Here we are, the end of 2019 and the end of the decade. A lot has happened in my life, some really great things such as having two more daughters which meant becoming an older mum. I now hold an accolade for being a teenage mum and one for being an older mum. Additionally, I have Juggled business, career, marriage, physical health, mental health, and house moves. Ten years is a long time, reflecting upon it has shown that we can achieve a lot as well as lose a lot.
It has meant a lot of personal, professional growth, and self-reflection. Over the last few weeks, I have reviewed the last year of this decade, 2019. I have faced many challenges. There have been positives as well though I struggle to see them sometimes, because there has been so much pain, facing some issues that I had tried hard to forget without acknowledging. I have also learned that sometimes even the best-laid plans can evade us.
I am a Christian who believes that God has a plan for us and sometimes gives us lessons and challenges but never beyond what we can deal with and learn from. However, I am a fixer, so it can be hard to let things go and allow God to take control. Hard to admit, nonetheless it is true. I know that not everyone will relate or agree, but if you follow your heart and speak your truth and reflect, you will see that there is always a way. You can move towards success and healing.
In April 2019, I started my Ph.D. in Inclusion in Leadership. I am researching Women’s Self-Inclusion into Leadership from a woman’s lens. It has been a great journey, I have had to challenge some of my perceptions and beliefs and turn from practitioner to researcher, so I am writing from both perspectives. I have also come to admit who I am and what makes me happy; helping other migrants especially women and teaching. My work as a book writing coach, researcher, and lecturer are helping me to do what I love.
Over the last week, I have been taking stock. I have put together a list of my top 10 women that have kept me going. Women who have inspired me through their work or courageous acts. They have sometimes given me the push to see the positives, to get up and work and know that nothing is impossible. Some are well-known faces, some not so much, however they are all my heroes and I am honouring them. Let us call it my 2019 Global Honours list except for HRM obviously as she offers out. I hope if you are going through life’s hurdles, they can help you too. Here they are in no specific order.
I always liked Jada in movies but never really paid attention to her as a person. For me, she was just another celebrity married to the famous Will Smith! However, in 2019, Jada has won my heart with her truth, authenticity and for being a real woman who is not afraid to say what she thinks, share how she feels and show us that you can be famous and still share your problems and relate with ‘ordinary people’. She does not have to share because the media has a way of telling their story to suit how they want us to see people. Jada had decided to tell the story her way and, in the process, has helped many people including me in 2019.
She could be sitting ‘pretty’ as the matriarch of one of the most famous black families in the world, content with her husband providing everything she needs, Jada said NO to that. She has candidly and openly spoken about her struggles of having it and yet being unhappy, defining her ideal life and living with her husband and fighting to keep her family together. The emotional investment that women have to deal with and often find hard. Her and Will have redefined their marriage and I have learned a few things from Jada.
Jada has opened up a lot through a number of interviews in 2018 and 2019 and in her Facebook Red Table Talk show co-hosted by her mum Adrienne Banfield-Norris, and her daughter Willow Smith. On the show that started in 2018, Jada has had some extremely sensitive and revealing conversations that will sometimes make you gasp. In all that it is how steadfast and how level headed she remains as she discusses some controversially difficult and some intimate topics. Some of my favourites have been ‘Should White People Adopt Black Children’ with Kristin Davis, ‘Becoming Mr. & Mrs. Smith and ‘Our Unique Union’ with Will Smith, ‘Motherhood’ with Will’s ex-wife Sheree Fletcher, and some eye-opening ones like “The Racial Divide: Women of Color & White Women” with Jane Elliott. Honestly, they are all amazing so feel free to watch Red Table Talk and share your best with me. Why she has stood out for me is her extremely authentic advice and encouragement to other women as a daughter, a wife, a mother and of course as a business leader. As she said in a clip on the Facebook page Makers:
“Know your value’ and know your craft, never sell yourself short for a job, especially if you are sitting in front of somebody important, they will make you think you will never have that chance again, but it’s a lie. Maintain your integrity, there will always be another opportunity.”
That is Jada!
Theresa May is a member of Parliament and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from July 2016 to July 2019. She was the second UK female prime minister, she was tasked with leading the country through the first stages of the Brexit debacle which proved impossible because it seemed the odds were against her across the board. Nonetheless, she battled through with dignity to the end when she was forced to step down. She managed to get re-election as a member of parliament in December 2019. Her tenure was extremely demanding that any other person would have suffered a physical and mental breakdown, Theresa exemplifies passion and resilience.
Theresa May in case you do not know, came into office after her predecessor David Cameron took the country into a referendum to leave the UK believing people would vote to stay and exactly the opposite happened. He stepped down leaving an extremely messy situation. Theresa took over as leader of her political party and prime minister in what seemed like a great move to have a woman who was highly educated and well qualified for the job smashing the glass ceiling, a metaphoric term which describes the invisible and artificial barriers that have kept women from promotion to higher leadership positions (Boyd, 2008). However, this turned out to be a glass cliff, a term coined by (Ryan and Haslam, 2005) who argued that women who tend to aspire for leadership and seemingly shatter the glass ceiling often inherit problems that can be too hard to fix and end up falling of the glass cliff.
While many people including I have condemned her leadership at one point or the other, one thing stands clear, she came into power at a time of bedlam for women in leadership. A year which also saw US senator Hilary Clinton defeated by Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned for accepting immigrants into Germany. I will not go into much detail on this as my aim is to give a flavour and show how Theresa May was a 2019 stand out woman in leadership for me. Women were generally under attack Theresa May was between a rock and a hard place. Dealing with the fall out on Brexit and uncertainty of the future, in addition to being a woman in politics where everyone in the house has their own political agenda Was no mean feat.
The woman led with dignity, she gave it her best shot. Whether it was trying to be funny when that did not come naturally to her or being firm and serious about getting a reasonable Brexit deal with no clear set standard of what good meant and no gold standard to work towards. Theresa May woke up every morning in her three years in office and gave the job 120%. This sometimes meant her working when she was not well. People made fun of her decision making, but she carried on. You do not see that kind of resilience often. I have great respect for Theresa May.
Meghan Markel, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex is a mixed-race American woman, a former actress who in her own right was a millionaire, chose to become a British migrant by getting married to HRH Prince Harry. She retired from her acting career and closed her websites and social media accounts to move to the UK to work as part of the British Royal Family. In April 2019, I took on the challenge of researching Migrant Women’s Self Inclusion into Leadership: Why Migrant women talk themselves out of applying for leadership opportunities in the countries they choose to make their second home. Looking around there are not many women who move from their countries of birth and take on one of the highest and toughest jobs in another country.
Meghan Markel, the Duchess of Sussex did just that. She took on the job of being the most talked about and probably most ‘judged mixed-race woman in the world when she left her well-set career as an actress and took on the job of marrying into the British Royal family. She became the first ethnic minority woman to join the modern British royal family. Additionally, she refuses to be defined by her intersectionality of being a woman, a foreigner, a mixed-race person, and a women’s rights activist and someone who has a ‘normal’ relationship with her daddy and the rest of his family. She has decided to fight back on the hate she has received Meghan Markel is a role model.
Meghan has always been one to stand up for what she believes and what is right in from a very young age. She is a feminist and is vocal on issues such as women’s rights and social justice. As soon as she joined the Royal family, she took on her role and set a great example as a role model for ‘Migrant Women’s Self Inclusion into Leadership’. She has included herself in the work of the royal family and has continued to promote women. As a woman in leadership she uses her voice, talent and influence both as an American celebrity and a member of one of the most famous families in the World, the British Royal Family. She has continued to help disadvantaged women and communities both in the UK and abroad. In May 2019, she became a mum, bring into the Royal family a mixed-race boy. Undoubtedly, this great addition to the world will continue to breakdown some of the barriers to acceptance of interracial and mixed-race families.
Despite all the excellent work this young woman has been doing and having her mother and her husband by her side, the positive move has come at a cost to her mental wellbeing. Since the announcement of her engagement to Prince Harry, Meghan has been a subject of criticism, unfair judgment, and intrusion in her private life from multiple angles. From the way she has dealt with the public fallout with her estranged dad and his family which has meant taking some extremely tough personal and painful decisions, to facing some of the British people who are not happy to have her into the royal family, and some of the British media outlets who are out for a good story at any cost. Some of it has been racially motivated which is extremely unfair. Her position as part of the royal family comes with many strict rules to follow. However, Meghan is a tough girl and she seems to have taken her self-inclusion to another level by standing up against the ‘bullies’.
In September 2019, while on tour to Southern Africa with her husband and son, she addressed women and asserted the following:
“On one personal note, may I just say that while I am here with my husband as a member of the royal family, I want you to know that for me, I am here as a mother, as a wife, as a woman, as a woman of color, and as your sister. I am here with you and am here for you.” Meghan Markel. (Petit and Perry, 2019)
The couple also announced soon after that she was taking legal action against the Mail on Sunday (BBC, 2019). She received a mixture of criticism and support. The support included a letter of solidarity signed by more than 70 female UK members of parliament. The letter assured her that they stood with her as she took a stand against often misleading and distasteful reporting (Ritschel, 2019; Rory, 2019).
In a documentary aired on TV after their return from the African tour, Meghan and her husband openly spoke about their struggle with the misrepresentation and criticism and admitted that life has been hard. As a mixed-race foreign woman who is trying to acclimatise to the life in the UK and has just had a baby, reading some of what has been written about her has not been easy (ITV News, 2019).
The strength it has taken for her to stand up and take legal action and my sheer admiration for her brave move to take on this challenge is what has made her one of my 10 women of 2019. Plus, she is the wife of my favourite royal! Best wishes Duchess!
Linda Kasonde is a Zambian civil rights activist, human rights defender, and Lawyer. She is the founder of Chapter One Foundation and LCK Chambers. Both organisations practice centres on human rights, civil rights advocacy and dispute resolution. In a world where power and money rule it is a breath of fresh air to get women to provide the much-needed legal aid to those who need it. She was the first female and youngest Legal practitioner to become a partner in an internationally recognised law firm.
Linda served as the first female President of the Law Association of Zambia from 2016 to 2018. Linda is now the Vice President for Africa for the Commonwealth Lawyers Association. In 2019, I have come to learn more about Linda’s work through various channels. She was the kind of woman I would have loved to know when I was struggling going through a divorce in the UK and having to deal with marital property in Zambia which I ended up losing. Now I know Linda, and I am glad to know that more women can be guided by this woman.
I first connected with Linda via her LinkedIn profile . One day she tagged me into a post about female leadership and from then I was hooked and followed her work. She has always inspired me at how selfless she is in sharing her knowledge and opportunities with others on her platform. I was even more impressed when I read her post in the Lusaka Times titled Why We Need More Women in Leadership. She wrote about how deliberate she was in her quest for leadership, how she planned for her election as the President of the Law Association of Zambia (Kasonde, 2018). One of the paramount nuggets I took from is article is:
“Too many women do not take any steps towards leadership because they are waiting for someone to hand it to them. You have got to grab it – with both hands”. Linda Kasonde.
That is a woman urging other women to search for opportunities and grab them!
Women for many years have struggled juggling a career and a family. When they have made it to leadership, they often sacrifice a part of themselves. Jacinda has shown that you do not have to forget who you are when you become a statesperson; You can still be a compassionate woman, mother, wife, and funny yet firm person. As one of the youngest stateswomen, she has it has left some grownups scratching their heads as to how she manages it all.
Jacinda Arden is only the second serving prime minister to have gone through a pregnancy and have a baby while in office, 28 years after another one of my female heroic women leaders the late Benazir Bhutto had a baby while in office. Things seem to have moved on in that time, unlike Bhutto who ruled in Pakistan and had many opposers as a female leader, Jacinda took maternity leave. It sets a good example for other women aspiring for leadership. The world was still in shock that Arden can have a baby and go back to work in one of undoubtedly the most difficult jobs one can hold. It is even more refreshing that her husband is their child’s primary caregiver as a stay-at-home dad, a role that historically and still predominantly falls to women.
While many women must choose between career and family, Jacinda and her husband show the world that some of the strongly held social constructs need to be ditched for a more balanced world. I am a believer that a woman shouldn’t have to choose between family and career. If we are going to find this easier, we need men to help us. Jacinda has that covered, the baby even made an appearance at the United Nations. In 2019, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has had a busy schedule and dealt with some of the most difficult occurrences in her country. They are setting such an example, they even got engaged in 2019 (Graham-McLay, 2019). We might just see a prime minister wedding in office soon. Watching this space Jacinda!
I am not saying every woman should be a prime minister now am I implying that all husbands who have wives in leadership should be a stay at home dad. It is all about partnership and agreeing what works, Jacinda has obviously got the communication part right.
In the face of the 2019 Massacre of 50 Muslims in Christchurch, this leader defied the odds and showed sympathy, empathy and brought not only her country but the whole world to condemn extremism at any level while other statesmen and women struggle to callout such callous acts extremism when performed by whites. Jacinda was decisive and firm to declare it extremism, she was in the forefront in supporting the families and communities affected. She later announced a ban on the sale of all types of semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles (BBC Newsround, 2019)
Jacinda Arden shows that you can be a prime minister and order an Indian take away, hire a car from Budget cars, prank people and just ‘be normal’. Being a country’s leader doesn’t mean you are unreachable. I love this woman for her fun, friendly nature and outright approachable attitude. In the YouTube video titled Jacinda Ardern – the World’s Most Relatable Prime Minister and in another video; Stephen Colbert: The Newest Zealander Visits PM Jacinda Ardern, this woman shows that she is down to earth and fun to be around. I hope I can meet her one-day‘ hint, hint!’
When women speak, some men think they can just shut them up. Not this woman, Mahua Moitra is an Indian politician and a Member of parliament in the 17th Lok Sabha from Krishnanagar, West Bengal. In her maiden speech after being elected to the parliament in India, she called out the “professional hecklers” and continued to give her speech urging the speaker of the house to ‘control’ the other members. In 2019, she has been trending as a woman in leadership taking her stand and refusing to be silenced (Moitra, 2019a; Moitra, 2019b).
I am not an expert on India, nor do I know the actualities of the contents of the two speeches I have featured. Nonetheless. I want to raise a point that even in 2019, it is not easy for a woman who is a highly educated and competent leader to be heard and taken seriously. Women still have to work harder, speak louder, and sometimes we have to tell the boys to keep quiet and listen. It takes a lot of grit to do that and I take my hat off to her and all the other women leaders who are paving the way in the battle of the sexes. In her second speech (Moitra, 2019b) alludes to the fact that some family members and friends have warned her to be careful because of how she spoke out in her maiden speech (Moitra, 2019a). It is a shame that women must live in fear of being harmed as they perform their mandated roles. Gender-based violence and abuse are real and need to be called out.
When a woman chooses to go for a leadership position, in many cases she faces a lot of opposition from those closest to her. We need to start supporting and looking out for women and girls and encouraging them, not discouraging and scaring them. The lack of positive role models is the biggest hindrance to women’s self-inclusion into leadership. The Naysayers and people who care about us and want to protect us. For us women to prosper and follow leadership opportunities we need support from men and women alike. We also need more Mahua Moitras so that it can be a natural thing to hear a woman speak eloquently in service of her people.
Beauty pageants have been controversial platforms for women and girls. We have come a long way from the first winner Georgiana Seymour, Duchess of Somerset in 1839 (Thompson, 2016) to 2019 where six black women hold the winner’s crowns for major Western and International beauty pageants. In case you missed it, another black woman, Clémence Botino was crowned Miss France 2020 on 14 December 2019 (www.angelopedia.com, 2019). The beauty pageant world has evolved from simply looking at physical beauty to now focusing on intellect and causes as well.
Yes, Miss Universe 2019 was won by Miss South Africa, Zozibini Tunzi. Her winning made history for being the first black woman to compete in her short natural Afro-textured hair. Social media and the world went crazy over this bold move by the 26-year-old. As a fellow bold dark-skinned, black woman who has dawned a semi bald short hair for 10 years now, I applaud her. It is a tough call speaking from experience with fellow black women advising me to do something about my hair, meaning grow it or put it in extensions and some seriously damaging comments such as:
“Oh, you have a great smile. If only you were lighter-skinned, you would be very beautiful”.
These kinds of remarks used to affect me when I was younger. More so because that my immediate older sister, late Saiduna was much lighter-skinned than me. People used to confuse us, they would often call me by her name and then go on to say I have gone too dark. However, I look forward to when that will stop being news, other women such as Viola Davis, Lupita Nyong’o, Jill Scott, and other public figures have dawned short hair. That said; of course, I am all for black women choosing what hair and skin they feel confident in, no judgment on others is fair play.
In 2019, when we have celebrated six black young women win the major titles. It is great to celebrate beauty and brains. All these young women show intelligence, determination, and leadership.
What stood out for me with Zozibini, Ms. Universe is her promotion of self-inclusion into leadership for young women and girls. She encouraged self-leadership, confidence, and her causes are not for the faint-hearted. She stands up for what is ‘not pretty’ but very relevant and needed right now. Gender-based violence and advocating for natural beauty and women’s leadership (Miss Universe, 2019). That’s my girl right there.
The three Miss Universe finalists were asked what they would teach young girls today, Zozibini’s reply spoke to everyone not just, young girls, it spoke to me. It cemented the work that I do, it helped me think I need to do more. She replied:
“I think the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today is leadership. It’s something that has been lacking in young girls and women for a very long time, not because we don’t want to but because of what society has labelled women to be. I think we are the most powerful beings in the world and that we should be given every opportunity and that is what we should be teaching these young girls, to take up space, nothing is as important as taking up space in society and cementing yourself, thank you.” (Tunzi, 2019)
Then when it came to the closing statements, again she went even higher in raising the standards. Her responses resonated with women of any colour and it challenged black women especially to think again about being confident in oneself, (Tunzi, 2019) statement was:
“I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful. And I think that it is time that it stops today. I want children to look at me and see my face and I want to see their faces reflected in mine.”
Naga Munchetty called out racism in July 2019. The BBC Breakfast presenter responded to a question by a fellow white male presenter regarding the way she feels when she hears statements such as the US president’s comment to four ethnic minority congresswomen, who were being told to go back home (BBC Canada, 2019) when in fact only one of them was a migrant woman. She was later rebuked by the BBC management for speaking out against Donald Trump and not being impartial at work after they received some complaints. The reprimand led to over 150 ethnic minority broadcasters, celebrities and actors to stand in solidarity in supporting her and calling in question the diversity in decision making to partially uphold a complaint against BBC Breakfast host Naga Munchetty (Boyle and Curtis, 2019).
The action which came from the heart based on her experience raised the question that most ethnic minorities grapple with when they must choose between their experience at work and keeping their jobs. I think Naga has helped many through her responding to the question and calling on her experience. If more of us can speak up and call out unfair discrimination, we would start making progress. I know racism and racial discrimination is not going anywhere soon and there are other issues out there, but when we believe in ourselves, we will be better equipped to respond as we need to without fear of losing our jobs.
I will not say much about Her Majesty The Queen, if you do not know her then you have not heard of the United Kingdom. I strongly admire this woman for the fact that at the age of 93, she continues to rule with grace even through what has been a difficult year for the country and the royal family. She travels on public transport and keeps her commitments even as her husband is not well. It shows that age is nothing women that you can never be too young or too old to be a great leader.
Allow me to share with you this amazing young woman who has shown great self-leadership qualities, focus, and tenacity. A woman who knows where she is going and is not easily swayed by society’s pressure to conform and mob psychology. She speaks her mind and is a great teacher even to me. She always puts a smile on my face.
Ngosa Kambashi, (left in the photo) and her sister Razina Ngweshe Kambashi, are my daughters, Ngosa holds a MSc. in forensic psychology and is reading for her PhD in Psychology. Ngweshe is reading for first degree in Law and Management. In 2019, these women have taught me strength and resilience. In June 2019 their dad was diagnosed with Cancer and he lost his battle in November 2019. These girls have dealt with the most difficult challenges of the loss of their best friend, their dad, then had to deal with some unfair cultural practices, emotional trauma. Nevertheless, they have smiled and stuck together and still managed to soldier on with their education.
As a woman who was once a teenage mum to Ngosa, it fills me with joy to see that in a world where many migrant children end up losing their way because as parents we work too hard to make ends meet as migrants, and at times to compensate for what we may have not achieved, there has never been a day when I have forced my children to study or wake up to go to school. They know that education is the key to knowledge, and they do it with pride. 2019 has seen all three of us being at University and they give me a good run for my money.
My biggest lesson from Ngosa is that, she remains steadfast and focussed just as her dad would have wanted. She has made her views clear and managed to stand up to the bullies through what has been a difficult time for a daddy’s girl. She has not let the abuse get to her and fought her and her sister’s corner when she has needed to do so. I am proud of Ngosa for her leadership and tenacity and I just want people to know how strong this young woman is. I am proud of you and inspired by you Ngosa.
If you have managed to read to the end, I thank you. These women have shown me that nothing is impossible. From royalty like the Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Her Royal Highness Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, pollical leaders Theresa May, Jacinda Arden, and Mahua Moitra, and those challenging the injustices like Linda Kasonde, Zozibini Tunzi, Ngosa Kambashi, Naga Munchety and Jada Pinkett Smith. All these 10 women have one thing in common, they are not afraid to stand up and do what they believe in, what is right, and they speak out and speak up when needed. They also inspire others in a world where women are expected to suffer silently and not voice out their true thoughts.
I now urge you to look around, who has inspired you in 2019 and why? Self-reflection is invaluable, however having other motivators in life, makes whatever you are planning to do in future even more achievable. For me, what I want to do is be more of service to other migrant women, with the help of men because we need men in our lives and other women because even if other women might not understand our difficulties, they can be the help we need to navigate new horizons.
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