By Tania Perdikis
I was luckily enough to take part in the Elle Female Factor Forum on the 17th of May in Cape Town. Young and inspirational female leaders from Cape Town, along with members of the Elle South Africa team, gathered on the rooftop of the Freeworld Design Centre to have an inspirational and empowering conversation about issues facing young women in South Africa today.
The discussion started off with the topic of Feminism – what it meant to be a feminist and who considered themselves one. Everyone had different understandings of the term and valuable personal insights into the way some us felt about female equality issues. An interesting insight into the topic of feminism from student leader Jordan Scott, was that “we are in an era where women are breaking the mould, so why put yourself in a box of being labelled a feminist”.
The topic of feminism led to conversation surrounding HIV/AIDS and women. The conversation was centred around Phindile Sithole-Spong’s article in the February 2012 issue of Elle Magazine titled ‘HIV, Sex & Me’. We spoke about how HIV/AIDS is a topic that is not spoken about enough among young people, mainly due to the stigma that is attached to it. Even though South Africans are educated about the disease, more needs to be done. The University of Cape Town have regular drives for students to be tested and they are encouraged to know their HIV status. The University of the Western Cape are even more vocal about the disease by putting together student productions about HIV/AIDS.
The conversation then moved on to a topic which I was surprised to find out about – the topic of ‘The Ministers’ and ‘Sugar Daddies’ who play a large part in potentially spreading the HIV/AIDS disease. Young girls who find themselves unable to pay for tertiary tuition turn to these ‘sugar daddies’ who are older men who provide financially for young women to study and to live a financially stable life. I found this topic very interesting, while also shocked that young women feel their only option is to turn to older men for support. This phenomenon definitely brings up the importance of other topics such as the difficulty to obtain student loans in South Africa. I personally feel that as a young South African female student, who knows my status, it would be great if more students and young South African’s knew their status too.
The final topic of conversation was about the lack of unity among young women which former ANCYL secretary-general, Vuyiswa Tulelo, feels is one of the biggest challenges for women in politics. Questions about ‘sisterhood’ in today’s society were raised and how women may sometimes use male proxies to measure themselves against each other. Annelize Visser, features director for Elle South Africa, concluded the forum by inspiring us with a quote on sisterhood by Madeline Albright, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
The forum was truly inspiring and empowering, not only for me, but I’m sure for all the other female leaders who took part. I am so glad that Elle gave young female leaders a chance to be a part of something truly amazing and to allow us to use our dynamic leadership skills to do something for the greater good of women.