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19 October 2021
A career built on a passion to empower women
Shireen Motara is passionate about unlocking the potential of women on the African continent, addressing gender inequality, and creating tangible social change. The University of the Western Cape (UWC) alumna has pursued these passions throughout her career and today holds many roles focused on empowering women – from being a certified coach to entrepreneur and Founder CEO of Tara Transform, to a keynote speaker and contributor to various podcasts, blogs, and publications.

“My parents were activists. My father was involved in the UDF and the Benoni Student Movement, and my mother was a social worker. Human rights were a big part of my life growing up and I wanted an environment that considered that.”

She decided to study dentistry and enrolled for a BSc degree, but later changed to the BProc degree programme.

During the 1994 elections, Motara worked as an observer in small towns like Vredenburg thanks to UWC Street Law, which provides preventative legal education to various communities.

“It was a rude awakening to the injustices that farm workers suffered,” she says.

She also formed part of a feminist group, Kopanang, which was part of UWC’s Gender Equality Unit.

After graduating, she struggled to find a law firm where she could do her articles. Instead, she worked at Multichoice as a customer service consultant – the first job she could find.

She jokes: “I now know how to fix a DSTV dish when it gives you problems.”

Four months later, her mother saw the perfect job for her advertised by Tswarangang Advocacy Centre to End Violence Against Women. Motara applied and got the job.

“I was able to work on the legal aspects of violence against women, improving the laws, reviewing new laws, training NGOs to understand the Constitution, learning how the law can be used to support women affected by gender-based violence, and conducting research.”

She also worked for the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) Human Rights Research and Advocacy Project as a researcher and trainer focused on maintenance and the Constitution for unions and other structures, and the Commission for Gender Equality. In 1998, She was involved in the implementation of the Employment Equity Act for government and conducted awareness training on the Act for private sector staff.

Motara holds an LLB, a Master’s degree in Law, and postgraduate diplomas in Human Resources, Business Administration, and Coaching. Her career has veered between human rights and organisational development, allowing her to work with the South African National Treasury, the United Kingdom’s Treasury, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and NPOs like the Women’s Legal Centre. In her consulting business she focuses on gender, women’s rights and strengthening the non-profit sector while she supports individual women to advance their life, career, and business goals through her coaching practice.

While UWC played a big part in her development, it is her mother she credits with initially igniting her passion for empowering others.

“UWC strengthened what I had learnt from my parents and made me resolute about how I want to live my life and who I want to serve.

“My mother raised me on her own and for her there was no doubt that I would go to university. Other than the bursaries I received, she supported me. She passed away in 2010 and while she would never call herself a feminist, she lived her life caring and giving of her time and resources to others. She is the person who shaped me, not because of what she said, but because of how she lived.”