Lumbiwe Lulu Limbikani believes women shouldn’t have to choose between their education, their families, and their careers.
“What if we let our partners play their role in supporting our dreams the same way we support theirs?”
When a friend of mine learned she had been accepted to pursue her graduate studies at the prestigious Harvard University, her first reaction was pride. She grew up an orphan and worked hard to get to the level she is at now in her career as an educational consultant. She had never imagined she would get an opportunity like this.
After reading the acceptance email, her next thought was about her two children. Her excitement died down amid all the questions she faced as a single parent. Could she take her children with her to the United States? Was that even allowed? Who wouldhelp take care of her two children if she were to pursue her graduate studies and advanceher career?
The day my friend received the news of her acceptance was International Women’s Day. Her dilemma reminds me of the choices so many women today must make to get ahead in my country, Zambia—and in the world at large.
At first, I wondered if it would have been easier for my friend if she had a partner. But itisn’t just single mums who struggle to balance family with their education and career. My colleagues who are married or have partners echo the same challenges.
One colleague shared with me that her friends and family members think she is a bad parent because her ex-partner has sole custody of their daughter. My colleague is still in college, so she does not live with her 8-year-old daughter and does not have the financial resources to support her.
“Does being a father or a mother not make both parents?” my colleague asked. “Is being a parent 25% for the father and 75% for the mother? Is a father less of a parent? Are they not both capable of raising children?”
Her question made me wonder whether men have the same thoughts when given similar opportunities. Do they think first of their children and then of their careers?
Women as humans should have the same access to opportunities as men. Whether we are married or not, have a partner or not, or are single parents, we have a right to education and career choice, with a social system in place to support that. We need policies that support our educational advancement as well as policies that support our families, such as maternal and paternal leave and child care.
As women, I think we also need to step up boldly to make our roles in relationships more equitable. For those of us women with partners, how are we treating them? Are we giving them room to be real partners? Or are we acting according to how society labels women?
Are we taking on too much of the caregiver role? Are we like the mother who goes out of town for work but constantly calls home to check if her partner has given the children a proper meal and a bath? Are we trying to be superwomen and not giving our partners the opportunity to share the responsibility?
What if we let our partners play their role in supporting our dreams the same way we support theirs? As we fight for gender rights, for more inclusiveness at the table, let us create space where men can come and take the positions we leave behind as we move forward. Each one of us has something important to contribute and a role to play. Women cannot do it all on our own. Even superwoman needs a sidekick!
I don’t want my daughter to face the same tough choices my colleagues and I face today. Change starts with treating my daughter the same way as my son. It starts with giving my nieces and nephews the same opportunities. It starts with raising children, especially girls, to understand that they deserve equal rights and access to the same opportunities.
I have found that my power to make change starts in my own home. I challenge everyone reading this to work for gender equality in your households just as you demand it in your community.
This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program. We believe everyone has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller!Learn more.
How to Get Involved
Join Lumbiwe in her work to support women and girls' rights, empowerment, and access to education in Zambia! Head to Facebook, where you can like her organization Cumacatu and follow their activities.