You Give Me Permission to Be

As I was preparing for my talk with the Visible Women Talking Circle which was held in New York City on the topic of “Redefining Mentorship“, I kept asking myself what the people who often tell me that they look up to me would wish to hear from me.

There is a common saying in my country (Malawi) – I am not certain if it is global… that “When you empower a man, you empower one man. When you empower a woman, you empower a village.

Visible Women Talking Circle

Mentorship is not quite something I have ever actively sought out. As I reflect, I realise it is because I have always constantly been surrounded by great mentors, my parents being the very first of the pack.

As I prepared for the talk, I kept thinking about my mother, who has been on my mind more so lately, than before. As we commemorate a year since her passing, my family and I feel so deeply wrapped in her embrace, in everything that we do and take on.

I reflected a lot on what an incredible privilege it was to have grown up in the light of a mother like mine – a visible woman. Growing up, everyone knew us as “Ana a Mayi Manduwi (translating to ‘Mrs. Manduwi’s children‘)”. There was a depth of pride, and their faces absolutely lit up in a way, whenever they expressed that sentence. She was a star in her own right – the first female ship captain of Malawi (the only for a while), who went on to become a Principal of the Marine College of Malawi, and later headed so many high-level institutions, while also establishing several of her own.

I come from deeply matrilineal country, and I realise (more clearly now) that women are in fact supported and embraced in my culture, especially in local dynamics. We have female chiefs, and female leaders at all levels of society. When we are being absolutely honest, and we dive deeply into our precolonial past, I think that African culture has always viewed women with respect and admiration; as fully human – something I have sometimes felt lacking in western culture. I often fault colonialism for the misogyny it brought to our beautiful lands – something I still deeply believe shall forever be foreign to us.

Growing up, I had only one definition of a woman – a woman had to be great. My mother was an incredible woman, the standard was set. Hearing people ever in awe of my mother’s achievements set the tone that people had to ever be in awe of my achievements (a different dynamic for me that I recently personally unpacked, and I am still unlearning).

As I was growing into the woman I am today – the woman I am still becoming, then and now separated from the shield and embrace of my mother, I started to feel a world that did not view me as I viewed me. I started to experience a world that expected me to show up as less – a world that almost did not want me to be visible.

Misogyny (and structures of the patriarchy) shake me to this day, because it is not something I was familiar with for the majority of my upbringing.

I realise now, what an incredible privilege it was to have grown up with the greatest girl-dad, and feminist (ally) I have ever seen. I realise what a blessing it was to have been raised in such an incredibly feminist society – a society where being woman was never considered less than.

A recurring theme among all the speakers was how seeing other women existing in their authenticity, gave them permission to also be/do. It made me realise even more so deeply how seeing my mother be, gave me permission to be.

Watch this video for a brief snippet of my talk with Visible Women.

When I was recognised by the European Union in Malawi as one of Malawi’s 16 Power Women (I, the only one under 40) in 2022, we had a networking cocktail with all the EU Ambassadors in Malawi, and we got a chance to share with them briefly about our work and business ventures. Closing the event, The Ambassador of the EU to Malawi, Mr. Rune Skinnebach made a comment about how almost every woman who was recognised that night was a second generation powerhouse. Every woman in the room spoke of how incredible their mother was.

Team EU Meets Malawi’s Power Women | International Women’s Day, 2022

As I reflect now, I realise now how having a visible mother and having several visible women around me allowed, and continues to allow me, to step into myself – to exist fully authentically, and be visible too. I realise how by being visible, I have had access to communities and resources I potentially would not have had, had I not been visible.

I have had the privilege of never being short of mentors, and I reckon it is because I have always been visible. Amidst some bits of misogyny I have endured, I have also experienced plenty love – so many men and women who have embraced me at several stages of my career, and in their different ways protected me and my light, to keep me visible (I’d spend the entire day naming them – you know yourselves, and I am incredibly grateful for you).

I went on to establish a coaching, training, and mentoring institution – an institution that deeply centres women in it’s leadership, human resource and programmes, because I do deeply appreciate how the same coaching and mentorship has brought me thus far, and I intend to pay it forward.

I reckon how giving mentorship to others actually teaches me more – expands my horizon, in ways much different from how receiving mentorship ever could. People get to introduce me to their worlds, as opposed to I introducing people to my world.

I realise how we owe it not only to ourselves, but to all the young women around us – how they do in fact need to see us being visible, so they can break out of their shells, and be visible too.

Pen & Brush, New York City, 2023.

So here is a brief letter from one visible woman to all the visible women out there – Thank you for existing. Thank you for living fully in your truth. Thank you for being you. You give me permission to be.

To Stacey – thank you for having me. Your work is deeply incredible, keeping women visible.

All my love,


Connect with me on social media. Let’s stay in touch.

Learn more about my journey in Digital Media in Malawi here.

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