Rita Abraham
Rita Abraham

Diasporic women play a vital role in community affairs and they deal with the same kinds of issues, whether it the east or the west, believes Rita Abraham, a financial consultant based in Durban, South Africa, who is a third-generation South African of Indian origin.

Abraham has been closely involved with women’s issues since 1996, when she founded the women’s group - South African Women’s Forte.

Durban has the largest concentration of people of Indian descent in the country. It is sometimes called the ‘largest Indian city outside India’. The majority of South African Indians are third of fourth generation descendants of Indian migrants who came to South Africa during the colonial days.

In most cultural traditions of the world, it falls to the women to be the bearers of tradition. They constitute the inheritors, those who pass on these traditions in turn. Diasporic women play a vital role in community affairs, says Abraham. “We are affected by the same kinds of issues. We realize it is the same kinds of issues whether it is the east or the west. Women still lack belief in themselves, though some Indian women have done great things, achieved great heights. Women have to learn from their experiences that they are not second best”, Abraham told The Indian Diaspora. It is the hand that rocks the cradle that rocks the world, she adds.

Rita Abraham founded the South African Women’s Forte, a not-for-profit organisation as a networking opportunity to empower South African women. In 2014, she was elected chairperson of the Women’s Council of GOPIO International for the second term. The Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) was formed in 1989 in New York to look after the interests of people of Indian descent. It now has chapters in most parts of the world where there is a sizeable population of people of Indian origin. The Women’s Council takes up issues of women in the diaspora and acts as a connector to Indian women in different parts of the world.

Indian women have had to struggle to make a place for themselves in South Africa. Her grandfather travelled from India to South Africa in the 1950s and settled in Durban. “It was my grandfather who used to tell me when I was a young girl – no one can take away your education. My family educated me, a girl child, even when it was difficult and not affordable during the apartheid regime.”

“I had an arranged marriage in the 1980s. Women can multi-task, but they do not take time off for themselves. Women lay the foundations in the home.”

Abraham is a financial advisor and, as she proudly exclaims, “a single parent with four children”. Abraham legally adopted her siblings, two brothers and two sisters, and brought them up after they lost their parents. Under South African law she had to legally adopt her siblings in order to become their guardian.

South African Women’s Forte is a non-racial organization, without religious and cultural differences which works according to its motto, “We do what we can for a better tomorrow”. It is open to women from all races and aims to empower women of South Africa in business and in the home arena. Among its annual activities is the organizing of a fund-raising event to raise funds for different charitable works that they adopt each year. “We adopt one charitable work each year for implementation. This year the organization is working to provide a green, children and parent-friendly, free day-ward for the KwaZulu-Natal Children’s hospital in Durban”, she explains.

According to Abraham, “no matter where we come from, we share a common belief that everyone has the right to a better life.”

(Shubha Singh can be reached at shubhasingh101@gmail.com) 

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