MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN 2013/14
Jenna Clifford: Through the Fire
by Lisa-Anna Kolwa
A remarkable tale of struggle and survival... Like the fine jewellery she creates, the life story that culminated in her award-winning success embodies raw dynamism, struggle and passion. Enclosed in the glamour is the story of a woman who endured trials that she used as a catalyst for glory.
Jenna Clifford is a woman whom some may regard as a feminist during their initial engagement with her. This, she adamantly proclaims, is not her primal attribute. She regards herself as a humanitarian with a deep concern for all life forces, which she says need to be protected. Her particular passion is seeing the eradication of gender-based violence and crime. Believing that patriarchy is the cause of many social ills, she is of the opinion that she will see its demise in her
lifetime. This is based on the asserted belief that it has been used as a tool to oppress women and subject them to subservient social roles, thereby quashing the power that women innately possess.
“We live in a dual world,” she says, "a world in which men have used sexuality to dominate women and marginalise them through 'monism', the concept of life forces emanating from a singular masculine source." This she has a particular distaste for. In citing this, she states that she does not abhor men, but rather recognises the way they, too, are victims of socialisation that accustoms them to dominance, with the sins of the father falling upon the children.
Some of her earliest memories as a child involve not feeling safe in her own bed and wanting to escape her parental home – with survival being her primary objective. She grew to be one of the unprivileged, contrary to perceptions and beliefs at the time that all Caucasian people lived affluent lives. During that era, society was dominated by the Caucasian male, who controlled the fiscal, government and legislative sectors of the country. She lived in a home with parents who were in a marriage constructed on the basis of social norms. Her father was a dominant patriarch who used brute force to command. She never felt protected in her home, was bullied at school, and performed poorly, with the consequences of her troubled home adversely affecting her academic performance. Reflecting on this, Jenna opines that this is sad, not just for herself but more so for the vast numbers of children who are forced to live in this type of abusive environment. “Abuse is abuse”, she says with fire. To her, it signifies a lack of humanity and any particular form has equally crippling effects on victims. Her mother, too, was a victim of abuse and was raised in a single-parent home by a mother who worked seven days a week. She thus became the primary caregiver to her three younger siblings at the age of eight.
Jenna thanks God that she went through all she did as a child and credits her paternal grandparents’ good nature and stable home with providing her with a place of safety. Painful childhood experiences nevertheless gave her the strength to push through the obstacles that may have hindered her success. She does not fault her mother for staying in an abusive home. Although they were estranged for a period, the relationship has been repaired and she has been caring for her mother for many years. She has let the malice go, knowing and understanding that her mother was also a victim of circumstances. She knows you can only do better when you know better. However, to break the cycle of abuse, she has educated her daughters and has ensured that they have the capacity not to accept what they do not need to. Women are marginalised throughout the world because of a lack of education – they are culturally infirmed and their sexuality is used as a weapon of mass destruction. If they are educated, they are shunned. As evidence of this, Jenna points to the fact that the majority of women in senior leadership positions are single or divorced.
Women are disenfranchised – they own less than 1% of global property. The common mistake she sees women making is aborting their careers and their education because of the Cinderella complex, and not teaching younger women how detrimental this ideology is when they themselves realise its detrimental effects. She recommends that every woman read The Woman’s History of the World by Rosalind Miles. However, she is encouraged when she sees women waking up to the harm wrought by social structures and striving for change. She admires women like Oprah Winfrey, Hilary Clinton and Margaret Thatcher, women whom she views as iconic and breaking the social mould that sought to hold them back. The pivotal life lessons learnt from her experiences are: a person’s ability to “transit pain”; rejection of the status quo; becoming educated through the study of literature; that information and knowledge are power; do unto others as you would have them do unto you; and always take the moral high ground. The advice she would give her eight-year-old self is “hang in there kid, there is life with delayed gratification”. Reversing the role, her eight-year-old self would advise her to keep running, not leave anything unturned, and read more and learn more.
Jenna Clifford’s experiences bore a vision whose ideal is to see a world in which men learn to protect all girl children, not just their own. For in the world we currently live in she is adamant that the girl child is not safe in a world full of men. She implores women not to injure those who hurt them in retaliation, because this wrong will not correct or erase the injustice they have suffered. In making this call to women, she points to Nelson Mandela as an iconic example of vengeance being cancerous, but forgiveness victorious. For her, there is humanity in duality, in working together for the greater good of humankind.