Don’t play the woman card

2013-03-24 10:00

It was one of those moments when you wished that someone could have simply stomped on National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega’s foot.

Her explosion before the Marikana Commission of Inquiry – where she claimed that she was being targeted because she was a woman – was unnecessary and unfair.

It is likely to cause her more harm than good.

It is tough being the country’s top police officer.

It gets tougher when police under your command shoot and kill 34 striking mine workers in what has become the country’s first state-caused massacre since democracy.

Just to prove that it is not any easier if you are a man, Phiyega’s predecessors, whom she incorrectly argued had not faced scrutiny as close as she does, were both disgraced national police commissioners.

Jackie Selebi was jailed for accepting bribes from a murderer and drug dealer, while Bheki Cele was fired after the Public Protector found that he irregularly and negligently allowed a multimillion-rand lease of a police building.

The problem with Phiyega’s comments are not just that she is wrong on the facts.

By playing the woman card, Phiyega has contributed to potentially making this often legitimate response unavailable for female leaders the next time patriarchy rears its ugly head.

The glass ceiling is often too low for many women.

They often need to exert extra effort to get the same recognition as men.

It is worse in traditionally male roles.

Phiyega’s ascension to this top job was therefore an important victory for women.

As is the case in many sectors, the police force is a macho space.

She brought with her a much-needed soft power and corporate world rigour.

Whatever stress she might face, Phiyega’s historic role means she has a duty to make sure she doesn’t take the ­hard-fought women’s struggle for recognition in the workplace down with her.

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