Despite the COVID-19 restrictions over the last 18 months, there has been extraordinary creativity in shaping ideas, society, business and, well, the future. The pandemic has heightened awareness of climate change, gender-based violence, poverty and inequality. In response, we’re hearing women’s voices loudly and clearly as they demand and create change.
This Women’s Month, we celebrate seven women who we admire and whose work we follow. Among the women featured are a start-up entrepreneur, a story-teller, a science communicator, an educator, a wellness warrior, a sustainable fashion designer and an urbanist.
In their comments, there is a common thread of deep sadness and anger at the continued prevalence of gender-based violence and a common understanding for the need for change. Sixty seven years after The Women’s Charter was adopted by the Federation of South African Women, Esethu Cengu says, “We will continue to force society to place equal value and importance on womxn and the feminine.” There is also a strong theme of community and care.
Meet our 2021 ‘think-fluencers’.
Start-up Entrepreneur and Co-founder of Rewoven
“As a young, black South African womxn, I am not sure what there is to celebrate on Women’s Day. We live in a country that seems to hate womxn. We have a gender-based violence crisis, compounded by our socio-economic reality,” says Esethu Cengu, start-up entrepreneur and co-founder of Rewoven.
“However, when I reflect on how far womxn have come in the past few decades: on the progress and empowerment we have achieved through elevating our voices and bringing our issues to the forefront, I feel optimistic that womxn will continue to progress and push for our empowerment and inclusion in society, despite the upward battle it has and will continue to be. Even though we are tired of living in a society that disempowers womxn and that which is feminine, I know from our inner resilience (both a gift of nature and a consequence of living in a disempowering system) that we will continue to force society to place equal value and importance on womxn and the feminine. All of which will help us move towards a more equitable, just and sustainable society.”
“We have no choice.”
Esethu is passionate about sustainability and development, particularly in the context of Africa. She co-founded Rewoven, a textile recycling start-up that aims to divert fashion waste from landfill whilst creating much-needed jobs.
What I’m wearing
“My top used to be an old fast-fashion dress that I upcycled into a top for myself. I bought these secondhand pants from Observatory and had them tailored. The jacket is from Selfi – my favourite jacket from my favourite Cape Town brand.”
“One of our greatest qualities as women is the ability to think and see beyond the present and plan for the future,” says Solophina Nekesa, sustainable urbanist. “That’s why we are at the forefront of conserving Mother Earth in all that we do.”
Solophina who currently works at ICLEI Africa has worked with an architectural practice to plan off-grid sustainable communities and affordable net-zero energy buildings in Uganda. “My passion is to drive sustainable and systematic development of Africa’s rapidly growing cities.”
She says, “My work involves collaboratively working together with city officials and different stakeholders to understand the urban system and support them with the right tools and resources for comprehensive governance and transformation.
I work towards designing cities that are green, equitable, accessible and liveable.”
What I’m wearing
“My dress was designed by a friend, who is an upcoming designer in Uganda. The patches were made from offcuts and they remind of the different pieces of my life that make me a wholesome, bold and beautiful human being.”
Environmental and Science Writer
“Women’s Day is a reminder of how far we still must go to subvert a system that continues to treat women as second-rate.”
The environmental and science writer uses storytelling to grapple with many of today’s tough issues as we find ways to live together on a tightly packed planet. Leonie is a National Geographic contributor.
She says, “We are regularly disciplined for being ‘incorrectly female’ (to quote Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby). We are punished when we don’t satisfy the greed of the male gaze, which primarily wants women to be pretty eye candy. We are body-shamed and correctively raped, beaten or murdered for being lesbian or looking masculine. The body positivity movement, as well meaning as it is (i.e., ‘you’re beautiful, regardless of your shape or form’) tries to teach women and girls to accept themselves in their shape, even if society doesn’t. Wrong: teach them that their purpose here is not to bring viewing pleasure to others.
The ‘authority gap’ still exists. The recent publication of the book The Authority Gap by UK journalist, author, director Mary Ann Sieghart is a reminder that the content of a woman’s brain is STILL not given equal weight as the content of a man’s.
Our voices – i.e. our brains – are marginalised when we are talked-over, mansplained to, not given equal time with the speaking stick.
A woman’s purpose in this life is not to bring viewing pleasure to others (random strangers, friends, family, colleagues etc.); her purpose is to explore the potency of her brain, the breadth of her character, the full complement of her talents and skills.
We have such a long way to go before society treats us and regards us as equal to men.”
What I’m wearing
“For this shoot, I dressed to be invisible. My outfit is about disappearing from the viewers’ gaze. This is partly because I don’t like my exterior being scrutinised, it makes me uncomfortable. But it’s also a political statement. I wanted my physical self to be invisible in this portrait because the content of the work – climate collapse, patriarchy, capitalism and inequality, food security – is far more important than whether the audience likes the shape of the messenger delivering this content.”
“Women are still expected to be pretty vessels, before anything else, and to groom and behave accordingly, so that they bring aesthetic pleasure to others (especially men). The content of her brain is often regarded as secondary, and less authoritative than the content of a man’s brain.”
Roger Waters’ album Amused to Death. The entire album is about how capitalism is bringing about the demise of our species. It is an anthem for the Anthropocene.
Sustainable Fashion Designer
“I feel that we have to look at historical events and figures in order to understand our present. Violence against black women has been in existence since Harriet Tubman’s time and still exists today as we continue to see with Uyinene Mrwetyana in South Africa, Breonna Taylor in the United States and the Chibok school girls from Nigeria who were stolen by Boko Haram. These events are all linked, and the violence is still rife,” says sustainable fashion designer Sindiso Khumalo.
“What I’m interested in researching and communicating are stories around female empowerment and female sheroes. It’s more important to me to communicate conversations [around gender-based violence] than the fact that the hemline was on the knee,” Sindiso told Business of Fashion.
Sindiso is a sustainable textile and fashion designer, and a social activist. Her brand, as noted by BoF is rooted in social impact, rather than high fashion. She represents the social possibilities which can be opened up through fashion.
What I’m wearing
“This is a dress I designed and made. It’s very special to me because it has a real modesty about it. I love that I feel beautiful and look modest at the same time. A little bit like my muses from the 18th century.”
“I feel nostalgic when I’m wearing it.”
Watery researcher and educator
“Relationships are essential,” says Joanne Peers, watery researcher and educator. “As women we need to create the time to build relationships with other women so that we can exist in communities of care, protection and support. It’s in these communities that we can gain the energy for our individual bodies to express the activism in society.”
Joanne’s interest lies in transformative education. She is a doctoral researcher at Oulu University in Finland, pedagogical leader at the Centre for Creative Education and community support co-ordinator at Pinelands North Primary School. Verity Fitzgerald writes that Joanne’s “reflection on her past runs parallel to her redefining her troubled relationship with the water. In making space for herself within water spaces and challenging colonial narratives, she has become an important voice for other people of colour within the ocean community.”
What I’m wearing
Joanne wore South African brands. “When you wear local you feel your country’s creativity on your skin.”
Collide by Lady Zamar: “The title is fitting for my vibe as a brown woman!”
“We can change the world by the retelling of stories. It is through telling stories and through listening to stories that we connect to other human beings in an intimate way, which empowers us to make a difference, and to fight for social justice and for a better world,” says Traci Kwaai who is a sixth generation fisher child from Kalk Bay.
Traci is the founder of Aweh Kaapstad, an artist and storyteller. Mostly she is a disruptor. “I tell Brown people’s stories, which include my own story.”
What I’m wearing
Traci wears a mix of local and international brands. But the key garment is a delicately crocheted vest. “My granny made it. She was a creative entrepreneur who had exquisite taste in fashion. She was always dressed to the T – she had a gold tooth and wore her hair in a brown bob with a fringe. How I adored her.”
“This top was an order from a customer which she didn’t complete in time so she gifted it to me.”
“Women are vital to the balance of life,” says wellness warrior Kafui Awoonor. “The current imbalances in our society and in the world will only be restored through creating physical and spiritual spaces where the divine feminine within us all is held in safety and honoured.”
Kafui is yoga instructor and natural beauty and wellness expert. Her brand of natural hair and skin care products, Kafui Naturals, have no harsh chemicals and preservatives.
What I’m wearing
“My dress is special to me because it’s made of a fabric that was gifted to me by a close relative. Whenever I wear it, I feel comfortable and regal at the same time. It reflects my personality well.”
Forget Regret by Stephanie McKay
Kye Vogel @_bykye assisted by Aidan du Plessis
Location The Studio @thestudiocpt