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FE-MAIL TIES - Life in the ghetto

Published:Monday | March 8, 2010 | 12:00 AM

D-Empress

As women around the world join together today to celebrate and acknowledge the importance of International Women's Day (IWD), I awake troubled by a growing sense of confusion about these commemorative days.

My confusion is linked to a perspective that is gaining voice and momentum in the circles within which I regularly turn. I've heard this point of view from both men and women and it doesn't quite sit well in my soul.

The issue at hand is that women will help themselves achieve 'equality' and representation better if we stopped marginalising our voices by creating special days and focus on women. I'm still working out the logic. It goes something like this; avoid all women-only, special events, activities and labels where women are the key focus. Put another way, women-only events only serve to segregate and marginalise women. Proponents of this mode of thought believe that women will cultivate more power and the ever-elusive equality if they are integrated into the mainstream.

I first came across this notion when a male colleague asked me why women liked ghettoising themselves so much. His thinking is that by creating women-specialised spotlights, women are undermining their own self-worth.

Marginalising women

One media mogul, a woman, told me recently that she has done away with the women's section of her newspaper because she felt it marginalised women's issues. She has resolved to feature women throughout the publication so that women's voices are absorbed as readily as anyone else's.

Maybe the two people I mention have a point. Consider this. In 2011, the world will celebrate the centenary of IWD. One hundred years on and we're still having a debate about whether women should be a singular focus or not. Clearly, if it has taken 100 years for us to evolve from fighting and winning voting rights back in the late 1800s right through to equal access to education for the girl child in 2010 then, it begs the question: What does IWD really mean?

If the ghetto analogy holds water, then those looking in from the outside could well be justified in saying, 100 years later and you're still fighting'. Those speaking from the inside out may well be saying, far from a ghetto, this is our sanctuary. A dedicated space where we can galvanise our collective power, shout from the rooftops and across oceans, unifying women across the world in a harmonious voice.

We all know that potent collective energies focused in a particular direction can ignite massive movement. So, why not?

In South Africa, the Thabo Mbeki (former South African president) Leadership Institute is calling women together for a seminar to discuss 'African Women as change agents for African renewal'.

Maybe I should lay my troubled mind to rest, because on reflection, many female change agents I know come from and choose to stay in the ghetto.

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D-Empress