionate about education and women’s rights. He wanted to move her to the Minerals and Energy portfolio. She was feeling that wasn’t the right move and that it was taking her away from her passion. He shared with her the story of his activism, imprisonment and rise to presidency, going onto to tell her to “just go and try it,” subtly pointing out you can make change in places you may not expect.
She closed with this advice, so much energy is spent surviving and focusing. Ensure you are being fair, do things with integrity, and be able to laugh at yourself.