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The Jewish Report Editorial

Agents of change

  • Vanessa
I was privileged to sit on a panel with some fascinating women at the WIZO South Africa 35th Triennial Conference in Cape Town last Sunday. We were asked to consider and relate how, we as women, have been able to affect change and empower others through our work.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Dec 02, 2015

I wondered if in my newish role as editor of the SA Jewish Report I really was an agent of change. And, if this was to be our topic, did it mean that the feminist battle which was long ago fought and won in North America, was not nearly far enough along in South Africa?

But some very positive answers came as I reflected and wrote my own speech and also from what I heard on the day from the other speakers. Not only were the women able catalysts for positive change, but each one had a very different though effective way of doing so. And they gave some humorous and poignant insights of their experiences being successful women in a - let’s face it - still male dominated world.

Our moderator, Lara Rosmarin, CEO of the start-up incubator Seed Academy had the audience chuckling when she recalled how during one fundraising project she urgently needed two vans sponsored. The businessman who came to her rescue turned out to be a well-known strip club owner (I surmised it was the late Lolly Jackson of Teasers fame but I could be wrong).

Lara was summoned to the club to “discuss the donation” with him and as she arrived, she was sure that she “would have to take one for the team” and would be forced to wrap herself around a pole to vibrating music in order to get the vans. He actually just wanted to discuss whether he could place a slightly lewd advert for the clubs along one side of the vehicles which she knew she could not allow and so that was the end of that.

Dr Einat Wilf, former member of the Israeli Knesset, author, and international speaker, said that she knew she had finally “arrived” in a man’s world when at meetings she took control of the air-conditioner remote. As only women who sit in long board meetings with men know - a woman begins to freeze at least an hour before the men even start to cool down.

A most powerful message came from the fiery Rhoda Kadalie, executive director of Impumelelo Social Innovations Centre, who among other roles, taught at UWC for almost 20 years and set up a gender equity unit there.

She said that although women have greater political representation in parliament than ever, the equality has not filtered through to the most vulnerable (rural) women whose lives have not changed at all. She suggested a revolution of sorts where women occupy the space of power for themselves and don’t wait for it to be given to them.  

As for myself? I quipped that now, with some relief, I have moved away from a fundraising role at the Herzlia Schools Foundation where people would rush to avoid me in the school parking lot for fear that I might ask them for money, to a situation as editor of this newspaper, where people are in fact looking for me to give exposure to their views, their charities, their books, their agendas, and their children.

Although I had the opportunity to help change lives by raising funds for disadvantaged learners to attend Herzlia in my previous role, I said that I now realise that I have the power to create change through the printed word.

As Einat Wilf noted in her opening address of this WIZO conference: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and the fight against Israel’s global notoriety - would not be won by force; progress would only come through the right words and messaging.

Indeed, as an editor, I have the ability to change minds and empower others through words - not through forcefully plugging one viewpoint - but rather by challenging perceptions and changing stereotypes.

In my editorial some months ago, when the community was divided on whether Israel was correct to refuse a visa to Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to go through Israel on his way to Ramallah, I tried to explain the motivations of both sides. I like to think it opened peoples’ minds to why certain decision were taken and made people less partisan about the issue.

Women are often powerful in the workplace because by nature we place greater value on connections, relationships and building consensus, whereas men tend to focus on being the alpha-male which does not lend itself to compromise.

I like to think that I look for solutions that consider both sides when it comes to issues that occur within the work environment and in the community. It is not always about who is right and who is wrong. Don’t they say that if women ruled the world, there would be no war? I am joking - but not really…

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