This year, in conjunction with UP’s TSC, YCL partnered with the Young Alumni and Student Committee (Yascom) in support of their #GiveWhatYouCan initiative, which seeks to cater for needy UP students. Instead of providing a cover charge to attend the event, entrance was free for ladies who came with donations for the cause. The keynote speakers were Shireen Chengadu and Monhla Hlahla. Chengadu currently serves as the acting director of University Relations at UP. In the beginning of her speech, she spoke about the impact that the 1956 Women’s March had on the country. On 9 August 1956, thousands of women, irrespective of race or class, protested against the pass laws in the country. Yet, in this technologically advanced era where communication is at our fingertips, women “battle to mobilise” she said. “This calls for an agency and urgency at which we need to act”, she added.

Chengadu said that 60% of university graduates are women. She went on to say that despite even coming first in their class, they are overtaken by their male peers in the workplace. She urged all women to adopt the concept of being “authentic” and figuring out how their brands stand out from the rest. “You will get blows”, Chengadu cautioned, but encouraged women to “dust it off” and start again. Hlahla is a director at Ruta Thari Holdings and at Solitron Holdings. Growing up on an orange plantation in Limpopo, she said that she never considered herself as poor, going on to say that “the definition of success is measured by you”. She challenged the attendees to disrupt the belief of being disadvantaged. “Life has to be hard”, she said. “The bigger the learning, the greater the reward”, she added. “There’s more to you than your degree”, Hlahla urged, saying that a degree is only an opportunity to make a difference. She also added that one is not defined by who they are employed by.

A panel discussion followed where Angelica van Dou, co-founder of Mzansi Memes, was the moderator. The panellists were Noma Gigaba, whose business roles include being an IT executive and chairperson of the Noma Gigaba Foundation, Koleka Putuma, a playwright, author and poet, Nontobeko Sibisi, who was ENCA’s first arts and entertainment reporter and pioneer of the #RespecktheDoek movement, and Neo Matlhare, a UP graduate, entrepreneur, and Creative Founder of Nolymross. When asked what current narrative the media pushes of women, Sibisi said “It depends on what kind of media you absorb.” She added that it was up to women to do their own research to find relatable forms of media for themselves. On being a woman today, Matlhare noted that women are an “inconvenience”, but it is important to disrupt the notions that the world has about them. Putuma added that women have to be “agile” and learn to adapt quickly to succeed in this world.

Gigaba believes that a woman’s role is to undo the pain of the past. She added that women often have to go the “extra mile” to be successful in the corporate sphere, and urged women to work together. Speaking on how her intimate relationships have affected her career, she said it’s important that women strike a balance, but at the same safeguard their careers by standing their ground.


Photo: Fezekile Msimang