As the world grieves the passing on of Winnie Mandela some newspapers in India and abroad chose to reduce her to being Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife, while reporting her demise. While most did mention her anti-apartheid activism, they found it compulsory to squeeze in her famous ex-husband’s name in the headline.

In a man-made world, our scale of achievements and recognition is different for men and women. It is very hard for women to attain individual recognition, sans the name of their husbands. It is especially difficult if the said partner is a celebrated figure.

When will society allow women’s achievements to come out of spousal shadow?

We have to accept the bitter fact that many people are unaware of Winnie Mandela’s contribution to South African society. Hence throwing in Nelson Mandela’s name increases the chance of people taking interest in the news. This is precisely what some news outlets did to get people’s attention. But this kind of reportage is unfair to Winnie Mandela’s legacy. It’s ironic that in her death, papers chose to resurrect a dead relationship in their headlines, over her accomplishments. Winnie and Nelson Mandela had been separated for good 22 years now. Yet somehow, the relationship looms over her.

For many, a woman’s individual achievements are not as important as her famous surname, or what the man in her life does. We recall how actor Patralekhaa was reduced to being Rajkummar Rao’s girlfriend recently when she too has a similar acting prowess and significant body of work behind her. Similarly, when Corey Cogdell won a bronze medal in Women’s Trap Shooting at Olympics 2016, a popular newspaper replaced her name with her husband’s job profile.

Reducing women to being someone’s wife is a form of identity theft.

Not only does it rob them of their credit, it somehow belittles their achievements. It shows them a social mirror which seems to say that “so what if you won a medal at Olympics or played a vital role to end racial discrimination. For us you will always be a wife, lover or ex-wife of a famous man.”

Wonder if some decades down anyone Googled Winnie Mandela, will it be fair to her social contribution, that the first thing to pop up on-screen is that she was Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife?

This is why we need to change the way we write headlines. It’s unfair to trade Winnie’s struggle to end apartheid, for her famous ex-husband’s name to get more clicks.

Picture Credit: The Standard

Also Read: South African Anti-apartheid Campaigner Winnie Mandela is Dead

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own

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