By Vanguard reporter
“Women must be at the forefront of nation-building to bring the South African citizenry together and, therefore, develop a whole new ethos of human co-existence.”
With approximately 40% women in local government, parliament and cabinet, South Africa is one of the top performers in women’s political participation globally. However, this constitutional equality has an uncanny way of co-existing comfortably alongside the inequalities experienced by women in the socio-economic sphere.
As part of women’s month on the 26th August, the Steve Biko Foundation and YFM jointly hosted the 17th FrankTalk Dialogue, titled “The Importance & Impact of Women’s Leadership”.
The panel was moderated by YFM current affairs host Busisiwe Gumede and included Tanya Charles, Research Consultant for Sonke Gender Justice Network; Prof Shadrack Gutto, Director for the Centre for African Renaissance Studies at the University of South Africa and Vanguard Magazine editor, Panashe Chigumadzi.
As the panel kicked off, it was acknowledged that in the 20 years since the fall of apartheid, there have been substantial progress in terms of women’s struggles for equality. The changes seen include new institutional norms and discourse.Women have entered the corridors of power in their numbers, and occupied non-traditional portfolios, such as the ministries of intelligence, home affairs, and defence. No less than twenty women have contributed to radical changes in laws, policies and service delivery that have resulted in far greater gender awareness and responsiveness in South Africa’s governance than ever before.
The quality of the numerical progress in the political sphere was questioned by all the panelists. Although President Jacob Zuma said recently that a female president might be in the near future of the African National Congress (ANC) and the country, women’s names do not feature in on-going power struggles for top leadership of the ANC . Although the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has three women at the helm, their leader came under fire for having an all-male cabinet in the Western Cape. The next largest opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), does not have women in the top leadership positions.
While the panel did not see any substantive policy positions for women’s advancement articulated by current political parties, they felt many civil society organisations have taken a keen and important leadership role in the struggle of women. The likes of Sonke Gender Justice Network have been key voices in advocating and fighting on behalf of women.
There was undeniable progress for ‘ordinary women’ who are now claiming access to land, mineral resources, finance and other means of production with which to enhance their livelihoods and those of their families. While acknowledging this, the panelists pointed out the systemic challenges still facing women. South Africa’s women remain the majority of the poor, the dispossessed, those living with HIV and AIDS, and daily violated as a result of high levels of gender violence.
It was also pointed out that it was black women in South Africa bore the brunt of the racial and sexual inequality in South Africa. Tanya Charles and Panashe Chigumadzi spoke to the intersectionality of black women’s socio-economic oppression in South Africa where the struggle for gender equality is often made subordinate to the struggle for racial inequality.
Social beliefs and stereotypes are a key factor in maintaining South Africa’s sexist society. In particular, the stereotype that “the place of women is in the kitchen”, remains a key challenge for women leaders of all races in government, corporate and civil sectors. A caller to the panel discussion agreed that it was ‘the natural order’ that women were inferior to men.
Professor Gutto spoke to a number of examples from across the African continent such as Liberia and Rwanda where women have taken on key leadership roles in times of conflict. It was agreed that this kind of history of women taken on key leadership roles in times of crisis can be used to dismantle the myths and stereotypes that keep women in subjugation and subservient roles in society. However, Tanya Charles was at pains to note that the examples of women’s leadership were not limited to times of crisis.
Panashe Chigumadzi spoke to the role of women in the media, saying that while women were over represented at the more junior levels but not positioned well enough to influence and affect any change in the media at the senior management and ownership levels. It is critical that the leadership of media needs to reflect the broader society if we are to see any definitive changes in the narratives told around women, and in particular, women’s leadership.
Some of the thoughts that came in from social media from the night:
By the end of the discussion, it was agreed that the notion of women’s leadership is indeed a direct challenge to the system of patriarchy. It is important that we dismantle patriarchy as at its core, it is a system that excludes women from decision making. All panelists agreed that neither sex is inherently better at leadership and it would be to the detriment of society to exclude either. The words of Graca Machel were used “Nothing for us, without us.”
The next panel discussion will take place next month.
FrankTalk aims to advance public education about the Bill of Rights by constructively engaging young professionals ages 25-40 in national discourse. This multifaceted program tiled after the pseudonym under which Steve Biko wrote engages young people for discussion around salient issues impacting South Africa’s political, economic and social development.