South Africa commemorates Women’s Month each August as a tribute to the thousands of women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 to protest the extension of Pass Laws to women. It was a day when women of all races joined forces, to declare “Not on my watch!” and their collective indignation was commanding enough that the ‘powers that be’ at the time were forced to listen. This historic march was a turning point in the role of women in the struggle for freedom and society at large.
Over the years, the month has evolved and expanded to provide an opportunity to shine the spotlight on various aspects of gender parity, with a view to creating a more gender equal environment.
The Ministry for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities in the Presidency has dedicated Women’s Month this year to addressing economic empowerment, eradication of gender-based violence and elimination of pay gaps for equal work.
The ministry launched the campaign on 1 August 2019 under the theme “25 Years of Democracy: Growing South Africa Together for Women’s Emancipation”.
Let’s take a look at how we are doing on those fronts.
The United Nations Development Plan for South Africa reports, ‘South Africa has made great strides in reforming laws and policies that prohibited women’s full participation in all social, economic and political spheres. These range from the development of a constitution which articulates equality for all persons to the establishment of Chapter Nine institutions which serve to guard against historical injustices and promote human rights for all in the country. The Constitution enshrines the right to equality, equal protection and benefit before the law, and to non-discrimination.
South Africa is also signatory to a number of international conventions, declarations, regional charters and protocols which aim to address inequalities and ultimately achieve gender equality, and which the state is obliged to implement. Notwithstanding the plethora of legislation women have not advanced as rapidly in terms of socio-economic empowerment and gender equality and the National Development Plan (NDP, 2030), identifies women as the most affected by inequality, poverty and unemployment’.
Gender Based Violence (GBV)
Societies free of gender-based violence (GBV) do not exist, and South Africa is no exception.
South Africa is a signatory to a number of international treaties on GBV, and strong legislative framework, for example the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) (1998), the Sexual Offences Act (2007) and the Prevention and Combatting of Trafficking in Human Persons (2013) Act .
Whilst international treaties and legislation are important, it is not enough to end GBV and to strengthen responses.
There are many forms of GBV, ranging from domestic and sexual violence to structural violence. In South Africa GBV has reached crisis proportions across the board. It is reported that three women die at the hands of their partners every single day.
Dr Moleko, a Commissioner of the Commission for Gender Equality says that the femicide rate in South Africa is now five times higher than the global average, with more than one in five women experiencing physical violence, a statistic that drops to one in three women in low-income areas.
Let me repeat that again so that it sinks in: Three women in South Africa die every single day at the hands of their partners, people they trusted. And as many as one in three women experience physical violence. This, coupled with crime in general and the high instances of rape is the actual or underlying threat which women live with. Every day.
The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) has found that South Africa had the world’s highest rate of rape, estimated at 138 rapes per 100 000 women in 2017, according to Dr Moleko. The numbers only include reported rape. One wonders how many women never had the courage to report their rape, knowing the difficult road they would have to travel the moment they spoke up about it.
Dr Moleko goes on to say, “The statistics point towards a government and society crippled by an inability to protect women and, especially concerning, children. We clearly need to develop more than just reactive slogans and media responses to the incidence of such systemic violations and tragedies”.
The new PwC ‘Executive Directors Report 2019’ states that South African men are consistently paid more than women and furthermore, there is actually no industry in South Africa in which women are paid more than men.
The report highlights that men in healthcare are paid roughly 28.1% more than women, and 25.1% more in media and general retailers. In South Africa’s technology industry, men are paid 22.9% more, and 21.8% more in the financial sector. Furthermore, only 3.3% of the companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) have female chief executive officers (CEOs).
South Africa has the highest wage inequality in the world, according to a new study into hourly wages among 64 countries conducted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
“The gender pay gap represents one of today’s greatest manifestations of social injustice, and all countries should try to better understand what lies behind them and accelerate progress towards gender equality,” says ILO director-general, Guy Ryder. Using empirical evidence, the report also shows that traditional explanations – such as differences in the levels of education between men and women who work in paid employment – play a limited role in explaining gender pay gaps.
Gendered power inequalities and the myriad of ways in which they manifest is systemic. The pervasive issue is deeply entrenched in institutions, cultures and traditions in our society.
It is clear that the legislation, campaigns and initiatives implemented thus far, have not been effective in righting the wrongs and in fact, if you examine the myriad statistics which are freely available on all gender inequality fronts, you will be able to see that many aspects of gender inequality, such as gender violence, are increasingly getting worse.
With this as context…
How do women feel about Women’s Month?
Women themselves are deeply divided in how they view Women’s Month and it would be presumptuous to assume that planned public and corporate initiatives resonate with all women.
Many women cringe at the thought of having to go through another Women’s Month, noting that slogans and campaigns have up until now been largely ineffective and that the implicit messaging around these annual events merely serves to entrench the tacit belief that women are intrinsically unequal.
Their feeling is that if we are to gain ground on the gender equality front, we need to do it through our lives lived; the kindness and compassion we give to the world, the strength and fortitude we exhibit in the face of adversity, the warrior we summon when faced with injustice towards ourselves or others and through the respect we gain when we achieve success. Not so different to the attributes we celebrate in men, we just bring a different flavour to it.
Their feeling is that if women want equality, it is up to them to implement and to honour the boundary of anything less being foreign and unacceptable. Much like the women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956, only less of a protest at a single point in time and more of a personal lifelong campaign which naturally influences the outcome of the people they choose to date, or continue to date, naturally influences their choice of life partner or their perceived status in their homes, their workplaces and in their social circles. Each woman who exhibits the above-mentioned qualities and who stands in the truth of it, naturally draws the lived experience of being seen through a clearer lens of equality to her. She is not trying to be equal. She is equal.
Others are of the opinion that the whole point of having a month that focuses on a marginalised group is in order to draw attention to these very inequalities that exist in society, because they have become so normalised that people don’t see them.
Still others use this month to call for the re-education of men and the education of the boy child so that boys grow up to be men who view women as equals.
Women approach the issue of gender inequality in many ways because we’re all so unique and we’re at varying stages of liberation. Our shared experience of gender inequality, to one degree or another binds us in a sisterhood that raises our collective hackles when we see or hear of injustices against women and children. And what unites us is that efforts towards creating a more equal playing field shouldn’t be limited to a particular month. Also, the messaging must be so carefully considered so as not to inadvertently reinforce the position of women as unequal as so often happens.
It would be reductionist to even attempt to try and unpack here why Women’s Month either resonates with or deeply unsettles women.
It would also be reductionist to attempt to unpack what needs to be done to correct the wrongs when it comes to gender inequality in South Africa.
So I will end off with this; to proclaim equality is not to deny that differences in function between women and men exist but rather to affirm the complementary roles men and women fulfil in the home and society at large. No one is better than the other. It would help if we could get to a place where we are comfortable with the paradox that we are equal but different and the intermingling of the equal and different parts adds to the beauty and effectiveness of the whole, and then to move onwards and upwards with that belief in mind.
“The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment. When the two wings . . . become equivalent in strength, enjoying the same prerogatives, the flight of man will be exceedingly lofty and extraordinary.”- statement issued in 1997, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States
With gender inequality issues in the forefront of our minds, let’s bring our higher selves to the spaces we occupy, opening up deep and real dialogue between men and women about the world we want to live in and the world we want to leave to our sons and daughters. Let’s talk about the way we treat each other and let’s talk about fairness. Both ways. Let it be more of an ongoing dialogue, and less of a campaign limited to August. And then let’s start by changing ourselves. It is after all, always the point from which anything materialises.
LRMG; a performance optimisation business, partnered with Wits University to bring you Wits DigitalCampus. With Women’s Month highlighted, the invitation has been extended to all at LRMG to journey together to find meaning and create awareness of what women empowerment means for us in our business and in our personal lives. Long may the conversation continue.
All change starts within one’s self first, but must extend to the home, the workplace and to society. In this way, perhaps the tipping point will be reached.
Business Development Executive
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