Women HAVE AL­WAYS BEEN LEAD­ERS

To ques­tion SA’s readi­ness for a fe­male leader is to be ig­no­rant of the role women have played in shap­ing this country

CityPress - - Voices & Careers -

Over the years, the his­toric 1956 march by more than 20 000 strong women has for many of us stood sym­bol­i­cally as the hall­mark of our po­lit­i­cal strength, fe­male sol­i­dar­ity and courage of women of our country as they led the strug­gle for women’s rights and gen­der equal­ity. Since the ad­vent of our demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion in 1994, Au­gust 9 con­tin­ues to be a day that pays homage to the women of our na­tion: the mothers, wives, sis­ters and daugh­ters who fought tire­lessly against the tyranny of the apartheid regime.

It is on this day that the women of our country cel­e­brate the progress on women’s rights which has been achieved as a re­sult of the de­ter­mined strug­gle against gen­der hi­er­ar­chy, pa­tri­archy and in­equal­ity in our country. It is in­deed an op­por­tune time for the women of our country not only to re­flect on the progress made, but to call for fur­ther trans­for­ma­tion as well as to ex­ult the con­tin­u­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­forts by or­di­nary women as they con­trib­ute to the suc­cess of our com­mu­ni­ties and our na­tion.

It is ironic that we cel­e­brate Women’s Month amid a vi­cious de­bate by some on whether the women of this country are ready to lead this na­tion. There are some of us who con­sider this ques­tion not only su­per­flu­ous but also a matter that can only be pur­sued by those ig­no­rant in­di­vid­u­als who have a nar­row sense of our his­tory.

Since the be­gin­ning of time, it is com­mon knowl­edge that women played a sig­nif­i­cant role in shap­ing the his­tory of this country in dif­fer­ent ways and by a va­ri­ety of means. Th­ese women, who are of­ten not cel­e­brated or ac­knowl­edged enough, con­tinue to shape how some of us per­ceive the role of women in lead­er­ship today. I am speak­ing of his­toric women fig­ures such as Queen Nandi, the mother of King Shaka who helped shape the mighty Zulu na­tion, and women war­riors such as Queen Man­thatisi of the Bat­lokwa, renowned for in­still­ing in her fol­low­ers the courage to rather fight than re­treat.

Our his­tory is re­plete with many ex­am­ples of fe­male dy­nas­ties, re­gents and rulers who took up po­si­tions of lead­er­ship through pe­ri­ods of wars and colonial re­sis­tance. In re­cent times I need only to re­fer to some of our revered lead­ers em­a­nat­ing from our move­ment, the ANC, such as Charlotte Max­eke, Lil­ian Ngoyi, Ruth First, Ruth Mom­pati, Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela and many oth­ers. Women I con­sider as stead­fast rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies who stood strong in the face of op­pres­sion.

Amid all this doubt about our ca­pa­bil­ity and ca­pac­ity to lead, th­ese women will al­ways re­main our role mod­els for they had the tenac­ity to de­fend our home­steads, armed only with their con­vic­tion, in­tegrity, in­fal­li­ble com­mit­ment to jus­tice and dreams of the lib­er­a­tion of their peo­ple.

What is most no­tice­able about th­ese women and oth­ers of their cal­i­bre is that of­ten they were de­monised by those who feared their lead­er­ship and out­spo­ken­ness. It is thus not sur­pris­ing that today women lead­ers who chal­lenge the ob­vi­ous ills in our country tend to be at the re­ceiv­ing end of vi­cious per­sonal threats, harassment and de­mon­i­sa­tion.

This Women’s Month there­fore pro­vides us with yet an­other op­por­tu­nity to voice our loathing of the ram­pant crim­i­nal­ity that our country is today sub­jected to by peo­ple in po­si­tions of power who so­ci­ety has placed their trust in to safe­guard their in­ter­ests.

We must con­tinue to raise our voices louder that th­ese in­di­vid­u­als are in­deed rap­ing our na­tion. We must con­tinue to speak out against this ram­pant cor­rup­tion that we are wit­ness­ing within our state-owned en­ti­ties, govern­ment de­part­ments and even our pri­vate sec­tor which pro­motes the mes­sage that in­deed our country is now for sale. Th­ese chal­lenges must in­di­cate to all of us that our ef­forts to achieve the to­tal eman­ci­pa­tion of our peo­ple should be kept up.

This Women’s Month, we as women of this country must re­new our ef­forts to drive the strug­gle for so­cial trans­for­ma­tion, we must re­dou­ble our ef­forts to push for the pro­mo­tion of gen­der equal­ity, women’s rights and women em­pow­er­ment in all spheres of life.

As long as women are at­tacked and de­filed daily, then our strug­gle is not over. As long as young women suffer the in­dig­nity of go­ing with­out san­i­tary tow­els, life’s ba­sics, then our strug­gle is not over. And as long as our laws and poli­cies do not demon­strate ad­e­quate sup­port for all those women who are usu­ally bur­dened with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of car­ing for chil­dren and house­holds, then our strug­gle is not over.

As we con­tinue with the cel­e­bra­tion of Women’s Month, we must con­tinue to state that more needs to be done to en­sure that women fully oc­cupy their right­ful po­si­tion in our so­ci­ety.

We must com­mit our­selves to work­ing harder to en­sure that more women oc­cupy strate­gic lead­er­ship po­si­tions both in govern­ment and the pri­vate sec­tor.

We must raise aware­ness and make so­ci­ety more con­scious of the im­por­tance of gen­der par­ity and em­pow­er­ment in all sec­tors of our country.

We must con­tinue the fight against neg­a­tive gen­der stereo­types and change the mind-set of our peo­ple re­gard­ing the role of women in our so­ci­ety.

We must en­sure that there is more and eas­ier ac­cess to knowl­edge, skills and in­no­va­tions so that we can op­ti­mise the con­tri­bu­tions of women to the suc­cess of our country.

We must en­sure that more ef­fort goes to­wards tack­ling the un­der­ly­ing causes of gen­der in­equal­ity, in­clud­ing prop­erty rights – es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas – women’s eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment and ca­pac­ity devel­op­ment.

We must in­crease eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties for women, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas where women con­sti­tute a large pro­por­tion of the eco­nom­i­cally chal­lenged. We must con­tinue to ag­gres­sively fight against all sorts of crimes per­pet­u­ated against women in our so­ci­ety.

The Na­tional Devel­op­ment Plan (NDP) calls for in­vest­ments in gen­der equal­ity, as th­ese yield the high­est re­turns of all devel­op­ment in­vest­ments which are fun­da­men­tal to strength­en­ing women’s rights, thus en­abling women to have con­trol over their lives and ex­ert in­flu­ence in so­ci­ety.

The NDP fur­ther pro­poses that the trans­for­ma­tion of the econ­omy should in­volve ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion and em­pow­er­ment of women and that the role of women as lead­ers in all sec­tors of so­ci­ety should be ac­tively sup­ported. All th­ese have to re­main up­per­most in our minds as we cel­e­brate this im­por­tant month ded­i­cated to the women of our country.

Sisulu is the min­is­ter of hu­man set­tle­ments and a mem­ber of the ANC na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee

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WHEN WE WERE LED Ruth First, Dr Se­go­motsi Ruth Mom­pati and Lil­ian Ngoyi fought against apartheid

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