We recently asked you to take part in our Female Nation Survey where we asked you questions about your personal life and the world around you.

One of our reader’s felt the survey didn’t give her enough room to engage with the questions. So here are her elaborated answers on the implications that society, sex and the workplace have on women.

Women24: Do you think having children limits your career growth?

A: There is nothing inherently career-limiting about having children. Women (just as men) are able to function and thrive in multiple capacities. However, there does seem to be a set of structural disparities that pose unique challenges to women who have children.

For one thing, patriarchy has decided that as the sex that bears children, women are also automatically imbued with the qualities necessary to care for them. Thus, the 24-hour 365-day burden of child-rearing is one that almost unfailingly falls onto women.

Of course, it is very few women who are so perfectly fulfilled with raising their kids that they choose to do nothing else. And even fewer who can afford that choice. So we work. Many of us work within strongly patriarchal cultures that were intended for men who have no breastfeeding, nappy-changing, illness-nursing responsibilities.

The very organization of most places of work therefore makes very little room for women who have those responsibilities. For example (and here, I draw from the Anne-Marie Slaughter article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All), the rigidity of modern work schedules and the insistence that work be done in the office.

The fact that so few women have managed to achieve incredible success within these bounds, I think is evidence that we work within a system that does not take into account women’s specific needs and therefore is not meant to have women succeed.

Indeed, when you consider that among the most successful women in the world, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Lindiwe Sisulu, Susan Rice, Sheryl Sandberg, and Slaughter herself to name a few, the great regret they all have in common is not having spent more time with their families – a huge sacrifice.

So as things currently stand, work is not conducive to women enjoying a balance between work and family.
So to answer your question, it is not the having children that limits women from achieving success. It is the patriarchal culture that dominates most places of work that puts an oppressive amount of pressure on women who have children, making it nearly impossible to grow and succeed.

And now for my own thoughts...

Thank you doing this survey, and particularly one that addresses such varied aspects of women’s lives. I am sure that with the growing number of media publications who have launched women’s sections in the recent past, there is a realisation that women’s issues sadly do not make the mainstream newsreels.

The women we hear most about on TV are victims of rape and abuse, poor civilians waiting for government housing or ditzy celebrities who have no interest in anything but their “brand”.

Very rarely do we hear of women who are sitting in decision-makers’ chairs, women who have defied the odds and changed the world (and I do believe they exist) or community workers who are effecting change.

I am most interested in hearing about these stories. I hope that you contribute to presenting a more nuanced, richer view of South African women. It’s about time we truly had a voice!

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