Moving closer to gender equality
“Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo.” On 9 August 1956, 20 000 women of all races sang these famous words during a march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, protesting amendments which would require women to carry passes.
The Women’s March has come to symbolise the courage and strength of South African women. Organisers and participants of the march were determined to show that women would not surrender meekly to the injustices of apartheid and the event represented a watershed moment in the shifting of activism roles.
Women were taking it upon themselves to fight for their families, as their fathers, brothers and sons were being arrested under the pass laws.
Their actions during the march also stood for something much greater – that women would not be powerless against the widespread discrimination they faced in society.
These women would not lie down and just accept their expected roles as housewives and domestic workers.They would take their places as influential, powerful and respected members of society.
As we celebrate Women’s Month, it is a perfect moment to reflect on the progress South Africa has made in securing and promoting rights for all women. Although we still live in a male-dominated society, we are certainly inching closer to one where gender equality is the norm.
South Africa is ranked in 10th place among countries with the most number of females in parliament. Forty percent of parliamentary members are female, compared to 27.75 percent in 1994.
Today, 17 of our 35 cabinet ministers are female, compared to just three in 1994. Women occupy 44 percent of all skilled posts in South Africa and 44 percent of the entire workforce which is a radical departure from the patriarchy of the past.
While government is leading the charge in this area, much still needs to be done in the private sector. For example, only one company listed on the JSE Top 40 has a woman CEO. Unfortunately, it will still take some time for us to reverse the false stereotype that women in the workplace are less capable than their male counterparts.
According to the World Economic Forum, South Africa is among the 20 most gender-equal countries in the world. We view this as a testament to the intense focus that government has paid to gender equality over the past 20 years.
However, we still have the dark cloud of violence and sexual abuse against women looming over us. Awareness of this serious issue is widespread, and government has created safe spaces at police stations and community centres for victims to report abuse. While all the legislative frameworks and support systems are in place, the only way we can combat this evil is to change power relations at home and at work.
Every man and woman needs to support and live the values of gender equality.
Make this your goal during Women’s Month.
Phumla Williams, GCIS Acting Director-General.