August as Women's Month is upon us. We will be repeating the same mantras about women empowerment and their greater representation in all institutions in our public and private sectors. Is it not time to refocus our discourse during this year of the 100th anniversaries of Albertina Sisulu and Nelson Mandela?
I am old enough to remember the discourse at the height of apartheid about "the native or black problem". This was the view common to those in powerful positions at that time in both the public and private sectors, including well-meaning liberals. Many a tea and dinner party, seminars and conferences were devoted to finding the solution to the native problem.
It is only when the focus shifted to "consciousness" of the power relationships within our society based on colour coding to justify exploitation of the majority by a minority, that things began to change.
The majority population no longer waited to be "empowered" but declared themselves black and proud, and ready to liberate themselves from the imposed inferiority and superiority complexes that perpetuated racist exploitation and injustice. Young black people realised that liberation starts with freeing oneself from the psychological damage of inferiority complexes at the personal level. This then sets the tone for confident professional and political leadership.
The young people in the leadership of that Black Consciousness Movement in the 1960s-1970s went further. They invited their white counterparts, beneficiaries of the colour coded unjust system, to also do the work to free themselves from the psychological damage of superiority complexes.
The new energy young people from the Black Consciousness Movement and all others inspired by them accelerated the road to our celebrated political settlement. It gave impetus to the Mass Democratic Movement that mobilised citizens across the society to become their own liberators. Both white and black people were liberated from the entrapment of power relationships that perpetuated apartheid.
We now need to apply the lessons from this historical experience to complete the liberation of our society from the persistent social ills from the legacy of that unjust system. Structural violence that perpetuates poverty, inequality and unemployment lies behind our very high gender-based violence and deeply entrenched patriarchal system.
Promoting healthier relationships between men and women needs to go beyond the "empowerment of women" rhetoric. The problem does not lie with women. The problem lies with the quality of relationships between women and men and societal norms that frame and promote them.
I have the privilege of working with a man who has used the lessons of his personal journey to transform his understanding of masculinity as a complementary gift to femininity to make whom we are. Craig Wilkinson, the founder of Father A Nation, is working with me to promote healing of our nation. We have seen our approach over the last few months enable both men and women to celebrate their femininities and masculinities.
Healing ourselves as men and women is essential to create complementary relationships to support healthier homes, families, communities and society in which boys and girls can grow into confident citizens. Ancient African culture infused with Ubuntu provides us with models of these complementary relationships that contrast sharply with the European inspired patriarchal systems that undermine the place of women in society.
We need to resist the temptation to fight fire with fire. Toxic abusive masculinity is no excuse to demonise men. There are growing numbers of men who have become champions of gender equality and complementary relationships that celebrate men and women. They are champions of promoting healthier fatherhood for our children, to tackle absent fatherhood – physical and emotional – that is currently affecting about two thirds of our children.
We do need to invest more as a society in helping both men and women to reset the button of gender relationships. Continuing dominance of a small proportion of men in leadership positions of privilege and power undermines women's potential contributions to greater prosperity by broadening the base. Minority male dominance in the economy also emasculates the majority of men who are shut out of opportunities to become significant economic contributors and providers of sustainable livelihoods to their families.
The best gift our society can offer to women in this year's Women's Month would be to invest in promoting healthier relationships between men and women. The public sector needs to look inwards and create healthier working spaces within the public service to model gender equality and respectful relationships that build trust and enhance productivity.
The private sector that remains white male dominated, need to look inwards and recognise the cost of inequality in racial, gender and class terms. Inequalities breed mistrust and undermine productivity. We also know from the IMF and other studies that gender inequality has a huge opportunity cost for GDP growth. Raising female participation in the labour force could boost GDP growth by 27% in certain regions: ranging from 5% in USA to 35% in Egypt. Estimates for our region of sub-Saharan Africa is 12%.
We owe it to ourselves, our children and to all women in our society to use this year's Women's Month to commit to becoming champions of promoting gender equality and challenging all barriers to socio-economic opportunities for all citizens.
We need to reassure all young men and women that we are committed to working together to create homes, communities, educational institutions, places of work and worship that will support their development into self-respecting, confident and proud citizens.
That would be a fitting gift to women in our society and appropriate way of celebrating Mama Albertina Sisulu and Madiba's 100th birthdays!
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