“You can be the generation to ensure that women are no longer second-class citizens, that girls take their rightful places in our schools.”
— Michelle Obama
South Africa had the world’s attention in the last couple of weeks with visits from two of the most influential women in the world; Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.
Both came quite close to home actually, in two different ways.
Lesotho was one of the 24 African countries which sent young women (30 years and below) to the Young African Women Leader’s Forum which was held on June 21 – 22 in Johannesburg and at Regina Mundi Church in Soweto.
Regina Mundi which means “Queen of the World” was a befitting venue for the keynote address by the US First Lady.
Obama clearly made an impression on Mathabang Fanyane, Cultural Assistant and Education Adviser at the US Embassy in Lesotho who found a new role model in a 26-year-old Ugandan woman whom Obama singled out in her speech (full text on www.whitehouse.gov).
Despite being orphaned at 13 years, Grace Nanyonga raised her six siblings and later founded a successful fish supply company which provides work for other Ugandan women.
Also from Lesotho was ’Mapitso Mosito, a 29-year-old visually impaired lawyer and programme manager whose work on the rights of disabled persons has helped shape Lesotho’s national policy and assisted with the country’s accession to a UN Convention.
The women delegates came from diverse backgrounds including Grace Chirenje, coordinator of the Zimbabwe Young Women’s Network for Peace Building, who was part of a team of five which went on to receive grants from the US Embassy in that country.
It appears that many young women no longer fear to go down the path less trodden but as Obama stated, it is a lonely road which doesn’t always grab the world’s attention.
She spoke on a number of issues and exhorted women to be the generation that ends HIV/AIDS, holds their governments accountable and puts an end to violence against women, especially in the home.
I now move on to a woman whose magazines I can’t resist buying out of allegiance to her more than anything else.
As a young woman, Oprah didn’t have the world’s attention but she grew her media empire culminating in her newly launched television network called OWN.
Near and yet so far, is what I thought when the announcement was made that she would be in Bloemfontein receiving an honorary doctorate in education from the University of the Free State.
She is on record as saying that she now has the luxury of doing only those things she wants to do.
That is why, after reading an article by Professor Jansen in a South African newspaper sometime ago, she offered her support to the university and the rest as they say is history.
These two women appear to share a special bond.
Oprah publicly supported the Obama camp during the election campaign and in May 2009 she broke tradition for the first time and was featured on her magazine cover with Michelle Obama.
From what these two women have shared about their rise to prominence, one thing is clear.
As Jane Roberts wrote in one of her books, the daily steps we take may seem small compared to the giant ones we wish to take.
However it’s the direction we are going which is important and as long as these small steps are taking us in the direction of our hearts’ desire, then they will eventually add up to greater things.
Judging by media reports from women (and men) who were lucky enough to be in the presence of these women, it was a once-in-a-life-time source of inspiration.
But there are times when inspiration wanes and discouragement sets in.
Drawing on her husband’s famous election slogan, Obama ended her speech with the following words which can spur us on:
“And if anyone of you ever doubts that you can build that future, if anyone ever tells you that you shouldn’t or you can’t, then I want you to say with one voice — the voice of a generation — you tell them, “Yes, we can”.