As South Africa commemorates two decades of democracy, we can count amongst our greatest achievements that women now have the opportunity to transcend the barriers of their race, gender and class to become anything and anyone they choose.
This is enabled by amongst others, government’s policy of equal education for all for our young; a policy of gender parity in the public sector; and equity targets in the corporate sector.
But have the lives of women truly improved in the past 20 years? We may have the opportunity to access opportunities but do we have the ability to do so? Are we adequately equipped to take advantage of these opportunities?
The recent Brand South Africa Sowetan Dialogues in Bloemfontein focused on the role women have and can play in the country’s democracy; speakers such as the Honourable Sisi Mabe – Speaker of the Free State Legislature; Mbuyiselo Botha from Sonke Gender Justice; Kenosi Machepa from the Ministry of Women; and dairy farmer Nompi Zim discussed how women’s rights were, in fact, human rights, and that men needed to support women to achieve a society free from sex and gender discrimination.
A report compiled by Statistics South Africa in 2013 observes that “South Africa ranks fourth among the 87 countries covered by the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. It is the highest ranked country in Africa in this index.”
South Africa’s high ranking reflects the country’s strong legal framework in respect of gender equality and women’s rights.
South Africa also performs well against the indicators specified for Goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goals, the goal that focuses on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Our legislative and policy environment suggests that we should be well on our way to redressing the historic gender imbalances in our country. However the reality with which we are faced contradicts this. Why?
First and foremost, we need to socialise our boy and girl children differently; boys need to understand that men and women are different, but equal. A healthy, productive and well-functioning society requires both men and women to be skilled and empowered.
Girl children must be empowered to realise that, while South Africa remains a patriarchal society, they are as valuable and necessary to a successful nation as men.
We need to pay special attention to building the self-confidence and self-esteem of our girl children.
This requires the concerted effort of each and every one of us – parents, caregivers, relatives, sisters, uncles, aunts – everyone.
There is a line in the Hollywood movie Pretty Woman that has great resonance for me – “the bad stuff is easier to believe”. That is, it is easier to believe it when people say we are inferior, subordinate, weak, and so on.
BOLD WOMEN MOVE THE COUNTRY FORWARD
If we want girl children to grow into young women who can take their rightful places in building another generation of strong, bold women who can make a meaningful contribution to our country and its development, we need to be conscious of this.
Secondly, we need to pay attention – and encourage women to do the same – to the health of our girl children.
This ranges from good nutrition to the necessary media interventions. It is easy to say that we cannot afford to have good nutrition, and I agree; good quality food does cost money.
Those who have a garden, start a home vegetable garden – like our grandmothers and mothers did; it will soon be fruitful enough to provide for the entire family.
Research shows that domestic responsibilities are still borne mainly by girls and women. This includes fetching of water and fetching of fuel to heat the home and prepare food. This means that the time of girl children is taken up with chores.
Chores should be shared equally among boys and girls. Girls must have equal opportunities to benefit from the education to which they are legally and rightly entitled.
With the increasing levels of gender-based violence, and the fact that despite the best policies, the lives of the women of our country are not progressing as fast as they should, we need to do things differently. This generation of women must not be found wanting by those that will follow! We must all play our part!
Pontsho Manzi is a business woman, a professional and motivational speaker, facilitator, coach, image consultant and author of Diary for Fabulous You. She is a mentor to the youth of South Africa, especially girls through her non-profit organisation, FabGalz®.
This was published in the Sowetan on 12 August 2014.