Opinionista Refiloe Nt'Sekhe 20 August 2017

Women’s struggle is made harder by the poor leadership of the likes of Bathabile Dlamini

As a woman, it was horrifying to hear the comments made by the Minster of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini, around the case of Higher Education Deputy Minister Mduduzi Manana.

For Bathabile Dlamini, as a woman, to call for no action against Higher Education Deputy Minister Mduduzi Manana undermines victims of abuse and also the challenges that women still face in South Africa. To even say there are other senior people who have done worse is indefensible and embarrassing. She is a woman leader and this is women’s month – many women look up to her to condemn abuse. Why hasn’t she spoken up or acted?

Women in South Africa still lag behind men due to structural inequalities, so women need to stand up against any form of abuse on women. And so do men.

We should also focus on the many issues that women face. There are so many big issues but we have to start somewhere. We know we live in a very patriarchal society and with this come obstacles.

In South Africa, there is an increase in violent crimes against women. Women are vulnerable everywhere. The increase in rape of our grandmothers living alone in villages is shocking and in some cases they are raped by those who they have raised. Living alone in rural communities, they become easy prey. Minister Dlamini should be more vocal. Instead she endorses the acts allegedly committed by Deputy Minister Manana by saying “there are others who have done worse”.

This year, we learnt with horror of a woman who was raped in a taxi in front of her 10-year-old son. After this incident, more women from around Johannesburg also revealed that they had been raped in taxis. To date, we have not heard of an arrest – only social media warnings to look out for certain taxis. One wonders what the unit called “crime prevention” in the police force actually does. What happened to the days when police went undercover to solve cases? It seems that the police just don’t care any more. It is left to other women to speak out, with silence from a woman in high office like Minister Dlamini.

In informal settlements where households share toilets, women become very vulnerable trying to get to the toilet in the dark.

Many rape cases go unreported. When they are reported, women often get poorly treated by the police, and the conviction rates are very low. Often, the women are made to feel that they asked for it, or others, like me, are told to go home and solve their domestic issues – with the police standing with the abuser or rapist. Sometimes even policewomen do this.

For years, the DA called for the ongoing update of the register for sexual offenders – this is supposed to be a public document. Has anyone seen this document? I want to know who the convicted sexual offenders are.

In many cases, after attending these traumatic trials women then go back into communities where they face the same people they had accused. How can they feel safe?

Within our communities, our girl children are being targeted by older men – the “blesser” syndrome – with disastrous consequences which have resulted in girls aged 15 to 25 having four times the prevalence of HIV and AIDS. Usually those targeting these girls are married men who will quickly move on from one girl to the next.

In my work in the social development sector, I am hearing that because of the increased access to ARVs, more people in South Africa are not bothering with protection. And this as our country has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world.

Teenage pregnancies are a very real challenge. Last year during the election period, I visited a village in North West where 3,000 girls had fallen pregnant. In some cases, the fathers were teachers. The chances of these girls going back to complete their education are very slim.

Human trafficking has become modern-day slavery: most people think it’s just prostitution but it has many more facets: prostitution is but one and usually goes hand in hand with the drug trade. People are sold for work without being paid for it (in farms as domestic workers), and body parts are in high demand on the black market. Young girls and women are more easily drawn into this world with promises of what they believe to be greener pastures or job opportunities like modelling. Most people never get out of this trade except through death.

Finding a solution seems complicated because it requires multi-departmental co-operation: Home Affairs (disaster with poor border controls), police (another disaster) and social development (disaster).

The people involved in or running these operations are very cruel. This industry is worth over $60-billion and has been named the biggest crime industry in the world today.

Luring someone into this industry is very easy – girls at Chesa Nyamas are attracted to the “hot guy” in the BMW. We must educate our girls not to get into the cars of boys and men they don’t know.

There are some sensitive cultural issues and practices which marginalise women in modern South Africa. Once upon a time, women used to be circumcised, but this has been abolished because it was acknowledged that it did not benefit the woman. We should look at our different cultural practices – and there are many that are beautiful and should be retained – and review which ones are still relevant today.

Our reality is that women are still challenged, living in a very patriarchal society. Many South African women stay in abusive relationships for various reasons but mostly because they are dependent on the abuser. There is an insufficient number of facilities (safe houses) available for women to move into with their children. Our social development programmes in South Africa do not move women from welfare to work – women stay in welfare and the system is not coping. If more women became more economically active and were able to take care of themselves and their children, it would be easier to leave their abusers.

In many corporate environments women still earn far less than their male counterparts. Sometimes women are overlooked for promotion because employers fear that they will fall pregnant and go on maternity leave. Although the law protects women, this type of discrimination is done in a subtle way.

Much still needs to be done to empower women in the workplace.

Being a women in a position does not mean we should lose our femininity. In fact, we should change things and push the feminine touch, especially empathy, into positions of leadership.

As women, we need to stand up for ourselves and for each other: we must stop turning a blind eye when we see another woman in trouble. Therefore Minister Dlamini’s call for no action is morally irresponsible.

Women who hold other women back are worse than abusive men. Women who protect an abuser by not calling him out while holding a position of authority are also guilty. As women leaders, we must encourage other women. When an opportunity is available, mentor other women so that they can be uplifted. When opportunities come, make them available to other women. Be a builder among fellow women.

To all the women of South Africa: for the sacrifices you make every day, as mothers, wives and as leaders, I salute you. As women, we must learn to be overcomers, not survivors. Let us write a different history for our children and grandchildren. DM

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