Ndileka Mandela on the Barriers of Equal, Female education

In the spirit of our Masterclass for a Brighter Future with Ndileka Mandela and Reetu Gupta, highlighting social change & activism, female & gender empowerment, social entrepreneurship, and scalable organizations for change, we’re thinking about what our headliner speaker Ndileka Mandela has to say about female education and her vision for education in South Africa.

In our third episode of our podcast Impact in the 21st Century, host Aaron Friedland talks with social activist Ndileka Mandela about carrying her grandfather’s name, finding a voice, and equal access to education for girls.

Ndileka Mandela is a social activist, author of ‘I Am Ndileka: More Than My Surname’ and the founder of the Thembekile Mandela Foundation, which seeks to continue the legacy of Nelson Mandela by promoting Health and Education Programmes in selected remote schools.

Aaron: In terms of African National Congress and some of your work, what was happening with female education with gender-based violence? What were some of the things that were taking place that led you to feel that you could actually come in and make a difference?

Ndileka: It was the act of poverty. It started in 2012 when grandad was sick, and a family friend had told me there’s a school that my grandfather went to and this school is in a state of disrepair. It was during that time that I was in that space of soul searching and a spiritual journey. So when this family friend came to me to say, “look, you need to go to the school” and I saw there were no proper facilities, there was no proper bathroom for them, it broke my heart to see children that are yearning for education have to be subjected to such living conditions. That said, when granddad started at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, he had two pillars that he felt were important in a child’s life especially in rural areas. That is health and education because he felt these two pillars were a bedrock of any thriving society and if we don’t change that, the cycle of poverty will never be broken…And we stumbled across a study done by the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa where it showcased that up to 3 million girls in South Africa do not attend school due to lack of sanitary pads. It was mind-blowing for me because I never thought in the 21st century, there could be a child that cannot go to school because of this. Because of my privileged self, it never entered my head that there could be a child without sanitary pads due to lack of resources. Then we started a flagship program called Pride of the Rural Girl, to galvanize funds to buy sanitary pads for these children on a five-year cycle. I saw children, girl learners in tears over a pack of sanitary pads. It was mind-blowing, that there are certain things that when you grow up in a privileged society, you never even think about because it becomes second nature. So those are the things that galvanized me to say, you know, over and above this, let us look at them.

Some children are gifted in the rural areas, but because they don’t have amenities, they slip through the cracks. And these are your next neuroscientists, the next people that can find a cure for cancer. Some children are so brainy but they don’t get to see it because all they lack is a person that can pick them up and say, “I will give you the tools to leapfrog to the next stage”.

I’ll tell you as well from personal experience working in Uganda and refugee settlements, for starters, we sponsor many scholars. They’re on five-year academic scholarships and there are two main variable criteria we use to choose them. The first is the highest academic performance, and the second is particularly vulnerable and particularly low income. By using those variables, we’re able to ensure that our dollars go the longest way, that they’re able to get to identify those future astronauts in the refugee settlements. And yet, keep them there. We’ve also done quite a few gender-based studies as they relate to sanitary pad usage in the refugee settlements, and have seen the same thing where learners female students are missing 50 to 60 days of school because they don’t have sanitary pads.

If you compound those 50 to 60 days from grade 8 to 12, it’s a year of schooling one girl loses. Which contributes to poor performance at the end of the high school year. That also talks to gender-based violence because they get abused. If you think about it, menstruation is a rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood. Some girls are now relegated to be abused, because they now have to traffic themselves to be able to buy the sanitary pads because in the rural areas, in poor communities, if you have to pick sanitary-ware against a loaf of bread, the loaf of bread is going to win every time.

So let me ask you a question. If you think about the year 2030, what is your vision for education in South Africa?

My utopian view for education is that every child is given the best education as they are given in private schools, because in this country, for your child to get the best education, they have to go to a private school, and not everybody can afford it. My dream is for every child to get as much quality education as an affluent person. There should be no difference in income streams that you can get a better education. My utopian education would be the same education, same level, same amenities for every child in South Africa.

When we talk about impact in the 21st century, what would you like to see done so that we can start to essentially build or retool or reeducate at this bottom level so that the boiling up that you’re referring to can be slowed down more sustainably? What type of things have to be happening as it relates to male and female education?

When we talk about impact in the 21st century, what would you like to see done so that we can start to essentially build or retool or reeducate at this bottom level so that the boiling up that you’re referring to can be slowed down more sustainably? What type of things have to be happening as it relates to male and female education?

Men need to have their conversations first, women need to have their conversations first because I will tell you, as women, we also have our issues. If we find a woman in the industry, we are more positive of other women as women… And these two can then share the experience that they have in terms of what is a woman, and men need to listen to women and vice versa. Until that happens I think, I believe that we’re going to keep running around in circles. Because we are not prepared to have honest conversations with one another.

…Aaron and Ndileka’s conversation continues in the podcast. Listen here.

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