I am EVERY woman. This is a statement I live by. This means that I cannot separate myself from the issues and experiences that women from different walks of life are faced with. Their pain is my pain. Their achievements are my achievements. Their setbacks are my setbacks. I am EVERY woman.

It is through reading that I have been introduced to many different women who have helped me discover parts of me that I did not know existed. The one book that has significantly changed my life must be The Colour Purple by Alice Walker. The book tells the story of a young woman, Celie, who was violated by society, by her family and had her identity stripped away from her. Through meeting and interacting with other women with similar struggles – but who had different responses to their struggles, found her own voice and power. Part of the reason the book had such an impact on my life is that I found a lot of similarities between myself and the main character Celie.

Growing up I was a very quiet and reserved child, who was very passive to life and that passiveness spilled over to my adult years: I never owned my space and my purpose. I would observe others doing life, never thinking I could do the same. I learned a lot from different books and what others had to say about me, what my parents’ expectations were and what society had prescribed for me being both black and a woman, but never took the time to question the world or myself, as to what I wanted.

Reading The Colour Purple was almost like reading a book about myself. If I had been born in another time, in another family – that could have easily been my story. I lived in better conditions and in better times than Celie, so I quickly realised that I had no excuse to be leading my life the way I was. It was then that I realised the responsibility I had in taking control of my own life, in finding my voice, not just for me, but for the next generation of women. The book taught me the most powerful lesson, which is that women can liberate one another.

It is every woman’s journey to not only find her voice, but to know how to use it to harness her power and affect change in other women. The only tool that is a catalyst in the liberation of women is education. One of the areas I realised early on that I thrived in, was academics. In academics, your performance isn’t based on whether you were black or white, male or female, fat or thin. I applied myself heavily in my academics from a young age, as that is where I gained confidence. I didn’t have to be apologetic about being top of the class, because I had earned my position fair and square.  In some ways, I felt that the playing field was levelled and that is where I believe I first encountered what I call my #BlackGirlMagic –  where I found the space to raise my voice as a black woman and join in celebrating of each other’s beauty, power and resilience.

Through academics the world of books was opened to me, which turned out to be my biggest blessing, and my heart bleeds for young women who are deprived of education because of structural inequalities in our society. I strongly believe that as women, particularly women of colour, it is our duty to not only inspire but to empower one another. It is through telling our stories that we become empowered and empower other young women. We live in a time where women’s voices and their presence in ALL spaces is vital to the survival and improvement of our society. It is through sharing of our stories, verbally or through books that we liberate ourselves as well as each other. Our magic lies in being unapologetic and unashamed of our stories and truly being able to say, ‘I am EVERY woman.’

This Women’s Month, Nal’ibali is paying tribute to all South African women and has joined forces with Buhle Ngaba, author of The Girl Without A Sound. You can download her book in four languages at http://nalibali.org/news-blog/news/Nalibali-Buhle-Ngaba-on-Womens-Day

When we see girls and women represented as strong, beautiful and capable, it makes it impossible for the world to tell us otherwise.

Andy Maqondwana is a radio presenter, MC, entertainer and academic.

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