A Reflection on the ISHS & Imbumbe Yabafazi’s Women’s Day Event

The Women’s Day event hosted by UNISA’s Institute for Social and Health Sciences and Imbumbe Yabafazi provided a platform for a beautiful dialogue through the sharing of stories, lessons, and life experiences. In this space, we witnessed differences in religion, race, culture, language, and age being bridged through womanhood as the Queens at this event poured their hearts out to each other and touched us as the two young men in attendance.

By Unisa’s research interns Sherwyn Naidoo & Xolisa Gwadiso

One of the recurring phrases was “kuningi,” loosely translating to “it’s a lot.” It’s a lot that women are affected by, a lot that needs to be discussed, and a lot that needs to be done. However, this gathering could only touch the tip of the iceberg of the issues that women face in their homes and communities.

This included issues such as engaging men in ending the ‘pandemic of Gender-Based Violence, acknowledging that women can be abusive towards their partners and children too, addressing women’s vulnerabilities to HIV/AIDS, and the issue of how disabilities are treated within the community. These conversations provide grounds for women and men to be accountable and make society a better place for all through the agential acts of creating transformative and combative spaces that uplift their communities.

The event allowed us as men to witness women as both ‘imbokodo’ and ‘marshmallows.’ “Mbokodo,” being the Zulu word for ‘rock,’ emphasizes the sturdiness and resilience women possess. While the term highlights their strength to overcome the challenges they face in their daily lives, some of the women spoke to rather being ‘marshmallows’ – a stance that allows women to be soft, loving, sensitive, and vulnerable as a way of pushing back against the normalization of women needing to be strong and resilient.

In combination, these ultimately encompass the full spectrum of the human experience, which was represented by the various women-led organizations, campaigns, and initiatives, that the women speaking at the event represented.

Some of these included South African Women in Dialogue, Gift of the Givers, the South African National AIDS Council, Ntirhisano Early Childhood Development Centre, Babone Special Needs School, and Kopanang Afrika Against Xenophobia. The women behind these groups have become pillars of their communities, which support, protect, and give space for healing.

The perspective we adopt is that “mbokodos” are the strong custodians of gardens of healing, in which space for communities of women to bare their marshmallow-soft, tender, and vulnerable side is created. We witness this in the way women from all walks of life nurture each other in spaces such as the Women’s Day event, as they address matters of survival and re-gather their strength.

In many respects, the women expressed that whilst these women-only spaces are often necessary, inviting men to participate in these conversations is also as important so that they both have a platform to express their emotions, strengthen the relationships between men and women, and jointly address issues affecting the community. This would put women in a position not to be “mbokodos” all the time and encourage spaces of healing for men, whose wellness is often overlooked.

In creating these solidarities with each other and amongst communities at large, healing becomes a collective responsibility, which the Queens point out can be achieved through workshops that aim to address the issues highlighted as critical in this year’s dialogue.

We believe that men like ourselves can learn valuable lessons from women as the cornerstones of our communities and commit to the community-building agenda they have embarked on. This includes the lesson of allowing ourselves to be human and experience our emotions, the lesson of unboxing ourselves from strict societal standards, and understanding we are equally as worthy of positive outlets. Let us embrace ourselves and other men as humans, who have a vast tapestry of emotions, thoughts, and being. Doing so might also allow us to start healing and become better initiators and supporters of our homes, communities, nations, and the world.

Sherwyn Naidoo is a research intern from UNISA’s Institute for Social and Health Science in Johannesburg.

Xolisa Amos Gwadiso is a research intern from UNISA’s Institute for Social and Health Science in Cape Town.

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