Mamphela Ramphele

Why our politics needs a good dose of femininity

2019-05-21 05:00

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Those making the case for higher representation of women in public life and service need to base it on the value this would add to ensuring that feminine values are infused into our politics, writes Mamphela Ramphele.

We have to grasp the opportunities of this post-election period to reimagine a society that reflects the ideals of human rights, dignity and gender equality to enhance the quality of life in our young democracy. 

We need to go beyond simply pushing for higher representation of women above the designated 44% in the sixth Parliament.  The focus needs to be on conversations about the values of Ubuntu – reflected in our human rights culture that should drive our society. 

State capture has exposed the nakedness of the materialism, consumerism and corruption of the "me, myself, and I" society we have become. Our focus as a society should be on the greater presence of the feminine – "the mmago ngwana o tshwara thipa ka bogaleng" (the mother figure holding the sharp end of the knife to protect her children). This is the impulse of servant leadership that should distinguish those driven by the feminine rather than the mere numbers game of equality between men and women.

"The world would be better if men thought more like women," concluded two Icelandic men, John Gerzema and Michael D'Antonio, their 2013 book, The Athena Doctrine. They interviewed 64 000 people in 13 nations across the globe in the post-Financial Great Recession that started in 2008 following a meltdown of Wall Street in the USA. This meltdown was driven by male egos who competed with one another to develop financial instruments that were disconnected to real assets values in the economy.

These authors were especially struck by the fact that nearly two thirds of those interviewed including the majority of men agreed that the world would be a better place if men thought more like women. This sentiment was especially pronounced amongst millennials in male-dominated societies, such as China and Japan.

Most of the traits profiled in the study as feminine were more widely associated with successful entrepreneurs, leaders, organisers, and creators. This did not mean that only women and no men could have these attributes, but they tended to come from aspects of human nature widely regarded as feminine. The skills required to thrive in today's world: honesty, empathy, communication and collaboration, come more naturally to women. 

Leverage core feminine values

Our society would benefit immensely from reflecting on the importance of the feminine values detailed above as we reconstitute Parliament and government at national and provincial levels. High levels of women representation in public office and in the leadership of other public institutions matter to the extent that it leverages the core feminine values to enhance our performance. We need to see and feel the benefits women leaders bring to public life beyond just numbers visible in the public space.

Women's organisations affiliated to political parties in both the pre- and post-liberation periods of our continent's history, need to look at themselves in the mirror and ask tough questions of their performance as inspirational leaders to model feminine approaches to public life. Can they honestly lay claim to having stood courageous in defence of feminine values and accountability to the wider social justice issues? How have they navigated the tensions between the demands of feminine values and party loyalty in a male-dominated political culture? 

Both the ANC Women's League and the DA Women need to demonstrate their resolve to bring the feminine into the core of political leadership beyond the numbers game. Demonstrating this resolve would win the support of citizens for higher representation of women because of the higher values that would bring to the quality of governance, effectiveness, efficiency and accountability.    

Women leaders in both the public and private sectors need to use their feminine strengths to tackle toxic masculinity that drives competitive materialism and unsustainable consumerism. These negative values remain rampant within our socio-economic and political culture feeding the beast of state capture. State capture that drove both colonial conquest and apartheid can only be tamed by embracing the values of Ubuntu. It should become common cause that it is against Ubuntu to abuse public resources and undermine the common good.

We need to reimagine anew what a just prosperous society would look like. Our socio-economic system needs to be focussed on creating sustainable compact cities with regenerative industries and enterprises supporting inclusive livelihoods for all.  

Economy must be repurposed to serve most citizens

We need to go beyond the dominant world view of the last 25 years of being content with the achievement of securing the levers of political power and sharing in the fruits of an economy that was deliberately designed to benefit the minority at the expense of the majority. The current economy needs to be restructured and repurposed to serve the majority of citizens. 

Redesigning our cities from apartheid spatial geography that banish the majority of the population to the periphery. Building more compact high quality inclusive human settlements is urgent as part of a strategy to kick-start our moribund economy. Compact more integrated urban areas would enhance the quality of life for most families who would share the rich resources in city centres including, jobs, entertainment amenities, better quality water and sanitation systems.

We need to deliberately design transformation processes of our socio-economic system to target uprooting poverty and banishing inequalities.  Studies in other parts of the world show that promoting equality in any society benefits both rich and poor people. We need to challenge the entrenched tolerance of poor quality public services for poor people, most of whom are women. This culture of tolerance for poverty has taken root in our post-apartheid public service. Lifting women out of poverty is more likely to benefit more families and communities given the well-established fact that investment in women yields higher returns.

Infuse feminine values into politics

Our education and training system needs to be driven by the values of Ubuntu.  Our children need to be firmly rooted in the knowledge of African history and culture to graduate as responsible citizens to serve our society. Civic education and the teaching of ethics and values of human rights is essential to enhancing the performance of all pupils and building a more responsible citizenry.

Those making the case for higher representation of women in public life and service need to base it on the value this would add to ensuring that feminine values are infused into our politics. The infusion of feminine values needs to demonstrably enhance the quality of public policies making, effective and efficient implementation, as well as monitoring and evaluation. Such an outcome would mobilise all responsible citizens to support higher levels of women representation in public life.

- Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.

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Read more on:    ancwl  |  women empowerment  |  leadership


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