Moments of reckoning such as the one South Africa is currently facing around gender-based violence (GBV) need public commitment and collaboration if they are to be brought to an end.
These were the sentiments expressed by philanthropist and businessperson Melinda Gates during her conversation with journalist Redi Tlhabi at the Fox Junction Event Venue in Johannesburg on Tuesday night.
Speaking to a crowd of over 100 people, Gates’ words came against the backdrop of the spate of violence perpetrated against women in which the country has recently been engulfed.
She spoke of the untimely and tragic death of University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana who was raped and killed in a Cape Town post office earlier this year.
“The horrific death of this young girl, and the fact that everybody is outraged, coupled with the fact that there is transparency around it, is something to stand on, something that should be put to good use,” said Gates.
“We know that behavioural change around the world, no matter where you live, starts with transparency – where we have to bring resistance to light. Then, of course, it takes public commitment and will – and I would definitely say that this country has the commitment and will.”
Guests who listened intently to what many later described as Gates’ “stimulating, thought-provoking and challenging conversation” included commissioner for gender equality and internationally acclaimed health activist Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, who was also the emcee for the evening, and former First Lady Graça Machel – who Gates said had taught her “the importance of showing up for each other”.
Gates – who was in Johannesburg for just one day – talked to Tlhabi about her book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, which explores “the profound link between women’s empowerment and the health of societies”.
As co-chairperson of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and having travelled the world advocating respect for women and girls, Gates explained why and how her decision to write her book had came about.
“I’ve met women in many places who’ve shared their stories with me when I’ve sat down and talked to them about their lives. It’s these stories which have called me to the work that I do and I felt the need to amplify them so that we take action on a global stage,” she explained.
In the book, Gates – a mother of three – discusses a range of topics including family planning, child marriage, girls in school and the silent inequality of unpaid work.
“Unpaid work for women starts when we’re just little girls,” said Tlhabi. Gates agreed, adding: “Our economies are built on the backs of women’s unpaid labour.”
According to her, “in South Africa, every single day women do two and a half hours more unpaid labour than their husbands do.
“[That includes] chores like laundry, cooking and making sure the kids get to school on time.
“In the US, every day women do 90 minutes more unpaid labour than their husbands do.
“If we take the global average of unpaid labour done by women, it adds up to seven years of their lifetime.”
These domestic chores also affected the duration and quality of women’s education.
According to the Stats SA 2018 General Household Survey, 7.9% of pupils interviewed in the age group 7 to 18 years cited family commitments as a reason for dropping out of school.
“Although 7.9% of individuals left their studies as a result of family commitments (that is, getting married, minding children and pregnancy), females were much more likely to offer these reasons than males (14.4% compared with 0.4%),” said the organisation.