While South Africa has made progress on the gender rights front since its first democratic elections in 1994, a lot of work remains to be done, writes Onyi Nwaneri.
Although the support of men is crucial to create an equitable society, women’s involvement is vital too.
Established women, in particular, need to step up to the plate and inspire younger generations – particularly disadvantaged girls and women – to move mountains and achieve their potential.
As we celebrate Women’s Month, South Africa’s gender equality situation leaves a lot to be desired.
Despite progress made over the past 26 years, women and girls remain disproportionately affected by crime, sexual violence, poverty, hunger and unemployment.
That is not because they are less capable.
Data by the department of basic education shows that girls in matric perform better than boys – in 2017, girls attained 62.6% of A passes.
A similar situation applies to colleges and universities in which young women systematically outperform men.
Despite this, women still earn 28% less than men and few make it at executive level.
A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers last year shows that men account for 96.6% of chief executive officers, 87.2% of chief financial officers and 91% of executive directors on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
Redressing these gender equality challenges is urgent.
I am all about justice, empowerment and human rights.
What is dear to my heart is helping marginalised people attain the equality they deserve.
Throughout history, women and girls have been disadvantaged but despite that, they continue to create value for society, often against all odds.
I want a situation in which women have equal rights and opportunities, have their place recognised, be the best they canbe and are treated as assets by men and society at large.
While men need to come to the party, women have a vital role to play too, particularly established women who have smashed the glass ceiling.
For marginalised young women to realise they have opportunities and can change their world and the world at large, they need successful and established women to show and tell them they can.
From a young age, my mother, a serial entrepreneur with a PhD in educational psychology, pushed me to be my absolute best and not to let any preconceived societal ideas of what women should be determine my future.
She had no time for mediocrity. Being the first of six meant I had to be number one. My mother expected nothing less.
From a young age, I understood my responsibility for setting the pace for my siblings. Like she was a true role model for me, I had to be a role model for my siblings in terms of the friends I kept, my academic performance and my overall behaviour.
Having my mother, a successful entrepreneur as my mentor and coach, helped me shape my life.
After serving as a commercial, litigation and later a human rights lawyer, focusing on the rights of people wrongfully detained or denied legal and social justice in her own country, I ended up working for the United Nations Development Programme as a consultant.
This was a year after I moved from Cape Town to Johannesburg for another job.
My task at the UN was to advise on the legal framework governing National Aids Commissions in six African countries.
I joined empowerment non-profit organisation Afrika Tikkun in 2009, initially in a business development capacity.
Over time, I climbed the ladder to become chief executive officer of Afrika Tikkun Services last year, one of the three driving entities of the Afrika Tikkun Group.
The company aims to transform the lives of young people and prepare them for participating constructively in the country’s economy.
Besides helping young people excel and break the cycle of poverty, my quest is to use my latest achievement to inspire girls and young women, particularly those from disadvantaged communities, that they can achieve greatness despite their situation.
That is what Women’s Month is all about for me. It is not just to pay tribute to and celebrate the women who have achieved significant strides in their lives and careers.
It is about collectively changing society for the better.
It is also a call to action to challenge established women to accelerate the role they play in helping younger women, particularly those from less fortunate backgrounds, break their own glass ceilings.
We as women need to help our sisters reach for the stars, just like our mothers and grandmothers helped us.
*Onyi Nwaneri, human rights lawyer by trade and chief executive officer of Afrika Tikkun Services – a recruitment, training and placement company helping corporates transform from a business and social perspective from the ground up