By Tina Soetzenberg
While we celebrate Women’s Month, we are not only reminded about the brave women of the past and how they influenced the future, but we remember that women standing together as one, can lead to incredible developments and advancements for all, in our society.
Stay at home mom, blogger and community development practitioner, Jonelle du Pont, is one woman that firmly believes in standing together and helping one another out. She has dedicated her time to doing just that, through her Women Empowerment Programme.
Originally born in Swaziland, Jonelle moved to Cape Town to attend the University of Cape Town, where she fell in love with the hustle and bustle of the mother city. She knew that once her Undergraduate Degree was complete, she would make Cape Town her home. It’s been 14-years and the now stay-at-home mom, has not looked back.
After marrying her husband in 2012, the two eventually decided to start a family and in 2015, little Oden was born. However, due to birth complications, which left Jonelle in a coma, she was forced to face a new adventure. Six surgeries later and two-years of intense recovery, she is finally back to her old self, eager to help other women in need of assistance.
Now, and with her extensive educational background in social anthropology, politics, diversity studies and a Masters in social development, Jonelle has put all that studying into practice by launching the Women Empowerment Programme, to assist women looking to enter the job market. She does this by helping them to build their CVs, providing career assistance, skills analysis, interview preparation, as well as assisting them with job hunting. Striving to enable change and promote empowerment, Jonelle believes strongly in taking a bottom up approach to development and capability enhancement.
While actively helping South African women reach their goals, she also finds time to write. She created her blog, Tyranny of Pink, in-order to celebrate an authentic way of life. Her blog is filled with relatable and motivating stories, as she chooses to write about resilience in the face of adversity and being proud of who you are.
We spoke with the loving mom, and writer about her growing empowerment programme, her challenging journey and how she remained strong throughout the years.
- You’ve been a strong advocate for the empowerment of women, why did you always feel the need to help women?
I grew up in a family that respected the strength of women and I was encouraged to go after my dreams. My grandfather always taught me to take care of myself and make sure that I don’t have to rely on anyone else to make my dreams come true. I really relate to the saying, “empowered women empower women” and because I’ve been in the privileged position to go to university and fulfil my dreams, I think it’s important to support others who are trying to make something of their lives too.
I guess I just feel that if we all do a little for the next person, we will raise communities from hardship. All it takes is one hand up to the next person and before we know it, everyone is standing next to us. It’s important to value the power of women and how much they can do for their own families.
- What inspired the Empowered Woman Programme and what is the programme about?
The Empowered Woman Programme is about helping other women stand a little taller. We provide free guidance and support for South African women who are unemployed and need advice or suggestions about finding a job or starting a business. The aim of the programme is to help more women find jobs or start their own businesses.
It’s a community where women can come for help about job applications or CV assistance or just reassurance that they aren’t alone. Job hunting is a long and often depressing journey and knowing that there are others going through what you’re going through can be the little bit of encouragement you need.
- How many women have you helped?
I’ve probably edited and advised about 40 women on their CVs but there are currently around 230 members in the group. On a week by week basis I get a few emails asking me about jobs or jobs that are advertised but look like they might be a scam so I spend a lot of time researching positions out there. The group hasn’t been around very long but I’m hoping that as we grow, more women will be helping each other.
It’s not just about what I can do for them but what we can do together. There are a lot of women in the group who aren’t unemployed but are industry experts and business women and are a great resource to other women.
- Why do you think it’s vital for women to help one another?
I think that we live in a man’s world. Everything is harder for women and being a woman is more challenging just because you’re born a particular sex. We have to look out for each other and support each other. Instead, we often end up competing for the little space at the top that’s allocated to women but if we all work together then we can rise as a unit.
We need to make space for each other as we climb to the top. I truly believe that women are the backbone of society and the way to empower them is to make sure that they have the same opportunities available to them that are available to men. We need to see that girls get educated and that women find employment so that they can continue the cycle of growth in their own families.
- From a woman’s perspective – what has been your greatest challenge in life and starting this programme?
I think probably being taken seriously. People often undermine your intelligence as a woman so even though I’m an expert in my field, I get a lot of resistance to my ideas. I’d say trying to juggle my paid work and helping as many people as I can. I often get sent emails or inbox messages from men asking me why I can’t help them with their CV’s. In all honesty, I’d like to help everyone but I am forced by time and work commitments to choose who I help.
If this was a funded programme and it was my full-time income then that would be a lot easier. I’d be able to do more for more people but realistically, I’m just one person. I’m juggling working, being a mother and trying to do my part for South African’s too! It’s not an easy thing to balance.
- When did you start your blog, Tyranny of Pink? And what inspired you to start writing about living an authentic life?
In October 2014, I found myself unhappy with my life and the path it was leading me down. I was that person trying to make everyone happy, living a life that no longer served my purpose. So, I quit my full-time job and decided it was time to do things that make me happy! I started my blog in January 2015 after a road trip that made me reassess what really matters to me. In September that year I had my son Oden. His journey into this world nearly killed me and I found myself in ICU and on life support. I woke up post-surgery with an unexpected stoma and my whole life completely changed.
I found myself fighting desperately not to die. What that experience really showed me was that I am finally living my authentic life and being exactly who I am meant to be. I made a promise to myself to never try to live up to anyone else’s expectations or try to be anyone I’m not. I write about my experiences as a way of showing other people that it’s completely possible to be who you are and not who the world expects you to be.
- What is living an authentic life about?
It’s about being true to yourself and what you want for your life. An authentic life means ignoring what people expect you to do in favour of what you want to do and being strong enough to go with that. We all have dreams that we are afraid someone will laugh at so instead we stick to the safe route.
Living your authentic life is saying people may laugh at me or they may not agree with my choices but this is what I want to do and then doing it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. If you fail, then you fail but at least you won’t look back on your life and wish you’d tried.
- What is the best advice you can give someone looking to start a career?
A common complaint I hear from young people is the double-edged sword. You need experience to get a job but you need a job to get experience. And they ask how are they ever supposed to do that so instead they sit around unemployed. Instead, go and volunteer. Volunteer your free time, even just one day a week. Build up a portfolio of volunteer work while at the same time learning new skills and meeting new people. Prospective employers will see that you were committed even when you weren’t being paid and they will respect that about you. Also, get someone to proof-read your CV.
Small mistakes that are easy to fix could cost you a job. And in the digital age, be very careful of what you’re sharing on social media. Companies research candidates and sharing something without any thought could be the reason you don’t get hired. Lastly, don’t lost hope, finding a job probably won’t happen overnight. It’s a long and exhausting process but the more effort you put in, the more likely you are to succeed.
- What has been your greatest success story?
This programme is still so brand new but so far, I’m really proud of how fast it’s growing. There are requests to join the group every single day and I regularly get sent CV’s by women needing suggestions on how to improve them. I think the success is in the hand holding that happens. The feeling less alone by being a part of a group. Joining the group doesn’t mean you’re going to find a job over night but it does guarantee that you won’t be alone during the journey.
- What does the future look like for your Empowered Woman Programme? Do you have further plans?
I’d love to see it grow into a full-time role where there’s a job centre that people can come to with computers and internet. I’d love to help people by providing transport to and from interviews and with an outfit to wear to the interview. I’d love to offer workshops on acing your interview and other job-related topics.
I run the group with Karin Shoeman. Karin started out as a member of the group but she was so active and involved that I jumped at the chance to invite her to be an admin in the group. She’s great at providing resources on starting businesses and getting funding etc. She also really knows how to get people talking to each other and I think our skills are well balanced. I’d love to see us grow this space into something where people can come to us for help and we can provide more than digital support!
Jonelle chose to spend her life helping other women reach their career dreams, empowering them to become powerful forces within society. She never expected to find herself in a fight for her life but instead of letting that experience bring her down, she decided to stand taller than ever. She is walking proof that a resilient woman can face anything and still live to tell the tale.