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August as Women's Month is upon us. We will
be repeating the same mantras about women empowerment and their greater
representation in all institutions in our public and private sectors. Is it not
time to refocus our discourse during this year of the 100th anniversaries of
Albertina Sisulu and Nelson Mandela?
I am old enough to remember the discourse
at the height of apartheid about "the native or black problem". This
was the view common to those in powerful positions at that time in both the
public and private sectors, including well-meaning liberals. Many a tea and
dinner party, seminars and conferences were devoted to finding the solution to
the native problem.
It is only when the focus shifted to "consciousness"
of the power relationships within our society based on colour coding to justify
exploitation of the majority by a minority, that things began to change.
The majority population no longer waited to
be "empowered" but declared themselves black and proud, and ready to
liberate themselves from the imposed inferiority and superiority complexes that
perpetuated racist exploitation and injustice. Young black people realised that
liberation starts with freeing oneself from the psychological damage of
inferiority complexes at the personal level. This then sets the tone for
confident professional and political leadership.
The young people in the leadership of that Black
Consciousness Movement in the 1960s-1970s went further. They invited their
white counterparts, beneficiaries of the colour coded unjust system, to also do
the work to free themselves from the psychological damage of superiority
The new energy young people from the Black
Consciousness Movement and all others inspired by them accelerated the road to
our celebrated political settlement. It gave impetus to the Mass Democratic
Movement that mobilised citizens across the society to become their own
liberators. Both white and black people were liberated from the entrapment of
power relationships that perpetuated apartheid.
We now need to apply the lessons from this
historical experience to complete the liberation of our society from the persistent
social ills from the legacy of that unjust system. Structural violence that
perpetuates poverty, inequality and unemployment lies behind our very high gender-based
violence and deeply entrenched patriarchal system.
Promoting healthier relationships between
men and women needs to go beyond the "empowerment of women" rhetoric.
The problem does not lie with women. The problem lies with the quality of relationships
between women and men and societal norms that frame and promote them.
I have the privilege of working with a man
who has used the lessons of his personal journey to transform his understanding
of masculinity as a complementary gift to femininity to make whom we are. Craig
Wilkinson, the founder of Father A Nation, is working with me to promote
healing of our nation. We have seen our approach over the last few months enable
both men and women to celebrate their femininities and masculinities.
Healing ourselves as men and women is
essential to create complementary relationships to support healthier homes,
families, communities and society in which boys and girls can grow into
confident citizens. Ancient African culture infused with Ubuntu provides us
with models of these complementary relationships that contrast sharply with the
European inspired patriarchal systems that undermine the place of women in
We need to resist the temptation to fight
fire with fire. Toxic abusive masculinity is no excuse to demonise men. There
are growing numbers of men who have become champions of gender equality and
complementary relationships that celebrate men and women. They are champions of
promoting healthier fatherhood for our children, to tackle absent fatherhood –
physical and emotional – that is currently affecting about two thirds of our
We do need to invest more as a society in
helping both men and women to reset the button of gender relationships. Continuing
dominance of a small proportion of men in leadership positions of privilege and
power undermines women's potential contributions to greater prosperity by broadening
the base. Minority male dominance in the economy also emasculates the majority
of men who are shut out of opportunities to become significant economic
contributors and providers of sustainable livelihoods to their families.
The best gift our society can offer to
women in this year's Women's Month would be to invest in promoting healthier
relationships between men and women. The public sector needs to look inwards
and create healthier working spaces within the public service to model gender
equality and respectful relationships that build trust and enhance
The private sector that remains white male
dominated, need to look inwards and recognise the cost of inequality in racial,
gender and class terms. Inequalities breed mistrust and undermine productivity.
We also know from the IMF and other studies that gender inequality has a huge
opportunity cost for GDP growth. Raising female participation in the labour
force could boost GDP growth by 27% in certain regions: ranging from 5% in USA
to 35% in Egypt. Estimates for our region of sub-Saharan Africa is 12%.
We owe it to ourselves, our children and to
all women in our society to use this year's Women's Month to commit to becoming
champions of promoting gender equality and challenging all barriers to
socio-economic opportunities for all citizens.
We need to reassure all young men and women
that we are committed to working together to create homes, communities,
educational institutions, places of work and worship that will support their
development into self-respecting, confident and proud citizens.
That would be a fitting gift to women in
our society and appropriate way of celebrating Mama Albertina Sisulu and Madiba's
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