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"Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave." This is a verse from the Qur'an I believe everyone should aspire to live by, especially women. In generations gone by, women were made to believe that their place was in the kitchen, that their job was to be a wife and a mother and to look after their family.
This patriarchal belief system had women believing that they didn't need to pursue their education or work towards a career, and that the husband would be the breadwinner and provide for all the needs. The women were financially dependent on their husbands.
Now, there are women that would say that being a housewife and looking after their children is the best job in the world. I'm sure it's true. Who wouldn't want to spend all their time caring for their children instead of having strangers do it? Why would you want to become a wage slave in a gossipy environment if you could rather spend your time at home with your children? If you're living a comfortable life and are happy to make your household and your family your priority, you are lucky and blessed.
However, women have more opportunities today than they've ever had before. During World War II, women stepped up to keep the economy going by taking over jobs the men left behind when they went to war. This opened up new possibilities for women, but it also meant cheaper labour for corporations looking to keep overheads down. When the men returned, women had a taste of what the working environment was like. Women's rights activists realised and fought for women to be included in the job market because they wanted women to have the same opportunities as men. They also fought for things like equal pay for equal work. Decades of activism and some perception shifts mean that today, women have everything to gain if they choose to improve their education and choose to work.
While there are plenty of happy, educated and skilled housewives, there are still far too many in SA with the mentality that they don't need to educate themselves or have any ambition because their husbands are providing for them. This leaves women in a far more vulnerable position if there are marital problems later on.
Domestic violence is rife in South Africa. One of the main reasons women stay in abusive relationships is because they have become too financially dependent on their husbands. There are women who feel forced to stay in polygamous marriages – though unhappy – because they have no other means of economic support. Have a look at polygamous forums online. While many do support the lifestyle, what happens to those women who feel trapped or are unhappy with the arrangement? Without a proper education or a means to become independent, it leaves these women with fewer options. Many just have to accept that this is how things are.
Furthermore, there are instances where women don't know the violent nature of their partners, which they may hide in the early stages of the relationship. The women usually discover this after it is too late. Young girls should be encouraged by their parents to dream big, have goals, seek education, improve their skills and be financially independent. No woman should feel like they need to stay in an abusive relationship because they'll be homeless or poor if they leave.
Even housewives should be encouraged to at least gain a skill if they have the time. Not because their husbands might become abusive, but because freak accidents, acts of nature and crime could threaten his income. Having an extra means to provide for your family is not a bad idea at all.
Dear South African women, do not be afraid to strive for more; know the importance and value of your independence. You do not have to feel dependent on your partner, especially if they are abusive, if you have empowered yourself. If, however, you are stuck in an abusive relationship and have no means of economic support outside of your partner, there are many support groups and shelters that can assist. The protection order also serves to help women who find themselves in these circumstances.
Having an education and income-earning skills – though not always required – make it far easier for women to make different choices if they need to. Having the freedom to make those choices did not come easily, which is why women owe it to themselves to take the opportunities they are afforded and empower themselves.
- Faatimah Hendricks is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and at selfwriteous.co.za.
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