Nelson Mandela Foundation

There are two powers in the world, one is the sword, and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women. - Malala Yousafzai

International Women's Day, March 8, is a day used to reflect on how far we have come and how far we still need to go to attain gender equality, a day set out to celebrate women all over the world and highlight the many issues that they are still faced with. This year’s celebrations for me served as a reminder of the integral purpose, inescapable commitment and sacrifice that so many ‘women’ writers must carry. It was a reminder that we are not writing for the sake of writing, but we are, in fact, writing ourselves into existence, our writings no matter how they choose to manifest are deeply rooted in representation, they are a constant wave of reassurance, a reminder to young women with similar stories and experience that they are not invisible, they are seen, noteworthy. Grabbing a book and reading in detail another woman’s experience, a narrative that validates mine, reminds one that writing is a process greater than self, it is an opportunity to hold each other’s softness, femininity, our tenderness and secrets when the world fails to do so. It is an opportunity to find stillness amid the chaos, a source of clarity, fortitude and power.

This past weekend was a reminder of how we are able to heal through writing, able to translate different systems of oppression through rigorous research and how this allows so many of us to comprehend the world that we live in. For me it has always been about centering women in all discourses from war to politics, climate change, and the economy. It is a process of reclaiming our voices and identities within these different historical moments, a reminder to everyone that we are not merely victims but as catalysts of sustainable social transformation. It is about preserving diversity and representation through our narratives and experiences, writing is “a constant riot to speak ourselves into existence.” I understand that this space is a platform that allows us to hold ourselves together through literature and discourse, to hold memory, hold space and in turn hold each other, and this extends to holding each other accountable, to question concepts like sisterhood or feminism in and of itself, to discard what holds us back and continuously refine what propels us forward.

I was confronted with the importance of women being able to hold a pen, question and rewrite their own narratives. Protecting how we are able to connect to those who came before us and afford the next generation the same privilege through how we choose to tell our stories, ensuring that they are able to collect nuggets of wisdom from our stories. A reminder of the level of vulnerability it takes to take pen to paper and write about our own personal, triggering experiences. How we are able to simplify complex terminologies and phenomena to ensure increased accessibility and understanding, allowing more people to engage with the world that they live in.

I remembered the agency and autonomy that this very platform affords me not just as an academic but as a black woman navigating and trying to make sense of this world. Academia has taught me that true enlightenment can only come from a tapestry of knowledge that captures and reflects the rich and diverse narratives from our individual and shared experiences. This is because it is in our stories where we can find power to reshape and redefine our collective understanding of this world. Literature is our shared mirror that allows us to see ourselves, it acquires its brilliance from the echoes of our voices that translate what it means to be human, to embrace our diverse narratives is not just for the purpose of inclusion, it is the key to unlocking the boundless wisdom that we find hidden in the kaleidoscope of diverse, unique lived experiences.

Writing is a deep process that forces one to go inward, it is expression and this international women’s month I urge and compel you to go read literature that centres the experience of women, grab a book or read an article written by a woman and see what you can take away from.