My Education In Becoming An Empowered Woman

March 8th is International Women’s Day, but this day means two very different things to me as a woman and as a motherless daughter.

When I think of what it means to be a woman, I think of my mother. Almost everyone believes their mother is the best, and rightly so. Mums are everything!!! My mum though… she was levels above everything. She was not like a regular mom, she was a cool mom.

International Women’s Day is a day to honour and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women as we champion the women’s rights movement by bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights and violence against women. My mum was passionate about women economic empowerment and education of children because she did not have any schooling beyond secondary school as her parents did not instill the importance of an education in her and her siblings. She then married a horrible man who was financially, emotionally, verbally and physically abusive towards her but was unable to leave him as she was financially dependent on him for everything. Only for him to abandon her and move out of the house once she became paralysed from the waist down while battling stage IV breast cancer that had metastasised to her spine. My mother was big on education because her lack of it was directly related to her lack of empowerment. I say all the time as a joke, but I am also not joking, that my mum’s favourite word was empowerment, closely followed by education. If I had a dollar for every time those two words left my mother’s mouth, I would be rich enough to be on a Forbes list.

I learnt how to be a woman from my mother.

My mother was a beautiful, strong, fun, funny, loving, fierce, kind, compassionate, spunky, brave, fiery, generous, loyal, entertaining, spirited, caring, forgiving and tough as hell woman. She was an amazing cook and baker, a great dancer and an excellent driver (she drove a manual car for 23 years till she lost the use of her legs) who loved her family and friends with a love that was more than love. She was a feminist and a champion for women economic empowerment as well as education of children.

I also learnt how not to be a woman from my mother.

My mother was flawed as we all are. She made mistakes as we all do, but the repercussions of her mistakes were not felt by her alone. By choosing to stay in an abusive marriage for the sake of her children, that choice informed my childhood which in turn informed my adulthood. The abuse may have happened to my mum directly, but it subsequently affected me deeply and is one of the things I continue to heal from. It also affected the relationship with my siblings as the environment of fear we were raised in robbed us of the opportunity to develop a deep bond, something quite common among children who come from dysfunctional homes. We were too busy walking on eggshells, living in fear of our father’s moods that would change in the blink of an eye, to form any deep bonds. That said, I am not angry with my mother for the choices she made. Instead I empathise as I can understand how difficult it must have been for her to do her best with the shitty cards life had dealt her.

When I was a little girl, my world revolved around my mum. When I became a teenager, she became someone I lied to, fought with, disliked, but ultimately still loved. And when I became a young woman, I got to see my mother for who she really was; a woman just like me with her own virtues and flaws, many of which I inherited. By my mid-twenties my mum was my best friend and before we could unlock the level of friendship that daughters in their 30s have with their mums, she died four months and ten days after my 30th birthday.

Now I am a motherless daughter.

I learnt to love my birthday from my mother and with time I began to reciprocate that love by making sure we did something to celebrate her birthday, more so after her cancer diagnosis in 2012. That was also around the time I started working, meaning I had more money to spend on her birthday celebrations so we could have some fanfare on her big day. Which is why IWD means two very different things to me as a woman and as a motherless daughter. To the world over March 8th is International Women’s Day but to me this day has always been, and will always be, my mum’s birthday first and IWD second. I say all the time that it is no coincidence my mum was born on IWD as she was the quintessential woman and personified what it meant to be a woman with every fibre of her being. So it is always extremely triggering seeing all the Women’s Day posts on social media yet my quintessential woman, the birthday girl, no longer exists in this world.

Through leading by example, my mum gave me the blueprint for the kind of woman I want to be and also the kind of woman I do not want to be. The choices and mistakes she made that have reverberated throughout my life need to end with me as I owe it to the next generation to do better and be better, because I know better.

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