There can be no doubt that we have made significant progress in our freedom struggle to make gender equality a national priority over the last 21 years of democracy.
Our mothers and grandmothers, aunts, sisters who courageously challenged the unjust, racist and sexist system 59 years ago, would be proud of us. Today women are claiming their space in the public, private, civil and domestic arenas. Women are breaking the silence in poetry, song, and public speech to declare their pride as unique yet connected beings ready and able to contribute significant value to our beloved country.
We have come a long way to rise to the challenge President Mandela set for us that: “Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression. Our endeavors must be about the liberation of the woman, the emancipation of the man and the liberty of the child.”
We have made significant strides each of us by pulling others as we rise in the public and private sectors. The JSE leadership under Nicky Newton-King has led by example with eight of the eleven Executive Directors being women. In addition, the JSE has a woman as Chair of the Board. There has been a doubling of women CFOs in our private sector from 14% in 2012 to 32% in 2013. JSE listed companies that are doing less well, with only 34% of them having 25% or more women in senior positions, would do well to follow the example of those leading the JSE.
There are also laudable examples of deliberate investments in young people, and young women in particular, to change the profiles of our public service. Parliament, government departments, State Owned Enterprises, Academia, and many other entities, have been transformed from monoliths of male domination to creative spaces where men and women are working together to strengthen our democracy and build a more just society. We need to build on this progress to do even better.
The “diversity dividend”is paying off in both the public and private sectors. Women are contributing to transformation of institutional cultures resulting in better performance across all sectors. The mining, financial services, and the ICT sectors amongst others, have benefitted from the change in culture that women bring to business. Women strengths lie in their ability to foster greater collaboration, empathy, communicative, caring and affirming relationships.
We have also come a long way to able to acknowledge where we have fallen short. The Launch this week of Kwanele Enuf is Enuf Campaign against gender-based violence at UNISA signaled an important milestone. The Founder of Kwanele Enuf is Enuf, Andisiwe Kawa, has defied those who gang raped her 5 years ago by overcoming the pain, shame and confusion of that traumatic experience, to challenge all of us to confront the demon of violence and abuse in our society. She has built partnerships with civil society organizations as well as with the Higher Education Sector to make zero-tolerance for abuse and gender based violence policy part of our culture and lived reality.
The enthusiastic response of young men and women students, as well as the staff of UNISA led by the Vice Chancellor, Prof Makhanya, gave us hope. We are at last realizing that we cannot be free for as long as women and children are living in fear of abuse and violence. Young men, inspired by Mbuyiselo Botha, the Communication and Government Liason of Sonke-Gender Network, pledged to accept responsibility for redefining their manhood away from the need to dominate towards more respectful and complementary relationships with women.
Our resilience that has seen us through the horrors and injustices of apartheid is again called upon to challenge the continued dominant patriarchal values that rob us of the talents of more than half the population – the women. Women are raising their voices and breaking the silence of abuse in private spaces. Civil society organizations such as People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), that are giving survivors of abuse and violence a chance to heal in the safe havens they provide, deserve our gratitude and support as a nation.
POWA goes beyond providing safety to support abused women to break their silence and heal themselves by writing essays and poems that are published annually since 2005. The 2014 collection entitled Perfectly Imperfect, has a poignant message for us: “Imperfect woman in an imperfect world with perfect faith as small as a mustard seed, but one day it will move mountains.”
Let us honour those who fought for freedom by ensuring that ours becomes known as a society where men and women work together as equal partners. We will then be able to build monuments for our children and grandchildren. DM
Mamphela Ramphele is a Trustee of Nelson Mandela Foundation.
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