STRENGTH IN EQUAL­ITY

Women’s Day pro­vides a chance to re­de­fine tra­di­tional no­tions of wom­an­hood and man­hood, writes Mam­phela Ram­phele

CityPress - - Front Page - MAM­PHELA RAM­PHELE

Ev­ery year for the past 20 years, we have been cel­e­brat­ing Women’s Day, and we ex­panded it to make Au­gust Women’s Month. Yet gen­der equal­ity con­tin­ues to elude us in our ev­ery­day re­la­tion­ships. We have one of the high­est rates of vi­o­lence against women and chil­dren in the world. The bru­tal­ity of in­ci­dents of vi­o­lence against in­ti­mate part­ners and chil­dren is ever more shock­ing be­cause they are killed by those who should be pro­tect­ing them.

Is it not the time to re­flect on what needs to change to make gen­der equal­ity a re­al­ity in our so­ci­ety? The ur­gency of this ques­tion struck me while lis­ten­ing to an SAfm Fo­rum@8 on Au­gust 5: Are women emas­cu­lat­ing men?

Many of the com­ments sug­gested that women should re­spect their men more and pro­tect them from their in­se­cu­rity in a so­ci­ety where men feel vul­ner­a­ble to dis­re­spect. Ed­u­cated, suc­cess­ful women came in for the most crit­i­cism for not af­firm­ing their men.

Should we not be ques­tion­ing the as­sump­tions we have about gen­der equal­ity in a so­ci­ety that has not yet ac­knowl­edged the dam­age in­flicted on the re­la­tion­ships be­tween men and women by the legacy of in­equity and in­equal­ity?

All of our cul­tures de­fine man­hood in terms that cre­ate a cri­sis for those men who are un­able to live up to the model of a suc­cess­ful man: head of the fam­ily, provider and pro­tec­tor.

This def­i­ni­tion cre­ates a cri­sis of iden­tity and roles in a so­ci­ety in which more than 70% of chil­dren are born to sin­gle moth­ers and are raised in fe­male-headed house­holds. How are the young men and women grow­ing up in such house­holds to model them­selves in our male-dom­i­nated so­ci­ety?

Have we re­flected enough on the pain of those men who are un­able to meet the dom­i­nant cri­te­ria of suc­cess through no fault of their own?

The legacy of eco­nomic devel­op­ment that ex­cluded the ma­jor­ity black pop­u­la­tion from ed­u­ca­tion, train­ing and up­ward mo­bil­ity has de­nied the ma­jor­ity of young men and women the op­por­tu­nity of be­ing nur­tured in homes where their fathers were present and were suc­cess­ful providers and pro­tec­tors.

Have we given any thought to the heroic role of women in rais­ing chil­dren in set­tings where men can’t per­form their ex­pected roles? They have to play a danger­ous diplomatic role of ap­pear­ing weak so their men could feel strong, while at the same time en­sur­ing that the fam­ily is kept to­gether and pro­vided for.

The con­tin­u­ing ex­clu­sion of so many men from op­por­tu­ni­ties to de­velop skills and en­gage in dig­ni­fied work is per­pet­u­at­ing the cy­cle of poor, largely black men feel­ing in­ad­e­quate, frus­trated and an­gry.

The anger and frus­tra­tion is of­ten turned against those clos­est to them, lead­ing to hor­ren­dous lev­els of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and abuse.

The sons of many of these men are con­tin­u­ing to be failed by the poor qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion in South Africa, leav­ing them un­em­ployed and hope­less. This sets off a vi­cious cy­cle of sons fol­low­ing their fathers in a life of be­ing ex­cluded, frus­trated and an­gry.

We need to stop this vi­cious cy­cle. We need to tackle the root cause of the prob­lem­atic re­la­tion­ships be­tween men and women. Gen­der equal­ity thrives in a just so­ci­ety. For as long as in­jus­tices per­sist in our ed­u­ca­tion and health­care sys­tems, in hu­man set­tle­ments and job op­por­tu­ni­ties, healthy re­la­tion­ships be­tween women and men will be dif­fi­cult to achieve. We also need to chal­lenge the as­sump­tions be­hind the dom­i­nant male model. Re­la­tion­ships of dom­i­nance cre­ate win­ners and losers, whereas com­ple­men­tary re­la­tion­ships cre­ate win­ners and win­ners.

The hi­er­ar­chi­cal re­la­tion­ships in many of our work­places with the alpha male, white or black, cre­ate re­la­tion­ships of sur­vival of the fittest. Men work­ing un­der these con­di­tions are stressed and their self-con­fi­dence is of­ten un­der­mined. Less hi­er­ar­chy pro­motes health­ier teams and win­ners all round. Our ap­proach to trans­form­ing ex­clu­sion­ary eco­nomic in­sti­tu­tions has been un­suc­cess­ful. Black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment has not made our eco­nomic in­sti­tu­tions more in­clu­sive places pro­mot­ing health­ier re­la­tion­ships be­tween those cre­at­ing our wealth.

The al­lo­ca­tion of small stakes to black peo­ple has ben­e­fited a few with­out chang­ing the busi­ness model that gen­er­ates in­equal­ity.

The temp­ta­tion among the newly rich to show off ma­te­rial suc­cess has also cre­ated un­healthy com­pe­ti­tion be­tween men. Keep­ing up with the Dlami­nis be­comes a tough daily trace. Women part­ners be­come part of the dis­play cabi­net of suc­cess­ful men in this race for dom­i­nance. It is not sur­pris­ing that abuse of al­co­hol and drugs be­comes a way of life to lower the stress level and es­cape from anx­i­ety.

Any threat to the frag­ile ego tends to un­leash a bru­tally vi­o­lent re­sponse.

We need to re­think our ex­pec­ta­tions of the re­la­tion­ships be­tween men and women in our so­ci­ety. We need to have con­ver­sa­tions at home, at work and in our com­mu­ni­ties about the com­ple­men­tary roles men and women bring to so­ci­ety.

The woman in each of us is a nur­turer, a con­nec­tor and a thought­ful en­abler of in­ter­gen­er­a­tional re­la­tion­ships.

The men in our lives have to be con­fi­dent as cocre­ators, par­ents and nur­tur­ers of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. To­gether, men and women need to model a new way of be­ing with­out the need to com­pete or dom­i­nate.

Ubuntu can come alive only if we ac­knowl­edge our in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness as hu­man be­ings – men and women.

Imag­ine homes where ubuntu reigns, where moth­ers and fathers work seam­lessly to model the com­ple­men­tary tal­ents of the fem­i­nine and the mas­cu­line so their sons and daugh­ters grow up as proud young cit­i­zens. Imag­ine how con­fi­dent and suc­cess­ful young peo­ple would be­come, know­ing how sup­port­ive and proud their moth­ers and fathers were of them. Imag­ine how suc­cess­ful our coun­try could be if the best in men and women was nur­tured and cel­e­brated.

We owe it to our­selves, our men and women and our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, to make a break from the toxic def­i­ni­tion of man­hood and wom­an­hood.

We need to cel­e­brate the com­ple­men­tary tal­ents of men and women, and thereby cre­ate a pros­per­ous so­ci­ety united in its di­ver­sity.

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