We lack a basic human tenet: That of self-governance as a people

 The ANC Womens League celebrate on Human Rights Day in Sharpeville. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
The ANC Womens League celebrate on Human Rights Day in Sharpeville. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

The protector of the human person, those most vulnerable and the defender of the voiceless is enshrined in a myriad of documents and declarations.

The number of acts and bills passed to enforce these values on the rise, rights that are enshrined in the Constitution and several articles South Africa is signatory to.

Based on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the fundamental rights of all South Africans are enshrined and democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom is affirmed.

Despite the signing of articles, bills, passing laws and attending conventions or convening national summits we lack a basic human tenet. That of self-governance as a people. That of loving my neighbour as myself.

In Nairobi last, week as we left our conference venue and drove past parts of town, towards the evening there were streets lined with furniture, plants and all kinds of material that is sold to the general public.

In the morning as we awoke to take the same route back to the conference venue the goods that were not locked away the night before remained on the street.

We were told by our driver that the goods were left out in the open overnight: it is safe.

My South African counterpart and I were gobsmacked. We remarked that this is unheard of where we dwell.

In fact the fear is that you cannot even be on the streets as a civilian as there is a genuine fear that you may be snatched away into the abyss of human trafficking or fall victim to some type of gender based violence.

We ceded long ago to be our sister’s keepers.

One wonders what on Earth we celebrate? Is there really much to celebrate?

Let me expound, as the Commission of Gender Equality we are mandated to determine how far the country has progressed with respect to the rights of women, gender equality and women empowerment.

Twenty five years into our democracy it is not only the lights that are going off but it appears that concerning the rights of women as enshrined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights the darkness has closed in on us.

Women being appointed for positions of authority in the workplaces, (public and private sector) political parties is done more for compliance, rather than an act of promoting diversity and research showing such institutions perform better.

Even with compliance as a driver, we see poor representation all round.

In respect of the legislative environment, the existence and translation of laws and policies to address all aspect of women empowerment and how far these are implemented, we see limited results achieved so far.

Women still have limited options, with entry into sectors that are largely unpaid work and caregiving or violation of their bodies predominantly allocated to them.

Despite the freedoms gained, women are still those largely found in informal trade and on the brunt of industries without protection from unfair labour practices and norms.

When women choose to be stay at home (with or without a choice) – the role of women in household is still labour and it is not monetised.

There are various sectors considered “care work” that women take part in, which is not paid, or offer low or meagre wages in comparison to most other sectors.

Even when they are paid, for the same job using same skills they are paid between 23% to 27% less than men.

Is this a legislative issue or a human condition that needs transformation?

Violations of laws, regulations and conventions pertaining to these matters is on the tongues of us all.

Perhaps though, there is another way of bringing transformation and empowerment to the marginalised in more effective manner.

Are we set to only enforce and bring change as a society if we police our institutions, people and communities?

The issue of self-governance is something society needs to begin to engage, without diminishing the role of the state and its institutions.

Men in particular are largely the violators of many of the freedoms that women find are taken from them.

Men need to be engaged in a society where violence against women and children is heightened.

One in five in South Africa have experienced sexual violence. This worsens to one in three in poorer households.

Men should be protectors, defenders and leaders within society as power largely rests with them.

There is insufficient policing, judicial and even institutional response to these frighteningly high levels of violence against the carriers of the next generation.

Our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, daughters and partners of many in our society remain at the receiving end of norms destroying our society.

A complete overhaul is needed in South Africa; a change in the mindset and cultural norms of our society.

We need a mindset that says it is unacceptable to violate those whom you deem weaker; a change of mindset that says it is unacceptable that children in the infancy are being molested; a change of mindset that says it is unacceptable that schools and universities are unsafe, where rape occurs yet they are centres of learning.

We need a change of mindset that requires self-governance as a premise: govern yourself first.

The policing interventions can never be as effective as prevention. South Africa must revisit its values, its principles, its cultural norms that are practised daily in society.

A society that embraces violence, denigrates human life and devalues it making any criminal action no longer shocking is a trend that should not only worry us.

But push and propel civil society, faith-based organisations and the state to have another look at their methods and responses.

South Africa must revisit its foundations, and set a new foundation for the future. We have a country to rebuild.

The poor, orphans, widows, the marginalised and victims and survivors of abuse in this nation can only be truly cared for and reduced if we as people choose to do good.

We have hope that it is not only the strongest that will survive, but those who had little chance of survival being given an equal chance to fulfil their destiny. We need a renewal.

Tamara Mathebula is the acting chairperson of the Commission for Gender Equality and Nthabiseng Moleko is a commissioner at the Commission of Gender Equality who also teaches economics and statistics at the USB (@drnthabimoleko Twitter)

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