Globally, womxn, young womxn and adolescent girls are disproportionately affected by gender inequality in healthcare, education, economic opportunities and gender-based violence. The Clinton Global Initiative found that when a country invests in educating more girls, the gross national product per capita of that country increases by half a per cent. When womxn have economic opportunities, they invest 90% of their earned income back into their families and communities, compared to men who only spend 35%. In South Africa, we have inspirational, courageous, resilient, humble, respectful, passionate, responsible, authentic leaders, from the past and present who have championed for gender equality, starting in their communities.
Motshedisi Adelaide Likate is an internationally and nationally acclaimed community change agent of QwaQwa in the Eastern Free State. She founded the Motshedisi Likate Foundation to empower young womxn and girls to reach their fullest potential. She has made an impact on more than 7,000 girls nationwide through non-profit organizations that she started and collaborated. At the age of 16, she established Bet She Can, a non-profit organization, to empower and motivate girls through seminar series and workshops. She has also made donations of sanitary towels and developed academic extra-curricular activities to assist girls to stay in school. In 2016, she started the Thuto ke Lehakoe Literacy programme, where she has helped more than 50 children to read and write in the medium of instruction: English. Because of her passion for education, Motshedisi is studying Early Childhood Development at the Maluti Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College situated in the Northern Eastern Free State.
In 2019, Tshedi served as the Secretary of the Student Representative Council at the college, Bethlehem campus. Additionally, she was awarded an overall top achiever across the eight Maluti TVET college campuses. One of her proudest moments from the past year was when the TVET Colleges Student National Debate competition in September acknowledged her as one of the 30 best speakers in the debates. She is a beneficiary of the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture Series that aims to drive people to engage in dialogue to address the challenges that humanity faces today. As a beneficiary, she serves soup to sixty-seven people living in poverty every year in July around Madiba’s birthday.
Tshedi is a girl champion for gender equality who has been a guest speaker in numerous local, national and international establishments that include, but not limited to the: Sisonke Youth Clubs, Tshiame Youth Club, South African Association of Youth Clubs, Soul City Institute Rise Young Women’s Clubs, Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, Save the Children, Children’s Parliament and the Department of Social Development. In the past year, she was honoured by the Deputy Minister of Social Development for her contributions in youth development. In the same year, the Youth In Action Organization celebrated her for her dedication and devotion to the emancipation of young womxn and girls in QwaQwa.
I spoke to Tshedi about how she found her voice, the challenges that she faced in her community engagement on educating, empowering and advocating for gender equality, as well as advice she might have for emerging African womxn leaders.
In the video above, in an interview with the Department of Social Development on improving your community, you said: “I am the voice of young womxn and girls from my community.” With the long-time investment of the Department of Social Development in your community development initiatives, you use your voice in decision-making tables in the British Council. How did you discover your voice? How did you start using your voice to advocate for gender equality in your community?
Motshedisi: As a young girl, I was always interested in community development initiatives. My church and school were the platforms that I used to start pursuing a life as an agent of change. That is where I discovered my voice and became a powerhouse in progress. In 2016, I decided to trust myself and fly with my wings. I started by approaching a school in my community, Mohale Intermediate School, where I presented an idea that I had to the school principal. Not very sure of how things would unfold, he agreed to give me access to only 20 girls with the assistance of one of the Life Orientation teachers to oversee and guide. Since that day, I never looked back.
I built a network with different stakeholders and started serving my girls in ways that I could. Additionally, I always ensured that any help my girls received back then and now is towards their holistic development. Towards building my skills and knowledge, I started being active and visible in rooms where other organizations hosted events such as community dialogues, imbizos (i.e. community meetings), workshops and pieces of training amongst other community enhancement initiatives.
In 2017, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Goalkeepers honoured you for your efforts in achieving the fifth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG): Gender equality, through the establishment of your foundation, the Motshedisi Likate Foundation. What programmes and initiatives empowered and supported you on your journey to achieving your dream of empowering young womxn and girls in your community? What were some of the lessons that you learnt, which were invaluable to you when you started your foundation?
Motshedisi: Soul City Institute Rise Young Women’s Clubs played a significant role in helping me become who I am today. Other great organizations such as Save the Children, YALI, The Gates Foundation, The Moth, Dear Bella and my institutions’ Student Support Services at Maluti TVET College, supported me beyond measure.
Two lessons that I learnt from the programmes and initiatives mentioned above were to do what my heart sets out to do regardless of what the world says. Also, I learned to accept that to some (people) I will be perceived as a threat, instead of being seen as someone they can collaborate with to bring significant change.
What were some challenges that you have faced in your community engagement on girls’ education, women's rights, health issues and other issues in general? How did you resolve these problems?
Motshedisi: Lack of active participation because of fear, resistance to change, lack of information and resources. I was triumphant over these challenges because I created a network of women in different sectors, such as education and health. They would show up in my engagements and get involved, and they helped a great deal as plenty of girls walked away with correct information. Additionally, some received referrals to get the necessary professional help. Collaborating with other NGOs also helped to resolve these challenges.
In terms of funding, I relied on individual donors and my small business of selling lollipops at schools that I would visit for motivational talks to keep going. Elders who feared change, especially what development would bring to their daughters’ lives in the community – was a big challenge. I prevailed over this challenge by creating good stakeholder relationships with community leaders such as Chief Leabua Mopeli, nurses and teachers who assisted a lot in making sure that the parents understood the mission and vision of Motshedisi Likate Foundation. I also used churches as a venue to hold awareness campaigns, which helped immensely.
What have been the most memorable moments in your community development and leadership journey thus far?
Motshedisi: My most memorable moment was the opportunity to meet Barack Obama at the Goalkeepers ceremony. Hearing him declare how proud he was of me drives me to keep going, even on the days when I feel like giving up. Nothing beats the greatness of being acknowledged by one of the world’s greatest leaders. That always reminds me that I am the best, and I was born to be the change that I want to see. Additionally, being on tables of decision-making reassures me that through me, the voices of girls in QwaQwa are being heard and taken into consideration.
Another memorable moment was when I helped a girl, and her mother to mend their ineffective communication and relationship. I was at a local clinic preparing for World AIDS Day when a nurse asked me to help them with a situation where a mother brought her child who had not been sleeping at home to the clinic to get contraceptives without even explaining to her. So, when I got there, I listened to both stories. The girl was refusing to get the contraceptive injection. When I addressed them individually, I discovered that a lack of communication played a huge role in the situation. We, then, came together and shared solutions on how they can fix their relationship. Forgiveness was encouraged, and love that was full of patience towards one another.
Six months later was the ultimate, when the mother contacted me to thank and inform me that things were better between them and her daughter was attending classes. That was in 2017.
In 2011, you advocated for the importance of girls receiving quality education at the European Week of Action for Girls in Belgium. In the same year, you attended the G7 Paris Health Ministers’ Meeting, where you gave recommendations regarding quality healthcare services for women. In 2017, you were chosen by Save the Children South Africa to represent them in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. In 2018, you played soccer to advocate for the promotion of gender equality in the Global Goals World Cup. What role do you think citizens, civil society organizations and government can play towards the advancement of gender equality in South Africa?
Motshedisi: The public sector stakeholders need to start being actively involved in the endeavours that the private sector, in the form of NGOs, are already doing – actively involved. The role that they can play is to ensure that solutions and policies created to promote gender equality become effectively implemented in all provinces across South Africa – leaving no rural area behind. They should also ensure that they appoint competent people to be at the forefront and on decision-making tables of working towards achieving Goal 5 of the SDGs. Citizens should also be actively involved and practice the notion of “nothing about us, without us.”
Who were the most influential womxn in your life? What did they teach you?
Motshedisi: Social worker, Khomotso Vuma, contributed a lot to what the Motshedisi Likate brand continues to become today. Aus Khomotso taught me to go after what my heart sets on doing and trust my definition of love in all that I do. She taught me to approach everyone, whether young or old, in the space with respect and humility. “That will open many doors of opportunities,” as she would say. She also taught me to continually remain informed and never be afraid to ask for help when I need it.
My mother, Paulinah Mokhampane, whew! The most supportive womxn! She had to shift from her comfort zone to accept and see me not only as her daughter but also an advocate who will always bring information and uncomfortable changes inside the house before going out to the community. She had to adjust to the womxn that I was becoming and familiarise herself with everything that I stand for, especially issues on sexual and reproductive health rights. She is a womxn who always prays for me daily and encourages me to be patient in all that I do. My mother incredibly values education, and she always advises me to become educated in ways that I can and never feel pressured by time.
You are a dog bite survivor, and you have a scar on your leg. What are some of the affirmations that you say to yourself when you are feeling insecure? How did you learn to accept your imperfections?
Motshedisi: “You are a lioness arising, never compromise yourself.”
“You are everything, baby girl, excel in all you do.”
“It had to happen so that your light can shine upon the lives of their young women and girls.”
“Believe in yourself - you are all you’ve got.” I could take the whole day.
I learned to accept my imperfections the day I walked out of the doors of the Medi Clinic after a session with my psychologist, which made me understand that it was entirely up to me. I started to wear dresses often and embraced my scar. I also started to share the story with others, which helped me a lot. One of the things that helped me to accept my imperfections fully the day I got discharged from the hospital was to repeatedly replay the words of the late Nkono Mamosikili in my head, which go like this:
“God has marked you as one of His powerful forces through this scar. Greater things are coming, and the very same scar you are currently crying about right now is to help me become one of the world’s greatest women, a true consoler like your name. Naledi entle ea meso etlo khaola lefifi [A star that takes us from the darkness of the night towards the light of the morning].”
― Nkono Mamosikili
If you could have dinner with a leader who is either dead or alive, whom would it be and why?
Motshedisi: Malala Yousafzai. Her bravery and boldness inspire me to work hard every day. She is the same age as me, and yet she has achieved a lot by turning her pain into a testimony and continues to advocate for girls’ education fearlessly. She is the definition of everything can be possible. You only need to take a step. Malala is an epitome of hope for every young womxn across the world, including myself. Her story ignites a fire in me every day.
What is your advice to emerging young African womxn leaders?
Motshedisi: Work on being the best version of yourself every day and stand firm in what you believe in – the world will adjust. Do not be afraid to leave tables where empowerment and development are not part of the agenda, and in all that you do always know that: Yes, you can! Ke nako [It is the time]!
“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
― John Lewis
What are your hopes for young South African womxn and girls for the future?
Motshedisi: My hope for South African womxn and girls is to use unity, integrity, and the spirit of ubuntu to create a country where females are not the most vulnerable population group to experience unpleasant happenings like gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS. I hope we become brave enough to speak up when we do not appreciate something.
An incident happened a few months ago at a hotel, where a male staff member came to get clothes to iron. While I was wearing a gown, I opened the door and gave him the clothes. His reaction and tone was a bit flirty, which left me confused. When I went to breakfast, I asked for him and told him I did not appreciate his reaction and spoke my heart out. That took a brave girl (inside of me) to do that.
I hope many womxn and girls could be just as courageous even towards the remarks we get when walking down our streets. I hope we can finally use our competencies to advocate fearlessly for our rights, especially our sexual and reproductive health rights. Lastly, I hope we never become intimidated to take leadership positions and become the best versions of ourselves.