The long road SA's women face

2018-04-29 00:00

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In the words of The Black Eyed Peas, gender stereotypes are “2000 and late”. At least that’s what I thought. One would think gender stereotypes are the least of our issues as women, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.

Women demonstrated their abilities to take on what were regarded as male-dominated roles during World War 2. This was when the mass mobilisation of soldiers saw women work in factories, shipyards and the military. Why are gender stereotypes still a barrier for women?

I was recently in what seemed like an innocent conversation during which a male counterpart told me he would never drive a small car because small cars were for women. He said small cars didn’t have many features, which was a good thing for us women because we didn’t know much about cars. I quickly corrected the statement as I have other interests which do not include cars. I know women who drive big cars and who are knowledgeable about how they function.

This indicates a need for a shift in thinking. How do we effectively address other matters such as patriarchy, harmful traditional practices, forced child marriages and corrective rape when there is ignorance about gender stereotypes? The conversations may be innocent, but what informs them and who perpetuates them? Society.

A woman’s daily life is impacted on by how men perceive her, which is usually as weak, defenceless and in need of saving. This often exposes women to abuse/harassment, as documented by a social experiment conducted by the Soul City Institute in 2017. This preconception applies to relationships and marriages through assigning expectations to women – to conform and submit. In this day and age, women are still expected to submit to their husbands without question because they are thought to be the main authority in households.

Someone could argue that I am saying gender stereotypes are as harmful as physical abuse. One could have more detrimental effects than the other, but what I am certain of is this: actions are premeditated in most cases.

It starts at a young age, where children are taught that blue is for boys and pink is for girls, dolls are for girls and cars are for boys and gardening is for boys and cooking is for girls. This quickly escalates to women are nurses, not doctors and women are not politicians. The list is endless.

South Africa ranks 19th out of 144 countries covered in the Global Gender Gap Report 2017 published by the World Economic Forum. On average, a man in South Africa earns 67% more than a woman, according to Gender Gap Africa’s online calculator, which allows users to better understand wage gaps between men and women in Africa. Adding fuel to the fire is the general conversation on the street that, after giving birth, women need to take time out to raise their babies, that women need to rush home to fulfil kitchen duties, that women can’t work in masculine positions – so they think.

I believe children are the responsibility of both parents. Changing nappies, feeding a child and taking care of children in general is not a gender-based task, especially where parents are still together. There is also an option to employ a caregiver who, in most cases, is female – although it doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a father asking to be excused from work to attend to a child who needs to see a doctor. Lastly, we know we can take on “hard jobs”. Please remember what is often said to us whenever women are commemorated: “You touch a woman, you strike a rock.”

As we advocate equality among men and women, through efforts to change policy, through public discussions and media engagement, let’s also consider working on the school of thought in communities. Instead of laughing, let us correct derogatory statements. Many will resist correction at first, but at least a seed will be planted.

It is challenging to unlearn the things we were taught at an early age, but we need to discuss why this is important. Then maybe we will be ready to effectively address actions informed by gender stereotypes.

- Molusi is a communications professional, a blogger and a 2018 Prism Awards Young Judge, and is studying towards her honours in journalism and media studies at Wits University

I have spent more years in the new South Africa than in the old one. Has it lived up to my expectations? Idealistically, I took it as inevitable that because of pervasive Afro-pessimism, South Africans under the leadership of the proud ANC, the party of my grandfather LP Msomi, would be gung ho in their efforts to prove the world wrong, in order to thwart low expectations of Africans. This country on the southern tip of Africa, which often punches above its weight, was going to have a highly educated, skilled population, restore its people’s dignity and become a beacon of light by bucking the trend and becoming an oasis of economic prosperity. Based on how hard-won this democracy was, why would I have expected any less? Twenty-four years on, where we are is still too incredible and painful to comprehend.

As a woman, I know that my fortunes are better than those of my peers in other countries. As Christian author and preacher Max Lucado says: “Gratitude lifts our eyes off the things we lack so we might see the blessings we possess.” Writing this piece is one of the most important freedoms – to have a platform and a voice. We must never take these privileges and rights for granted. The term “concrete ceiling”, which describes the attitudinal and organisational barriers black women experience in society, is not evoked as much as it was in the 1990s. Unfair discrimination still exists.

As women, we are told we don’t raise our hands when opportunities arise or that we underestimate our abilities. Men, meanwhile, take on roles that at times they are not experienced or qualified for. To that I say that often women are not even in that room or top of mind for the opportunities. When some of us women are in the room, we assimilate and don’t realise that being there does not mean that equality and equity are the norm.

I am sad that, although women make up more than half the population, we are not representative as leaders in all sectors. With our growing economic and purchasing power, we have not organised ourselves and selected women leaders into positions. Women should stop buying products and services from companies that do not value them enough to have them in their leadership echelons. Create change by hurting the bank balance. We cannot complain every year about the lack of transformation that we are not demanding when we have the financial leverage.

Starting a business has been a test of grit and ethics. In the past year or two, there has been a greater appreciation that having money is as important as how you make it. There were times when one was perceived a failure for not compromising one’s values. As a champion of broad-based black economic empowerment, did I ever think that it would equate to auditioning for business, not always based on expertise and skills, but on which doors one can open and who one has on speed dial? The biggest shock about being an entrepreneur is how African executives and managers are gatekeepers on steroids. Conflict of interest is applied when you have nothing to offer – quid pro quo – whether through name, association or favours later. This criterion is not applied consistently or objectively. South Africa is a village. We know that some of us are more equal than others. The other favourite method of keeping other black people out is by asking: “What is your track record? Are you serious? Before someone gave you that opportunity, what experience did you have?” Did any of these multinationals and big companies have track records, or did they establish their businesses with time and opportunities? African people are special, I tell you.

I still do not feel free to use the identity I choose. For example, when I am telling a story with diverse races in the narrative and call myself an African, I get those uncomfortable winces and someone saying: “I am also an African.” I reply: “So? How does my ownership of being an African take that away from you? Should I rather say ‘European African’ instead of ‘white’, as is the case with African Americans, millions of whom have never set foot on the African continent?” This distinguishes them from Americans, who are assumed to be white with no further description. The hue of the skin in some stories is the punchline, so calling it out makes or breaks the tale. After all, when I say black, I could be talking about Indians, coloureds or Chinese. This is South Africa, after all. Twenty-four years on, I would not live anywhere else, warts and all.

- Msomi is CEO of Busara Leadership Partners


What still needs to be done to ensure equality for women in SA?

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Read more on:    women's rights  |  gender equality

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