Guest Column

Stop discrediting Mokonyane because she's a woman

2017-02-24 09:00

Nomvula Mokonyane's leadership style and Nomvula the person may not appeal to you. You don’t like her? Fine. You disagree with her? Great! But do you really need to keep heaping scorn on her?

The idea that every act of a woman leader must be seen through the lenses of her femininity is offensive. All you ever need to do, is not even to question whether the accusations against Nomvula are true, but you just need to replace her in the scenario with a male minister and the story dries up and loses all vanity and excesses. 

When I look at all the women in politics, business and leading unions I think of my mother and my sisters, and my colleagues who still struggle, daily, against sexism. These are women who don’t want to be sexually harassed on the job, who prize the qualities they bring to the work place, who take pride in the males who support them.

Nomvula, who is minister of water and sanitation, is one of the few women who are ferociously breaking down barriers and proving that tough, female leaders can thrive in a “man’s world”. The era where women are only admired for their patience, understanding and grace is over. Conversely, the era where men are encouraged to be, well, men, stoic and hard-nosed to the expense of all other traits is very much over.

A McKinsey Women Matter report concludes that women are better at collaboration than men, and collaborative behaviour can at times appear indecisive or deferential, as recently argued in Collaboration’s Hidden Tax on Women’s Careers, by Jill Flynn, Kathryn Heath, and Mary Davis Holt.

The problems women still face at the workplace are enduring and need a concentrated and consistent effort to root them out.

1. People are quick to question their leadership skills and capabilities. Women are often perceived as having inferior rationality and reasoning skills (The story of Nomvula is overflowing with this sentiment) compared to their male counterparts. 

2. People assume emotions, not rationality, drive their decision-making. The idea that women are emotional creatures, driven solely by their feelings and not the facts at hand is a deep-rooted misconception in many workplaces.

3. They are viewed as cold and bitchy rather than direct and to the point. Men who are regarded as formidable are seen as strong leaders that often rise quickly and easily to top management roles. They are rarely judged on their demeanor, but rather on their vision and results. Conversely, a woman’s persona often affects how others feel about her, clouding the importance of her efforts.

4. They must work harder and longer to prove themselves than their male counterparts. Women have to work longer hours to prove their worth, especially in jobs that are dominated by men (i.e. law enforcement, military and engineering). If men are dominating the workforce, it is inevitable that the perception is – well, men must just be better at this job. (Not unlike the racial mistrust at workplaces.)

5. Their ambition is seen as intimidating, not inspirational. The most unfortunate struggle of all is that women in leadership roles who have accomplished inspiring feats are often perceived as simply – intimidating.

Yes, being close to Zuma these days is a license to be disrespected. But Nomvula, like other woman who have risen to these heights of leadership is a strong woman and probably a pioneering feminist in a world still gravely in need of this kind of feminism. She is a human being with no more or less faults than most other human beings and politicians. She is far superior to Julius Malema, and unlike Malema, she actually has a governing record to be judged on, unlike Julius's childish noise which goes whithersoever the wind goes.

When women want to collaborate, they are seen as weak, as ceding their power to men. When women seek advice, they are seen to be incapable, why don't they know everything and do everything. When women do, in fact, choose to do it all that are accused of having a male-hate, trying to prove that they are better than men. 

So, all this concludes the need for the involvement of men in the process. All men want an equal and better living place for their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and would want them to grow and empower in any way possible.

All men must get on board in this whole programme and help in getting and influencing more men to work towards the growth of women.

- Yonela Diko is a spokesperson for the ANC in the Western Cape. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    nomvula mokonyane  |  anc  |  gender equality
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