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.

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