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Winning Women: Women’s rights: another chapter

Apr 02 2017 06:02
Sue Grant-Marshall

Bwasa members Itumeleng Makgato and Boikhutso Mokoto, both students at Wits University. Picture: Leon Sadiki

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Itumeleng Makgato and Boikhutso Mokoto, both BCom final-year students at Wits University, are on a mission – to empower any female student who feels she needs help in making herself heard.

They are the faces of the Businesswomen’s Association of SA’s (Bwasa’s) student chapter programme, which was launched at Wits two months ago.

Already, in this short time, they have attracted nearly 200 student members when only 40 are required by the university to start an organisation on campus. They’re clearly filling a need.

“We have a good rapport with the Wits community already, as students ask us, ‘Where have you been all this time?’” says Mokoto (21), who comes from Brakpan.

“We’re not industry specific because students doing dentistry,
education, psychology, journalism – anything – can join, as long as they’re women,” adds Makgato (22), who grew up in Orlando West and lives in Midrand.

Both lively, assertive and confident young women want to impart what they’ve already learnt about workplace demands, “so we can devise programmes that will help our fellow students”.

“Schoolgirls struggle, even those of us who come from a private, all-girls school like I did, because we are not prepared for the challenges that a university presents,” says Mokoto.

These include the sudden freedom of being expected to express yourself and the change from school learning to university academic life.

“We’re not psychologically prepared before we leave school,” says Makgoto.

Furthermore, the move from university into the workplace, writing a CV, preparing for a job interview and deciding what to wear for it can be scary.

Makgato is already working at a Joburg private bank and says that she wasn’t intimidated at all by the vast, sophisticated office. She said to herself as she rode the glass escalators, “I want my own company one day and I want it to look like this.”

Mokoto does not anticipate feeling overwhelmed when she first starts work, “thanks to the courses that Bwasa is organising for us”.

The Wits Student Chapter has already organised its first event, a panel discussion, in preparation for a speed networking event to be hosted by Bidvest on April 6.

It will be held at the head office of Bwasa in their KPMG building over the road from the university.

“It’s going to be formal and classy. We’ve had to prepare an ‘elevator pitch’ in which you summarise and present your attributes in the time it normally takes you to travel from floor to floor in a lift,” explains Makgato.

Leading women from Standard and Absa banks, from Unilever and Sasol will attend and share their knowledge and experience.

“Girls are shy on campus. They say ‘I’m sorry to bother you but…’ when they’re asking questions,” adds Mokoto. “We’re even nervous about speaking to each other.”

In this first year of the Wits Student Chapter it has Fast Track to Success as part of its programme. Topics that could be covered include leadership, entrepreneurship and fees must fall.

The chapter feels that it needs to be part of broader conversations in order to be truly a part of campus life. “We want to know why women who were protesting against fees last year decided to be bare-breasted. It’s a good talking point and we represent neutral ground,” say the two organisers.

As our interview flows, they discuss why men form networks so easily, are more “together-ish” and have a group synergy that women do not immediately create on meeting each other for the first time.

There is a need to unlearn early socialisation that insists girls perform certain duties at home, at school and even at university as stereotyped roles are perpetuated.

“I’m not confrontational when I’m expected to do certain ‘womanly’ things and I address the issue calmly. But some of us lash out in anger,” says Mokoto, adding “There’s a delicate balance.”

Makgato was drawn into creating the student chapter by her aunt, Matshepo Msibi, formerly head of strategy at the Gauteng Treasury and who now sits on the Bwasa exco.

“Leading Voices of Tomorrow is my aunt’s programme and I was one of four ambassadors for it. It empowers young girls through leadership training and mentorship.

“We met Kah Walla, leader of the opposition in Cameroon and she praised Bwasa for the work it is doing but suggested we could do more by empowering young women,” explains Makgato.

Bwasa hopes to roll out the university student chapter programme at two more universities before the end of 2017.

There is, therefore, much riding on the shoulders of the Wits Student Chapter, but with an already thriving group, the future for young graduates on its programme will be given a great boost

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