Solly Moeng & Jenna Clifford | Women's Month has become like a scratched record

  • Women's Month has become more about repetition than real change, say Solly Moeng and Jenna Clifford. 
  • But it shouldn't be that way: diverse teams deliver better results; leadership has evolved several times over; and we're now just simply stuck.
  • Lastly, if SA should entrench a reputation for itself as a country of gender-based violence, this will extend past the human cost into a long-term economic one. 

Women’s Month in contemporary South Africa has come to be like a scratched, repetitive, record dominated by discussions, predictable speeches from politicians, and colourful campaigns about how best to protect women from men.

It is also like an annual festival that comes and goes without leaving any lasting positive impact on the scourge it is meant to address.

The entrenched levels of gender-based violence, characterised by unspeakable, literally murderous cruelty, have almost become like a macabre subculture for the men who keep perpetrating the violence.

Some of this violence continues to happen during Women’s Month, even while campaign messages blare from all media platforms. We seem to have become desensitised to the fear, the cries, and the pain.

We hear the messages and see the colourful campaign banners but, somehow, simply look through them.

The men who commit these crimes keep doing so because they believe they can. And new perpetrators learn nothing from previous cases. Even the most recent crime stats indicate a worrisome year-on-year growth in sex offences; but no one seems to be looking.

Something's got to give

Something has to give. Beyond the necessary punitive measures that our courts must keep imposing consistently, needed change, if it must be sustainable, must happen from within each living man, for they are already products of the misleading socialisation most men have been unsuspecting products of since the beginning of time.

We must build human societies in which the men who are yet to be born begin being socialised on the right footing from the young age and never have to be retrained later in life after they would have committed gender based crimes, the damage of which could never be undone.

The socialisation they must go through has to be right from the onset, ensuring that boy-children are not raised with the thinking that they can own, must control and protect women as object to do with as they wish, or even exchange or traffic them as merchandise for commercial gain.

But all of the conversations about pushing back against gender-based violence distract us from another, urgent conversation we must have. It is one about patriarchy and parity.

How do we build a world in which male domination is no longer seen as a given that cannot be questioned, one in which gender parity makes sense not because the law says so, but because it ensures that the contribution of ideas in everything done in human society gets derived from all gender identities and orientations: whether cisgender, intersex, transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, anywhere else on the spectrum?

In the same way that for far too long the world has been dominated by white thinking, especially white male thinking, movements like the black consciousness and black lives matter have shown that decisions in governments, corporations, and other organisations tend to be poorer when they’re made only with input from one human type.

When teams are racially, ethnically, and gender diverse, they tend to produce better, more balanced ideas that stand a better chance of not being offensive and rejected by the broader society, especially in our multiracial world.

Not a quota discussion

But gender parity shouldn’t just be about numbers and quotas. It should be about creating more space for women to be who they are – informed and led by women – without needing to be men in order to go through the proverbial glass ceilings in corporations and government.

Boy children should be taught to lead alongside and with girl children. Girl children should be taught to lead alongside and with boy children. And all of them must be socialised to accept that gender alone has nothing to do with a claim to leadership.  

In societies where girl children and boy children are raised with the right values of respect for self and the other, understanding that they all form part of an intricate social ecosystem that cannot function without balance, there would be no need for cronyism. In such an ecosystem, the best people get called to contribute and to lead at appropriate levels in their communities.    

Patriarchy has been with human societies for hundreds of years. It continues to be taken in many societies as a natural way, the only way. But things shouldn’t have to remain that way. To fully embrace the future and stand to be counted as the leader it can still be in Africa and around the world, South Africa - led by the right, ethical, visionary, people who would be armed with the right levels of balance, emotional intelligence, empathy, and tolerance – must effectively deal with the symptoms of the absence of gender parity, manifested in high levels of gender-based violence and other gender discriminatory practices.

The war against gender-based violence has got to be won. But delays in bringing the scourges we have seen to heel must not stand in the way of the fundamental changes that must be brought about in the way our society and others around the world integrate the role of women in their affairs.

For far too long, violent crime, especially gender-based violence, has consistently come up at the top of concerns by potential tourists and other visitors to South Africa when the country’s name gets mentioned in overseas marketing drives.

Those tasked with marketing South Africa around the world must almost always have a ready answer for questions touching on this topic. The longer this remains the case, the harder it will be to separate the mention of crime and gender-based violence when the country comes up for discussion, as it becomes like a descriptor that tarnishes our nation brand.       

The country brand reputation we must recover and build for the future goes beyond politics and economics. For it to be true and fully embraced by all, it must take into account the true, diverse, make-up of our nation; with people of all genders standing shoulder to shoulder in determining the affairs of South Africa.  

* Solly Moeng is a brand reputation management advisor and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Jenna Clifford is a jeweller, businessperson and campaigner for women's rights. Views expressed are their own. 

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