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“Exploring the unseen ways ‘disenfranchised’ women are actors in international relations and politics”

I was motivated to write this piece because it resonates so much to where I am at and the stance I have taken as a ‘beauty pageant’ entrant.

A friend of mine invited me to an event hosted by African Leadership Academy. The all-round theme was AFRICA LAND OF OPPORTUNITY – AFRICA RISING: WOMEN.

Boy was I in my element. I love anything women empowerment and raising the voice of women without having to dim the light of men or belittle them.

Between some lovely entertainment, recitals, drama, music and dance by the students, there was a panel discussion exploring and breaking down the concepts of culture, patriarchy, education systems and feminism.

My favourite part and the part that got me excited to write this piece/blog post was when we were given the opportunity to break up into groups for workshops in order to delve into the challenges women face in society. Some focusing on being more than a wife, mother etc, and one with a particular focus on women and health (I would’ve loved to split myself into a million pieces to attend them all).

I attended (or rather found myself going to) one titled ‘Uncovering Invisible Ambassadors’ and I thought to myself on the way to the workshop: ‘Oh boy, what is Vivian getting me into… now I have to dig deep in history and try remember all the heroines we spoke of in school and attempt to relate to them…’ lol

The subtopic was “Exploring the unseen ways ‘disenfranchised’ women are actors in international relations and politics”.

Extract from the reading piece:

“When women are characterized as “victims of the international political system,” they are stripped of their agency and rendered invisible – cogs in a global machine that does not consider their contribution as essential or important. While this characterization impacts all women, arguably it disproportionately affects African women whose countries are impacted by their own level of ‘disenfranchisement’ within the international arena.”

  1. So that said, in order to catalyse a paradigm-shift in the international political space:
    1. what attitudes, constructs and perceptions need to change?
    2. What roles need to be made visible and what is the part we play to raise the profile of these neglected contributions?
  2. If we say tourism continues to be promoted by bankers, development planners and private investors as a means of making the international system less unequal, more financially sound and more politically stable;
    1. What is the statement we make to the rest of the world as an African country by opening ourselves to tourism?
  3. And if we say tourism’s beauty pageant supporters believe that having one of their country’s women crowned the most beautiful in the world will generate attention, especially to their otherwise overlooked countries, and that will attract more visitors;
    1. What attitudes, constructs and/or perceptions need to change, and how?

Context: the focus here is shifting the African women’s narrative from being a disenfranchised victim and invisible to being a visible international ambassador.

My take:

We have a never ending poster perception of women worldly. Women are perceived as victims… things happen to women. Women are circumstantial and not to be shapers and actors but rather reactors. We objectify women who don’t know enough but also chastise women who know ‘too much’. We are quick to tell (even towards each other as) women they are too bold and need to tone it down. Internationally, we are the victims in war crimes, often being taken in as slaves, maids, as sex objects. But never at the table when the resolutions are being worked out.

We are rarely ‘made visible as the thinkers and doers’.

Year after year beauty pageants locally, nationally and internationally put these romanticized and idealized representations of femininity on display for all to see. We need to relook at the beauty pageant industry again and re-analyse with feminist eyes and ears – the industry reflects a huge trend of social constructs of gender (socially and culturally created gender roles) and at times it flips over to the extreme – the breaking down of men and the over empowered woman.

There is this poster perception of women in beauty – one cannot have both, she should surely be flawed in one. Perhaps you will find me either less pretty or less intelligent at the end of this piece. A woman cannot exceed a certain level in society without the assistance of her sexual organs. This, for one, angers me because I am all for femininity in the workspace. I do not have testosterone levels shooting through the ceiling. But if I am given a platform to represents even a small portion of society locally, nationally or internationally, break free the chains of my boundaries; if you label me an ambassador, make me visible not just to the eyes but the ears. The doors need to be opened for the social, cultural, economic and diplomatic relationships to be build.

Hell, use my beauty (I don’t mind) but do not side-line my brain. Patriarchy is a thing of the past. Take a look at the likes of the Basetsana Kumalo, Priyanka Chopra etc. who have broken the boundaries of being seen as another pretty face in the office who forces men to dress up nicely. Women are a force! We don’t even realise it but we beautifully increase political, social and financial value.

They don’t realise it, but they assume we do not know about the Arab Spring, the workings of the United Nations, climate change and capitalist globalization. It impacts us too. Involve us.

We cannot sit at the table when we’re expected to serve the tea. Open a seat and allow us to voice ourselves too.

What’s your take?