Phumzile Mlambo-Ncguka: Women can't fit in a broken society

Johannesburg – When it comes to gender equality, the level of tolerance around the world for crimes against women is so high, one can be sexist with impunity, said SA former deputy president and executive director of UN women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ncguka.

Mlambo-Ncguka was speaking at the inaugural Top Women Conference held at Emperor’s Palace, on Wednesday. She spoke about the challenges to one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to achieve gender equality by 2030.

Read: Society is not ready for women to lead - Madonsela

“Women’s rights are human rights. We must be treated better because we are human,” she said. In society, slavery is unacceptable, people cannot enslave with impunity. Similarly, one cannot be racist without impunity. The opposite is true when it comes to sexism.

We live in a world where there is affirmative action for men, she added. The mere fact that there are less than 5% of women who are director generals reflects that there is affirmative action for men.

Mlambo-Ncguka cautioned that privilege was not “obvious” to those that have it. Both men and women are born into a system where either do not “know better” when it comes to gender equality.

Broken society

“As we address gender equality, we are rewriting society. We are fixing a car as we are driving it,” she said. “Women cannot fit in a broken society. We need to fix society so that it is ready for women.” The “broken” society is perpetuated when women are not equipped with the skills to change the paradigm.

Read: Gender parity comes with backlash

The paradigm does not require a shift, the paradigm itself is wrong and must be reconstructed, explained Mlambo-Ncguka. When it came to fighting apartheid, musicians, sportspeople, businesses and countries came together to impose sanctions on South Africa to end the oppression. The same consciousness needs to be applied when it comes to the advancement of women’s issues, she said.

“In a real democracy, the agenda for women should tilt the vote because of the numbers of women as the electorate and the injustices to women.” Women’s issues should reach the agendas of heads of states.

Former deputy president and current director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ncguka, was one of the speakers at the Top Women Conference held at Emperor's Palace on Wednesday, 17 August. (Photo: Lameez Omarjee)

Beijing women’s agenda

At the Beijing+20 session in 2015, the progress made following the implementation of the Beijing agenda 20 years earlier was assessed and options were considered of what to do next. One of the challenges in implementing goals is the existing structures that enforce the problems that are trying to be solved.

In every country is that stereotypes and prejudices “outshine” good legislation, said Mlambo-Ncguka. There are a number of contradictions in legislation. For example, free education for girls is law in some countries, but at the same time, girls are taken out of school for child marriages. “Mass paedophilia is sanctioned by society, law makers, parents and families,” she said.

The contradictions in society are labelled as culture.  Sometimes countries have both laws that enshrine gender equality, but have laws that permit the discrimination of women.

To achieve the SDGs they should be adopted as a universal agenda, by both developing and developed countries, she said. Global law reform is required for the whole world. 

* August is Women's Month and Fin24, in collaboration with the Sanlam Enterprise Supplier Development Programme, invites you to help us celebrate and showcase SA's extraordinary women in business.

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