‘Women must be at the forefront of nation building to bring the South African citizenry together and therefore develop a whole new ethos of human co-existence.’ – Steve Biko
Women have shaken off the shackles of the past and in their determined struggle against political and socio-economic oppression, have deservedly earned themselves a place in the history books of our great nation. The sad reality however is that they remain bound by the shackles of a different kind – patriarchy.
The recent killing of women in our country bears testament that the chains that bind them find expression in the patriarchal society. The sad reality is that the women of South Africa will remain trapped within the confines of this society unless we truly apprehend and conceive the words of Steve Biko. It is imperative that women are brought to the forefront of all our nation building efforts. Failure to achieve this is tantamount to a dereliction of our duties as leaders and government.
Patriarchy remains deeply entrenched within the fabric of our society to such an extent that most women consider it to be a normal way of life. Until we reach these women and change their perception we can never speak of gender equality. Unless we take serious decisive action to combat the perpetuation of this most discriminatory practice we risk the integrity of our democracy. This action must be more than political rhetoric; it must become a tangible reality.
We are all well aware of the plight and daily struggles the women of our country face, from the context of a boardroom to the confines of a rural homestead. Their struggles are shared and are real. Practices enforcing the blesses and sugar-daddy syndromes are also of great concern.
Patriarchy continues to serve as a catalyst to breed and legitimise most violations and discrimination against women. It is therefore imperative that we challenge and dismantle patriarchal attitudes.
While there has been immense progress in the emancipation of women in South Africa, particularly since the advent of democracy in 1994, women remain disproportionately represented among the country’s poorest. The gender gap continues to persist in economic, social and political spheres.
Economic empowerment remains the most important contributing factor to achieving gender equality .Unleashing the entrepreneurial potential of women which drives growth through innovation and job creation continues to be one of the most effective ways to ensure lasting empowerment.
Our nation’s future depends significantly on how we educate, train and equip our women by affording them the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities as their male counterparts. We can all agree that we may have won the fight for freedom but the battle for the economic emancipation of our women wages on.
The importance of gender equality is becoming increasingly prominent on the corporate agenda today .But the question we have to ask ourselves is has this made a meaningful difference in the growth of female leadership and women in business in South Africa?
Government has committed itself to increased efforts in order to promote female leadership, including employment equity legislation and the JSE’s recently introduced listing requirement which encourages companies to disclose their gender equity policy – effective from the beginning of 2017.
These are steps in the right direction, but policies and agreement that gender equality is important are just not enough. When we look at the numbers it is evident that the policies do not automatically result in more women rising to leadership level. There is still a lot of work to be done.
As a starting point, we need to keep the issue on the agenda until meaningful change has been effected. We also need actual, practical solutions which can be implemented and utilised by women in the fight against patriarchy.
As long as a patriarchal value system remains in existence it will militate against the advancement, progress and participation of women in the transformation of our economy and our nation as a whole.
Radical economic transformation without the full inclusion and empowerment of women is unsustainable. The economic empowerment of women is a prerequisite for reducing poverty in our country and dismantling patriarchy.
Therefore as government we must be in a position to identify the gaps and seek measures to close gaps to improve the socio-economic empowerment of women.
Much has been done to recognise and empower South African women in the form of significant legislative reforms. These include developed and implemented policies and programmes based on the Constitution incorporating the Bill of Rights which seeks to promote and protect women’s rights at home, in communities and in the workplace. The reality remains however that there still exist many impediments to women’s economic empowerment.
Women need more resources to build collaborations, leverage innovative ideas, share best practices and develop their entrepreneurial abilities. Women contribute immensely to the country’s economy directly and indirectly but they remain on the periphery – always looking in.
We must change the incorrect perception that women have marginal input in overall economic output, and build a socio-economic business environment that includes full support of women entrepreneurs. As government we need to implement deliberate strategies that promote women in business in order to allow for their participation in key sectors of the economy.
The changes needed call for the moral and political will to bring patriarchy to its end. This will require more than mere transformative thinking but revolutionary efforts if we are to achieve our democratic goals.
Perhaps most encouraging is that South African women are taking the step forward to make a change in their own lives and empower themselves.
Women’s success in leadership and business is evident, however marginal it is. They are making a critical contribution to shaping our economy and society. We salute these women and say to them, continue in your pursuit.
As you take control of your destiny, be inspired by those that have led before you including Albertina Sisulu, Helen Joseph, Ruth First, Phyllis Naidoo, Victoria Mxenge, and Charlotte Maxeke. We commend the women patriots who took up the fight for freedom and carried the banner high. Our sistersLillian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa ,Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, Frances Baard, Dorothy Nyembe, Rachel Alexander Simons, Fatima Meer and Hilda Bernstein, who were fearless and relentless in their pursuit of freedom.
These are names of women that will go down in the annals of history for their unmatched and remarkable contributions to the liberation struggle. Our freedom was dependent upon them, the women of this country. They often had to bear the brunt of brutal violations and economic hardships yet they remained committed and steadfast. There is great admiration for the courage, strength and unity they possessed.
Despite the journey still ahead of you, as women of our great nation, their victories are yours to celebrate and be encouraged. These women made significant strides in the attainment of an equal society for both men and women.
So successful were they that the African National Congree (ANC) decisively declared that South Africa should declare gender disparity within government and the private sector a priority.
Twenty-three years on from the attainment of democracy this is yet to become a reality; it is achievable with commitment, persistence and education. Patriarchal mentalities can and will be shifted.
But as we remember the heroines of the past we must also be mindful of remembering the voices of the many women that go unheard even today and who continue to be oppressed and prevented from securing their rights and realising their economic potential. There must be discussions of the situation in contemporary South Africa, where women still face many challenges, and the struggle continues.
We need to take ownership of these struggles that women face and remain committed until it reaches resolve. Government must be in a position to assess the progress of the emancipation, advancement and most importantly protection of women in South African society. This responsibility rests equally with men as it does with women. This is a call which all men must heed – husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles, political leaders and businessmen alike. Boys must be sensitised and taught to respect the rights of women from a young age.
Women will remain subordinate and inferior if men continue to subordinate them. Men need to challenge the one-dimensional caricature of what society tells us being a man entails. It is our collective responsibility to change the social constructs of patriarchy and stand up for what is truly manly. It is only once we appreciate the importance of supporting and encouraging the growth of our women that can we declare that we the people of South Africa are free. Our icon and founding father the late OR Tambo said: “No country can boast of being free unless its women are free.” DM