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More than just serving



August is the African Women’s Month. What an honour it is to be a woman in Africa. This month is going to be all about how strong women are. How supportive, how giving, and self-sacrificial they are. Because to be a woman in Africa and Lesotho, specifically the mettle of your womanhood, is always tied to how much serving you can endure. Serving and enduring and, better yet bearing that serving and endurance with a smile are the traits that make one a good woman. Of course, there is nothing wrong with endurance. Great things have been achieved through endurance. On the whole, it is a remarkable trait. For women, especially in Africa and Lesotho, however, that is sadly not the case. They are remarkably endurant but where are the great things that are being achieved by such endurance? Where is the celebration and glory that comes from withstanding obstacles that come with years and years of enduring the odds? Nowhere to be found. What you will find however are graves. The graves of murdered women who endured abusive situations because “Ntoa kea malula ‘moho”. The graves of women who died from stress-related diseases brought upon by enduring more than their mental health could bear. And women who are still very much alive but are shadows of their former selves because of constant self-sacrificing and never putting themselves first. It is no wonder that Basotho women are altruistic. From birth, little girls are taught to give and care for others. You see this socialisation in the childhood games. Little girls in Lesotho and Africa rarely play for the sake of something as nonsensical as fun. Playtime becomes mainly about learning to take care of others. From playing pretend with dolls to pretend cooking, the underlying message has always and continues to be that your life is for the service of others. Of course, there is nothing wrong with childcare and cooking for your family. Both are quite noble pursuits for an adult and if that is what you want to do. The problem is always that it does not matter if that is what you want to do. It is always a matter of what you must do to be accepted and deserving of love. The assumption and expectation that women should give and serve does not end in the home. It seeps into the corporate space as well. Tea is needed in a meeting? Do minutes have to be taken? The duty always falls to the woman in the room. This would be fine if the taking of minutes or the making of tea falls within her duties or does not interfere with her participation in the meeting. You know what happens when you are busy with the teacups and notes? The other people are focusing on what is going on and actively participating in what is being discussed. One thing I must stress however is that women are adults and although they have been socialised in a certain way, they still have the power to change their lives. The decision to choose oneself cannot be made for you. The power to decide that you matter, and you matter fully is one that only you can give to yourself. It comes from the knowledge that you as a woman are deserving of rest, care and love simply by virtue of being human. Not only when you are good. Not only when you have paid for such consideration with years of sacrifice like the “heroine” in a Tyler Perry movie. You may notice the heroine being in quotes. This article is by no means a call for all women to abandon their pots and pans. Nappies, bum cream and being good people. Of course, women across the country and the world still have responsibilities they must tend to, and I would never suggest you abandon those to dance in the streets and burn your bra (I would but you are not me). It is simply a reminder that your life matters beyond what you can do for other people. Your life cannot be a supporting act to the ambitions of others. For those women who have picked their ambitions over the roles they were supposed to occupy, you are not selfish and there is no need to go around carrying guilt for being less than what was expected of you. Endurance is a beautiful trait to have. Perseverance will have you achieve great things, but may the great things be what you want for your life and not merely be what is expected of you. The great thing may be being a mother and wife who takes care of her family all day because that too is a great role if that is what you love. Some women love to be caring and choosing themselves involves choosing to care. That too should be celebrated as long as it’s a choice. So, all month we will celebrate “strong women”. Women who endure and sacrifice. But we should also ask what kind of strength is it if these women cannot be strong for the bodies they live in. This month of the African Women should be a time to focus on celebrating women for their happiness and their care for their mental health. As we go into this month remember that you matter, and you matter fully, not only when you are being good to others. Thakane Rethabile Shale

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