Dynamic Citizen of the World - On the Issue of Discrimination
Sheila K. was born in Tanzania and raised in South Africa. She is the second born in her family, and as one of the eldest, she is considered a pathfinder, caregiver and decision-maker. Through the generosity of a family member, Sheila has been able to study law and human rights in Europe and the United States. Through these formative educational experiences, as well as her strong aptitude for travel, Sheila has been afforded the opportunity to step out of Africa and become what she calls a “dynamic citizen of the world.”
The injustice of discrimination plays a large role in Sheila’s life. While she feels somewhat empowered through her family and level of education, she laments a personal sense of subordination, as “gender and race discrimination pervades all facets of life,” in places that she has lived and visited in Africa and the West. Sheila contends that on a daily basis she faces positive and negative reminders of the fact that is: a) non-white or “of color”; and b) a woman. For example, Sheila has observed first-hand in Tanzania and South Africa that the disparity of wealth and lifestyle among descendants of white colonial settlers is vase, notwithstanding that the countries are now governed by Black governments. With regard to gender, Sheila notes that traditional expectations of women are still palpable in parts of Africa. For instance, women, by default, are tasked with being the primary caregiver in the family, whilst men are expected to be the primary bread-winner. This reality has been both positive and negative in Sheila’s life, as demonstrated by the fact that while people are generally approving of her academic accomplishments, they are also surprised and ask her why she struggled to obtain the level of education that she has, given that she may well end up married and confined to her marital home.
In addition to facing discrimination in the African context, Sheila has experienced discrimination while abroad. For instance, she has observed overt disparate treatment between herself and her white counterparts in day-to-day activities such as having to jump extra hurdles to access basic public services (i.e. accommodations), or subtle discrimination such as receiving substandard service in public establishments. Moreover, within the workplace, Sheila has noted stark gender discrimination such as pay disparities and the barriers to balancing work and the prospect of traditional “family life.” Notably, workplace disparities are less apparent in the West than in Tanzania, where most women do not have the option of juggling marriage and children, with an “office job.”
In an attempt to rectify such inequities, Sheila has recently started working at a US-based firm where she works on various class actions and out-of-court settlements related to issues of discrimination. She has also worked on issues related to race and gender. Sheila’s ultimate goal is to work at an international NGO that promotes development in Africa.
When asked if she had any words of wisdom for other women and girls, Sheila responded, “I would encourage them to value formal education.” And if she was given the opportunity to be “Leader for the Day,” Sheila would create incentives to make education a reality for women and girls, including through tax credits and affirmative action.
Having reaped the benefits of obtaining formal education and traveling the world, Sheila has broadened her conception of the human existence and gained a true understanding of structural inequalities as manifested through race and gender discrimination. She has also brought her insight from Africa to inform others of the barriers to development in her mother land. Sheila is a role model who acts with grace, poise and great insight—truly a “dynamic citizen of the world.”