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Local feminist Jen Thorpe chats to three South African women about how much progress we are making towards empowering South African women in 2015.

Lebogang Mashile, 35, Poet, performer, presenter, actress, speaker


Biggest Achievement: My mother went from hating my career choice 15 years ago to managing me six years ago. My greatest treasure is my son. Becoming a mother has deepened my understanding of feminism.

Female Icons: My mother, my great-grandmother, Sindiwe Magona, Winnie Mandela, Bessie Head, Miriam Makeba.

Why is feminism important? People still struggle with the notion that a vagina and a brain can co-exist in the same body and with the idea that women's bodies, time and lives are entirely our own.

The most positive thing that you see emerging for women in South Africa? I see a plethora of women artists, writers and thinkers who defy mainstream expectations of women. These women are inspiring legions of young people to find their own voices.

Words to live by: We are all artists creating our stories on the canvass of life.

Sisonke Msimang, 40, Writer

Feminist work? My most public feminist work is in my writing these days, and my most private feminist work is in raising a daughter and a son, and striving for a respectful and equal partnership with my husband.

Female icons? Brenda Fassie & Sojourner Truth were two remarkable women who did feminism in distinctly different but equally important ways.

Why is feminism important? Feminism is important because it explains our bruises and cuts; it gives us the tools to understand why we are oppressed and it tells us that it is not because we have done anything as individuals to call shame and hatred to ourselves.

The most positive thing that you see emerging for women in South Africa? From street protests to Twitter, from rural women's basket weaving groups to urban design collectives, we are more sure of ourselves and so, I think more comfortable being outraged or satisfied or angry or moved to laugh.

Words to live by? “I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”  Audre Lord.

Michelle Solomon, 27 , journalist and writer

Feminist work? I worked as the Silent Protest's media liaison for two years. At the moment I'm starting a weekly column with Women24 and some new projects on my website, I've also started and facilitate a self-care group for survivors of sexual violence called "In solidarity: a safe space for survivors of sexual violence" where survivors can share stories relating to self-care and finding healing.

Biggest Achievement? One doesn't join sexual violence activism for the accolades but I am particularly proud we’ve made the Silent Protest a national campaign in the last two years.

Female icons? I don't have a female icon. I have a mash-up of ideas and values that I live by that I've learnt from the best work from various feminists, scholars and activists.

Words to live by? Social justice for all.

Why is feminism important? How can feminism ever be unimportant?

Don't forget to buy our February issue, on shelf now, to read Jen Thorpe's article on women and empowerment in South Africa.

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