Opinionista Refiloe Nt'Sekhe 30 May 2017

Women are treated like second-class citizens

There is a war being waged on women and the state and its apparatus seem to be unable to curb this horrific trend. Furthermore, the situation is not helped by men, the perpetrators of violence against women, who fail to see the error in their ways.

It is well established that women are still heavily oppressed by a sexist and patriarchal society that treats women as second-class citizens. We have heard the harrowing stories of women having to subject themselves to sex pests in the workplace in order to get a promotion that they are overqualified for. It is known that women receive a lower level of pay when compared to their male counterparts; this is even the case in most sporting codes. Women who are victims of rape or physical abuse often speak of the second trauma when reporting these crimes to the police, when they are asked “what did you do to make him angry?”

Demographically, women are in the majority but the numbers would suggest otherwise.

Women make up the majority of South Africa’s population at 51%, but when you see the face of South Africa, whether it is in the public or private sectors, men are in the majority, meaning that women and their issues are not well represented. For example, according to the Businesswomen’s Association of SA census only 10% of companies are led by women; the number plummets to 2,2% when one refers to listed companies.

There is a war being waged on women and the state and its apparatus seem to be unable to curb this horrific trend. Furthermore, the situation is not helped by men, the perpetrators of violence against women, who fail to see the error in their ways by reflecting on their personal behaviour and those of their peers. The response to the #MenAreTrash illustrates this. Men responded by saying “not all of us are trash”. This defensive response shows that many men fail to grasp the message behind the campaign. As a man, if you are not “trash”, then the campaign is not directed at you, but equally so as a man who treats women as equals and calls out his friends when they mistreat women, you have a duty to conscientise your peers to the messaging behind the campaign.

The numbers speak for themselves around the physical abuse of women and the inequality of pay.

For example, Statistics South Africa’s (StatsSA’s) 2016 Demographic and Health Survey, which was published a few weeks ago, tells us that on average, 20% women older than 18 have been victim to physical abuse. The picture gets even bleaker when you dig deeper, because 40% of women who are divorced or separated reported physical abuse as the reason for the end of their marriage. The home, which is supposed to be a place of peace, is a war zone for many women. According to the Department of Justice 189,000 new applications for protection orders were made by women who needed legal protection from their partners. This is a shocking statistic that paints a dreadful picture of the status of women in South Africa.

The second-rate treatment of women also extends to the workplace, where on average women are paid 15% -17% less than their male counterparts, according to the Women in the Workplace research programme at the University of Johannesburg. We also look to sports where Banyana Banyana players are paid significantly less when compared to Bafana Bafana players, this is despite the fact that the female national team outperforms the male national side.

It cannot be the norm that women live in fear inside the home as well as in public. If we are to indeed build a better country, we need re-evaluate how women are treated, because the project of building a better country cannot happen while women are oppressed and subjected to the most horrific treatment. This is not a fight just for women, it is a fight for all of society. DM

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