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The 21st Century Will Be "The Century of the Woman"


Manufacturers of insecticides have a big problem. Many years ago, they could produce basic insecticides and kill almost any insect alive. However, a few always survived, adapted and got stronger. The insecticides had to be more potent to do the job. Through the years, we have bred a super race of insects that can hardly be killed by any chemicals. I believe our previously male-dominated society has a similar problem.

Lionel Talaro - Historic Females
Historic Females,
by Lionel Talaro

Over the years, males, stereotypes, and conventions repressed women. Women were raised as followers, inferior to men. But gradually, they became stronger and able to survive almost anything. Unfortunately, many women do not yet realise the powerful internal strength they have, unless they get put to the test. Therefore, we, as women, need to encourage one another to stretch further, expand our comfort zones, and become the fulfilled achieving individuals that we are each capable of being. In the light of the above, I firmly believe that the 21st century can be "The century of the woman!"

For many years, women have displayed incredible strength in certain areas of society. They stand together to erect shelters for victims of rape and abuse. They show unbelievable character in dealing with everything life throws at them--from the pain of childbirth to the agonies of raising children in a world filled with drugs and other dangers. They fight like tigers for their young and weak. The sad fact, however, is that when they have to survive in a male-oriented world, they are scared and debilitated.

They are so scared to be labelled typical, hysterical, emotional women, that they leave all of their female strengths in the powder room when they enter the boardroom. For years, men have conned us into believing that the only acceptable behaviour in the workplace is the "male way," and with good reason. As long as men can force women to do business on male terms, women will have the disadvantage.

Men would be stupid to invite women to bring their female strengths like intuition, interpersonal and verbal skills, diplomacy, empathy, and loyalty into the workplace. It is time that women get the message that it is not only acceptable, but preferable to be, act, and feel like women, and survive in the business world on our own terms. We need to change the male-dominated world into a fertile ground for males and females--one that benefits from the richness of all diversity of gender, colour, ethnic grouping, or age.

It is not enough to treat men and women the same. It is necessary to level the playing field to enable women to fulfil the same roles as men. If a woman is allowed to attend the same board meeting as a man until ten o' clock at night, but she sits there worrying about her children who did not get supper or their homework attended to, the playing fields are not level. Providing women the same opportunities does not necessarily mean that they have the same access to these opportunities. Usually, men have an infrastructure at home that fetches the children from school, pays the bills, does the grocery shopping, and waits for the telephone company to come and repair the phone. That infrastructure is called a wife. It should therefore be accepted practice that special additional arrangements are required to enable women to fulfil traditional male roles in the work environment.

I find it unacceptable that as women we do not tolerate rape and abuse of the woman's body or emotions, but we still allow rape and abuse of her intellect on a daily basis. We view participation in the male world as a favour. We allow men to make chauvinistic jokes. We raise our sons to keep on repressing women and our daughters to allow it. Little boys are encouraged to be adventurous and daring. Girls are taught to be nice, nurturing, and amenable. We expose our children to movies where the stereotypes are reinforced, without teaching them to be critical. It is in the hands of the women of the world to change our children's perspective.

Women's organisations usually have a very strong focus on charities and female issues like rape and abuse, and rightly so. These issues have always been and always will be extremely important. However, too little emphasis is put on development, training, sharing of knowledge, and business perspective. We need to establish role models of successful women who should be committed to act as mentors and encouragement for upcoming businesswomen. Women should take responsibility for the development of skills and the fast-tracking of talented career women of the future. It is necessary, once we have given all women the opportunity to be human beings, with a right to a normal life, to also develop them to become economically active and self-sufficient.

It is up to all women's organisations to strive to spread these messages to all women. I believe it is in the hands of organisations like the International Federation of Business and Professional Women to lobby with all the stakeholders to achieve the above objectives, to create awareness of women's needs as economically active participants in the labour market. Furthermore, they should encourage all women to unlock all of their hidden potential, to believe in themselves and to assertively assume the appropriate position in society. Liaisons, with other minorities and previously disadvantaged communities--where there is common ground, will also get the message across more effectively. If all of the above materialises, the 21st century will indeed be "The century of the woman."


Bio: Carin Jacobs is Strategy Planning Manager (Fuel Procurement) for a large corporation in South Africa. She has spent the last decade negotiating the hazards of the corporate ladder in a traditionally male-dominated line of business.


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