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
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