It will take more than words, meetings and campaigns to empower women

Fot the first time in South Africa's history, women make up half of government's Cabinet
Fot the first time in South Africa's history, women make up half of government's Cabinet

While strides have been made in terms of empowering women in SA, much more needs to be done – especially in rural areas, writes Madimetja Mogotlane

For the first time in South Africa’s history, women make up half of government’s Cabinet.

This is a victory for women as they felt that their roles in different sectors were being ignored in the past.

As we reflect on the past, we must remember that the likes of Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela paved the way for the emancipation of women.

This happened during the zenith of the apartheid era, when the marginalisation of women in politics, business and other areas of life reigned supreme.

Fortunately, their bravery will never be deleted from the history books.

In the post-democratic government, we still observe with alarm how young women’s futures are ruined because they fell victim to ukuthwala, the practice of abducting young girls and forcing them into marriage, often without the consent of their parents.

This sex-trafficking trend, which is prevalent in many rural areas in the country, masquerades as a cultural practice.

As if that were not enough, our country continues to lose bright young minds as young women are forced to drop out of higher learning institutions because the National Student Financial Aid Scheme could not cater for their academic activities.

The same women lose more dignity because they cannot afford to buy sanitary pads and, as a result, they succumb to pressure and date older men just to keep their heads above water.

Women’s Day is the perfect time to empower these vulnerable souls by educating them about the ramifications of dating older men, and to address other maladies that make women vulnerable to the scumbags who prey on them.

At the same time, girls should not still be bunking school because they are pregnant with their male teacher’s offspring.

Women can also use Friday to address the fact that scores of women are limited in terms of what work they do – crafts, hawking, commercial farming and the retail sector.

There are few female entrepreneurs pursuing value-adding business opportunities. Action is needed to demonstrate the limitless potential of women in the country.

However, there are not enough resources available in rural areas for women to realise their entrepreneurial dreams.

Read: Will a 50/50 leadership translate to a just, humane, safer SA for women?

The evidence for the necessity of female empowerment should be reflected in the altruistic nature of more fortunate women helping where they can in terms of education, economics and business.

Female entrepreneurs in South Africa remain on the periphery of the national economy.

Women who live in rural areas have a greater burden to bear, and there is still a long road to be travelled before female empowerment is fully realised.

Gone are the days when Women’s Day was represented by political rallies. It should not take words, meetings and campaigns to empower women and address their maladies.

Women can also use the day as a reason to help Ugogo Nofinish in Lusikisiki to establish her sewing business; koko Sagokga in Zebediela should receive assistance with sustaining her commercial farm; and Kukwani Xiluvani in Nkuri village can get help to kick-start her biodiversity business.

This kind of assistance will go a long way towards promoting the role of women in the mainstream economy.

Imagine the effect Friday will have on ordinary people in rural areas if they see government ministers visiting their impoverished territories.

Imagine what will go through Mahlatse Matlakana’s mind if Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza pays a surprise visit to her 8-hectare green pepper farm in Limpopo.

This will inspire her to work harder and go further, which, in turn, will help her create more jobs for members of her community.

Karabo Mokoena, Mamokgethi Malebane, Thembisile Yende and Precious Magabane were victims of domestic abuse and unspeakable violence.

If politicians pay a visit to their families on Women’s Day, they won’t feel so alone, but will feel like they and their loved ones have not been forgotten.

Women are not yet fully emancipated, and it will take more than words, meetings and campaigns to empower them.

On Friday, women should be introspective and think hard about how they can empower each other, otherwise Women’s Day will simply be another day off work – it will mean nothing.

Mogotlane is a civil servant


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President Cyril Ramaphosa says government has set the target of ensuring that at least 40% of goods and services procured by public entities are sourced from women-owned businesses.
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