OPINION | Irene Charnley: The importance of women lifting, nurturing and empowering each other

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Men should contribute to women's empowerment, writes the author.
Men should contribute to women's empowerment, writes the author.
C.J. Burton

Women need to support each other to develop skills that enable women to be economically independent and socially confident and help create the next generation of female leaders, trailblazers and fearless world shapers, writes Irene Charnley.


Every year this month we weigh in on the progress of women's empowerment and advancement. We revisit the debate on gender equality, consider the evolving role of women in society and why supporting women is important, and continue our efforts to create more equal rights and opportunities for all.

In many ways, our society is slowly turning away from gender bias and sexism more than any other time in history. Women are encouraged in traditionally masculine fields like politics, business leadership, science, mathematics, engineering, and technology.

Indeed, our perceptions of gender are shifting as we see more men and women in careers that don't fit traditional gender expectations. We are seeing more women chief executive officers, women legislators, and women scientists.

Lest we forget that researchers have for years been searching in vain for evidence of inherent differences between male and female abilities to lead, think rationally, care, and nurture. Again and again, the evidence points to the conclusions that women can think and lead just as well as men.

This year as we celebrate of the 150th birthday of Charlotte Makgomo Mannya Maxeke, and the 2021 Women's Month under the theme "The year of Charlotte Maxeke: Realising Women's Rights", I have been pondering how important it is for women to lift each other, mentor other women and how women self-empowerment can help nudge gender equity even closer.

Women lifting each other up

So, how important is it for women to lift each other up, and what does that mean to you? As late memoirist, civil rights activist and poet, Maya Angelou, said: "When you know better you do better." None of us can be successful without the support of others and vice versa. Take time to mentor or be a mentee. 

In this new era where women are being celebrated and have more opportunities than ever before, we should not throw these opportunities away in the quest to get ahead of one another.

READ | Opinion: Let us mobilise to empower women as agents of change

That is why the International Women's Forum of South Africa (IWFSA) launched Young Leaders Connect two years ago, to build and encourage future women leaders by providing a holistic approach to mentorship, incorporating workshops that focus on building a leadership toolkit for each mentee.

The IWFSA is working hard to identify aspiring young leaders and develop them into effective and ethical leaders. The programme targets aspiring young women leaders aged between 25-40 years, with between one and 10 years of working experience.

As women, we have a significant role to play at home, in the boardrooms of corporations, government, and all society units. We are the nurturers that provide cohesion in our communities, and we need to register that sensible vote in boardrooms and governing bodies.

Empowerment comes from within

It is essential that we are empowered, and true empowerment comes from within. Women need to support each other to develop skills that will help us to be economically independent and socially confident. What we need is self-esteem, human dignity and empowerment for better livelihoods and sustainable income. 

As business executives and businesswomen, we are helping create the next generation of female leaders, trailblazers and fearless world shapers.

Above all, all women leaders should make young women and girls believe there are no limits to what they can achieve. Let it be widely acknowledged that sustainable development cannot be achieved without investing in women and reducing the inequalities they face.

To be a woman means to be strong, nurturing and capable. I always adore and I am inspired by top performing women. One woman's accomplishment is an accomplishment for all women and an opportunity to lift each other. I always believe, as a community to help and to take care of others, we should give support to those who really need our help. 

Mentor and nurture

Every woman's life journey and experiences have an impact on who she becomes. Working as a team give us a better result than working alone.

As women, we should develop an insider perspective of organisations where we are employed, acquire leadership skills, combine that with a worldview to create a strong desire to help mentor and nurture female leaders of tomorrow.

Because a nurturing relationship requires the mentor to visualise, understand, and enter the world in which the individual being mentored lives and interacts, it is the foundation of leadership skills development.

READ | Opinion: Why women executives must shape the next generation of fearless female trailblazers and world shapers

Leadership is nurtured in young people through self-mastery, inner strength, and the development of individual abilities that contribute to the well-being of potential future leaders.

As women lift and nurture each other, how can men contribute more to women's empowerment? Men and women have their equal rights and obligations. So, sharing of responsibilities becomes is critical. Men and women, wife and husband, they are like teammates. They should work together to manage everyday responsibilities.

For me, the fastest route to success is maintaining a professional attitude and building trust. Once trust is established and we're all working towards the same goals, gender matters less than getting the job done. 

So, men can contribute to women's empowerment by simply being trusted partners who recognise the capacity and potential of women. 

Women self empowerment 

So what are my top favourable guidelines for women self-empowerment? They are, assertiveness, positive attitude and living a Self-Empowered Life.

As Elizabeth Janice, author of Assert Yourself, says, "Being assertive can help anyone move forward in their career. Being assertive does not require being pushy to accomplish goals, but it does mean being persistent. Being assertive also requires the willingness to compromise."

I agree that assertiveness means verbalising my strong feelings – whether they be empathy, disappointment, or frustration, to others in a non-threatening and aggressive way so that I can be seen as a more valuable and productive person. 

In order to take control of her environment, a woman has to be aware of her impact on other people and of the relationships, she is creating. A positive attitude around those you have daily contact with can have a tremendous effect on people's lives.

As you know positive attitude is diametrically different to negative thinking, fear, and apprehension, so be positive in your life.

For me, living a positive and self-empowered life means embracing perseverance even when one feels like giving up. Show the world that you are made to be stronger than you appear. Take those depressing days in your stride and devise plans to bring back motivation in your life. 

Throughout my life and career in the telecoms industry, I have observed that women who consciously decide to take control of their lives are often happier, more fulfilled, and self-empowered.

- Irene Charnley is a successful businesswoman and President of the International Women's Forum of South Africa, a powerful organisation of 7,000 accomplished women from 33 nations on six continents.

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