It is not your responsibility to suppress the lingering sexual thoughts men have around your physical features or material attire.

I decided to write this letter to you, not to prepare you but, to help you understand the kind of world that you are bound to experience. I had the opportunity to speak at an event called Beyond the Red Tape this month – it being a month dedicated to celebrating and commemorating South African women – where a girl spoke about the term woman and where it comes from.

First of all, I’d like you to know that you are worth it. You are worth more than the stars and the moon, so don’t let anyone ever undermine your worth. One of the pressures you may face, in a world which is ever evolving and constantly changing, is how to stay true to who you are as an individual but most importantly as a woman. I want you to understand the art of loving yourself.

At this very moment I’m a university student who has just turned 23. I’ve been through more or less the average experience that a black African woman can go through and subjected to, in this world. There’s a lot of advice I could give you, but let me start with the basics. I would imagine that you are reading this as a 15-year-old girl. You may have been subjected to pressures of having sex, experimenting with your sexuality, as well as taking drugs and alcohol. But you may also be subjected to the beautiful things in life, like the ability to fall in love, have your first kiss, make best friends, and believe in something or someone.

But through it all, sometimes the world can turn on you.

I recall while growing up, I was told that white Barbie dolls were better than black ones. My adolescent peers at the time thought it was because their hair was easier to comb. For that I tell you to be proud of your locks. I was once told that the hem of my skirt was one centimeter shorter than what the school rules allowed. This was because my African hips and derrière would appetise the cravings of older male teachers, classmates, uncles and fathers. And for that I tell you, it is not your responsibility to suppress the lingering sexual thoughts men have around your physical features or material attire. I was once told that I am crazy, needy, greedy, rude and selfish because I cared about me. Yet at the same time, I was called over emotional, too loving, too soft, insecure, clingy, and a whole lot more just because I cared about my significant other.

Growing up as an African Malawian girl with two names, Takondwa and Karen, I can’t recall how many times I changed my name during introductions. If it’s Karen, I’d be asked why I am using a white name, and if Takondwa I’d have to deal with the way people butchered my name, and then if I’d opt for TK, which seemed easy, I was asked why I was erasing my identity. So in the end, it really doesn’t matter how you want to define yourself, as long as you are true to who you are.

In this world, everyone will have an opinion about you, who you are and how you should live your life. You will be told to believe that men are greater than women, that white is better than black, that light skin is better than dark skin, that skinny is better than being fat or thick or vice versa. If you abide in these distinctions you won’t be able to know where to stand. You need to love yourself always, no matter which side of the scale you stand. You are a woman and your greatest strength is your ability to change your mind.

At this seminar, the lady said it is because we possess something that no man on earth could ever possess. That is your womb. She said it is because we are the combination of two words, human and woman, that makes “womb”. And what makes the womb really special is its ability to give life. You are a life giving human and you hold the world in that four letter word – WOMB – blood losing, PMS-ing, hormone encroached, hollow, pear-shaped organ also called a uterus.

See our vulnerability for being a woman does not make us weak. It makes us strong. We lose red blood cells among other things up to seven days a month. My daughter, my sweetheart, the apple of my eye, heart and soul of my very being, created for me- like me, your vulnerability makes you human.

Promise me that as long as you possess that, you will remember that no man or woman will ever make you feel like you aren’t enough. Promise me that you will show love and care to others. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and give love to the world because in the end the world will give love back. Love your father and love your mother too, he is meant to keep you safe and I will be your guide. But most importantly love yourself because, even in this ever evolving and constantly changing world, your self-love should always remain constant.

Takondwa Karen Mwendera, Photo by Gypseenia Lion