The Jewish Report Editorial

Changing women’s lot in life

  • Peta low
Years ago, I was talking to a female editor of an important mainstream newspaper, someone I held in high esteem, a mentor of sorts. She was a strong, independent, and powerful woman in this industry.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Aug 06, 2020

We got onto the topic of the plight of sexual abuse in South Africa, and she told me how she had been abused by a boss when she was a young reporter. He frightened her into silence, making her believe that he had control over her career, and if she spoke out, she would never work in media again. So she stayed silent.

I couldn’t believe someone so powerful and strong had been abused and then intimidated into silence. I was one of the first people she told because, she said, I made it easy for her to feel comfortable enough to be herself and to be vulnerable.

This stayed with me for many years, and made me realise that anyone, no matter how confident, powerful, or competent, can fall prey to sexual predators, abusers, or rapists. The reality is that more women than you realise have been abused in some way.

Also, it takes a massive amount of courage in South Africa – even today – to speak out and take a stand against your abuser. And so, the scourge of South Africa’s other pandemic continues unabated.

Sunday is Women’s Day! I’m so grateful that Professor Bonita Meyersfeld, one of the most esteemed gender rights activists I know, wrote the opinion piece on this page. She tells it as it is – horrific – and if we don’t know that now, we should because, as our president says, this is a pandemic in our country.

What’s more, a lot of lip service is being paid to gender violence and abuse from our leaders, but so little is actually being done to change the situation.

And as much as some of us hold responsible and significant positions, gender equality still evades us.

Following last year’s Absa Jewish Achiever Awards ceremony, a colleague of mine bemoaned the fact that the women who were nominated and won weren’t nearly as powerful as the men.

I hadn’t considered that before. I looked at our nominees, and he was right. There were some phenomenal women involved, and there are many hugely successful Jewish women out there, but not even close to the number and success of the men.

The reality is that women who are so hugely successful might not have the time to fill out the forms to take part in the awards. They are also likely to be so thinly spread over their careers, families, and lives, that their time is extremely limited.

I recall a chance meeting with a veteran Jewish woman business leader one evening at the theatre years ago. I had written about her many times in my career, and have huge admiration and respect for her.

I won’t name her, as she may not want me to.

However, she noticed I was heavily pregnant at the time with my first child, and she warned me to take care not to neglect those precious moments with my children in favour of my career. I remember her smiling wistfully as she told me she had lost those moments, and was never able to get them back.

That, too, stuck in my mind. She was and still is an incredible and extraordinarily gracious businesswoman, but she taught me an important lesson.

It’s very difficult for women to have it all. The more you put into your career, the less you have for your family and yourself. Somehow, most men don’t have this problem. Hence, the existence of many extremely successful and powerful men who do so well at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards.

For career women, finding a balance is never easy – I can certainly vouch for that. Add to that being Jewish, and you are guilt-laden to the hilt because you can never have it all and do everything you believe necessary. Something always has to give.

I recently watched a clip of American actress Glenn Close accepting an Oscar for best actress in the 2019 Academy Awards. She spoke about women being nurturers, and that’s what’s expected of us as we have children and husbands. But, she said, “We have to find personal fulfilment, and we have to follow our dreams. We have to say ‘I can do that’, and we should be allowed to do that.” She had every woman in the audience give her a standing ovation, from Charlize Theron to Lady Gaga.

Every woman understands this, and every one of us wants to make our mark in some way, but we have many, many responsibilities, and it’s never going to be easy.

I would like to challenge all of you to look around you and find those unique and outstanding women who are high achievers and hugely successful in their careers, and nominate them for this year’s Absa Jewish Achiever Awards.

They are there, and they so deserve to be honoured and recognised. Over this weekend, think about who they are, and nominate them.

Let this year be the year where women dominate the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards in all sectors, not just the Europcar Women in Leadership Award.

Let’s find those women, and give them the kavod they deserve for the outstanding work they do that invariably means they have had to put in 10 times the amount of work as well as give up a great deal to succeed.

Send your nominations to [email protected] or go to www.jaa2020.co.za, and nominate at least one incredible woman.

Shabbat Shalom!

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