Acknowledge the pain of being a strong woman

Miss SA Zozibini Tunzi. Picture: INGRID ALICE
Miss SA Zozibini Tunzi. Picture: INGRID ALICE

It was the unlikely afternoon where I found myself watching a recording of the Miss SA pageant, and thoroughly enjoying it. It felt like a parade up until the questions revealed the brains behind the beauty. Anele Mdoda, one of the judges, asked Zozibini Tunzi, “Through all the darkness that South African women face; emotional, physical, sexual and economic abuse, what reason do we have to keep smiling?” 

Tunzi answered sharply: “We have absolutely no reason to keep smiling. South African women are dying every day and most people are doing nothing about it. It’s time we stop asking women what to do, and start asking perpetrators to do better, to be better. To start treating women the way that they deserve to be treated. It is not up to us (women) but up to the perpetrator to start doing what’s right.”

For the rest of Women’s Month I could not celebrate the role of a woman without acknowledging the pain of being a strong one. The reality of being a woman in our country is we have no option but to be “strong”. We are everything to everyone, and yet we are expected to protect ourselves from external harm. 

StatsSA’s Vulnerable Groups Indicator Report of 2017 reveals that 57% of women are alone (not necessarily lonely) - 43.2% were never married and 13.8% are divorced or widowed. With the global trend of girl power, it is no surprise that SA women are embracing independence and going solo. But with it comes the responsibility to support and protect a family.

What is the strong woman’s pain?

Depression is likely to be the second leading cause of disability by 2020 and it is twice as common, and more persistent in women than in men, the World Health Organisation says. 

Tunzi is right that women are dying every day, and sometimes that death is emotional or mental. This leads to an inability to work and ultimately a loss of income. Disability is no longer a visible or physical state. We must acknowledge the seriousness of depression and the financial burden it brings to those affected.

As Women’s Month ends, I urge women to acknowledge their silent struggles and look for the light from the exit door. It may take asking for help, and that is okay. We can’t wait for others to lend a hand - we need to help ourselves, to make plans to save us when an undesirable unexpected event happens. 

Start with small meaningful steps forward:

  • Take time to look after your health, both body and mind: Taking 30 minutes three to four times a week to distract yourself from daily activities benefits everyone around you. Exercising, reading a book or doing something you enjoy alone will give you renewed strength to be a happier person in control of yourself. 
  • Be aware and understand your financial situation – no matter how much you are earning:

Do you know what your net worth is or what you are paying on bank fees? Often small holes in our financial buckets continue to leak money without us noticing. You may feel so overwhelmed by outstanding debts and ongoing monthly obligations, that saving R250 a month on fees seems fruitless. But understanding where your money is going is as important as where it is coming from. Make time to draw up a budget and find ways to reduce your expenses.

  • Protect yourself – ensure your insurance addresses your financial needs: Having four funeral policies does not benefit you much. Align your insurance portfolio to your financial needs and what you can afford. Do not fall for fancy policies if the premium will not be sustainable. Living with a disability or severe illness is more expensive than dying. Plan to protect yourself and your loved ones from the unnecessary grief caused by income loss.
  • Protect your assets – draft a valid and executable will: All your efforts to accumulate assets and reduce your liabilities will be fruitless if you don’t plan your estate. Start by drafting a will. Your wishes on how to pass assets to your family cannot be fulfilled if it is not documented. You are responsible for yourself and your belongings, so take control over how they are distributed when you are gone. If you have children, make this your priority now!

As British-Indian writer and poet Nikita Gill said “You have the capability to be able to do anything. You have the potential to be your own knight in shining armour.”

* Luthuli is an independent financial adviser and partner at Luthuli Capital

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