'Gender Equity Bill or not, Women have keys to their Freedom'
For generations, from stone ages, through the rise and fall of the Egyptian and Ethiopian empires, from medieval period to the enlightenment era, from industrialization hitherto, the civilization and successes of humankind have been attributed to men. Women have been perceived as not-so-important, inferior, fragile and passive members of societal organisations, institutions and the entire human race. Men have been elevated in all aspects of life be it social, educational, economic and political spheres, women have been and are still isolated and secluded away from fair exposure of such. Even in religious institutions, bibles have been used to discriminate and purge women as a strategy to instil inferiority in them. Biblical despots in the form of kings would isolate, abuse, curse and even rape women and all these was acceptable as women were looked at as sexual objects. In the bible, women would pose as strippers, and sexual consultants in palaces and brothels. This then attest to the fact that our women have been treated as entertainment paraphernalia for generations. In African, Latin Americana and Asian traditions the same trend has been prevalent and is to a greater extent still practiced more intensely than in Europe and the West. In Africa, Latin America and Asia, there are very intensely strict laws passed onto women, some which if not adhered to, could result into death. In European countries, the West and other liberal states, the same problem persist but in a more profound and not-so-intense manner.
This trend has perpetuated for centuries and today the damage it has induced manifests in countless ways. This trend is from schools to workplaces, including businesses. It has become very acceptable that every class expects a Dux student out of a male student, that every business director or executive will be a male. That every prominent politician, every innovative scientist, every pioneer of almost every field would be a male. This trend has in many ways resulted in today’s dire plight of women. It has affected our women in all imaginable ways, be it Economic participation, Economic opportunity, Political empowerment, Educational attainment, Health and well-being and general psychological state of mind.
Education, Economic Participation, Health and Well Being
Today, Women make up two thirds of the world’s poorest people on earth. They also constitute the majority of the exploited. In many workplaces they are either granted general work or even if they perform the same work as men, they are often remunerated way below what men who perform the same work as them earn. Africa remains the second worst oppressor (after Latin Americas) of women in terms of economic participation. On the contrary, South Africa is rated as Africa’s best performing country (ahead of Zimbabwe) in terms of women empowerment (specifically on economic opportunity and participation). This though is far from being enough. Our women are still marginalised from managerial and executive jobs. The recent 2012 women in leadership census found that women hold only 4.4% of chief executive officer/managing director positions, 5.3% of chairperson positions and 15.8% of all directorships in South Africa. This then affirms how our women are for ‘feminized’ low-mid class jobs while we men remain in hegemony of executive positions. In engineering for example, only 2.8% of all professional engineers are women, while all engineering firms have women as admin officers and secretaries.
Educational Attainment, Health and Well Being
With globalization, ever-changing political landscape and massive economic development, education has become a critical element and a prerequisite to ensure economic participation. It thus remains practically impossible for our women to prosper, comprehend with governmental efforts to promote gender equity or even be empowered if they are not educated. Forthwith, our department of education and government in general is confronted with a situation where education is still not accessible in certain parts of country. Even in parts where education is accessible, we still have situations which render it impossible for our young women to access or complete their educational career.
There are many child-headed families especially in rural areas, and it is our young women who are always victims. We are still confronted with HIV/AIDS, poverty and abuse and all these are factors contributing to our young females not accessing education or not completing their studies. Even in politics, women depend on gender parity policies to attain positions of interest. Our women are still doubted when it comes to leadership. These are but some examples of factors which contribute to the back-pedalling of our efforts to striving for women empowerment.
Our government through the department of women, children and people with disabilities is on the move to ensure that our country is expedient and conducive for women empowerment. Minister Lulu Xingwana introduced the proposed “Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill” which basically aims at empowering of women (in workplaces and businesses) and further clamping down unfair discrimination and prevalent disparities within South Africa. It also seeks to attain 50/50 gender equality and is applicable to organisations of all sizes in the public and private sectors. The bill is going to ensure that our government, organisations and other businesses, especially private sector prioritises women, creates a workable environment for our women and that women development and empowerment is not a task delegated to our government.
Currently the government through SOE’s is the only prominently active stakeholder advocating women empowerment. Our private sector remains at a snail’s pace in this regard. A whapping 33.4% of companies have no women directors, while 28.4% have one woman director, 21.1% have two women directors and 17.1% have three or more. SOEs remain in the forefront with 40.1% women directors. Furthermore, the bill will also give the minister of women, children and people with disabilities powers to deal with businesses who do not comply with these regulations.
Nonetheless, the bill, like affirmative action, BEE and all other race and gender-specific empowerment mechanisms will not assist out of celestial forces and instant magic. Our women need to be mentally prepared. We need our women to break out and deal away with a men-dependency mentality. We still have things such as beauty; delicacy and fragility being used as euphemisms seeking to justify such intellectual suppression of our women. These Euphemisms are very effective as they have cocooned our young women to focus on aesthetics (not that it’s wrong) and depend on men while robbing them of their mental emancipation. Nothing is wrong for our young women to have Kim Kardashian and Khanyi Mbau as role models but something is definitely wrong when the majority of our young women look up to either entertainment or dependence on men for survival.
We need our women to stand against cultural and traditional practices that seek to trample on their dignity and worth. We need our women to negate all stereotypes and prejudice that portray them as entertainment tokens that are used by us men. No system, regardless of its strength and effectiveness will automatically rescue our women from these bondages unless they themselves take a firm stand against such injustices and prejudice against them. Our women in townships, squatter camps, informal settlements and including those in rural areas should seize and grab whatever opportunity that is meted to them by our government and beyond that, they should inculcate an empowerment mentality amongst themselves. This bill should be a catalyst that will add over and above the willingness of our women to break out of these bondages and impediments that our society has burdened them with.
In the words of Brigham Young, “You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation”. Wathint' Abafazi Wathint' Imbokodo (you strike a woman you strike a rock)
Biko Monyatsi is Young Communist League Albert Nzula District Secretary and Zastron ANCYL Ward 3 Deputy Chairperson