"The gender gap that exists in South Africa is a reflection of the systemic nature of exclusion and disadvantage faced by women, whether as a result of apartheid or of the broader patterns of patriarchy found in present-day South Africa.

I use the word ‘patriarchy’ here with much caution only too aware that gender advocacy has so often positioned itself as the enemy of a women’s right to freedom of belief and her freedom to express that belief as she chooses. As a Christian by choice and a feminist having lived my 65 plus years of life, in a world with systems and traditions designed to sustain a male dominated world. Learning to appreciate the sacrifices and achievements of those who stood up for women on many fronts - and now aware of the remaining strongholds in much of our thinking that still disempowers women I am committed to doing what I can to ensure gender relations take on a healthier balance.

What each of us holds to be true is a combination of our cultural and religious beliefs, our experiences, observations and learning in general. Through our successes and failures we build critical analytical skills which lead to greater self-confidence and success. As empowered as I have been - simply by virtue of the fact that I was born white in a colonised part of Africa - it has taken courage to confront gender equity issues on the home front and in the workplace and wisdom to know when and how to do it.

The biggest challenge South Africa has in order to overcome the gender imbalance is the need for economic empowerment and transformation broadly in response to the legacy of apartheid. This makes the job so much bigger and gender equity can get lost in the enormity of the task.

Women are only really empowered when they become financially independent. This begins with access to early childhood development, basic education and higher learning institutions. To succeed in business however, women need to be able to access and mobilise private and public investments, benefit from public procurement, access finance and business development support, improve their skills, participate in networks and organisations through which they can support each other; and enjoy equitable representation in both the workforce and in public-private dialogue processes and mechanisms.

As most institutions globally and locally tend - consciously and unconsciously - to serve the interests of men, gender mainstreaming - a process that recognises and encourages institutions to adopt a gender perspective in transforming themselves - is a necessary intervention.

In closing I want to summarise by saying - Women are empowered when they have access to resources and control over their own finances. I also want to remind myself that as women we have much in common but we are also uniquely crafted for many very different purposes and generalisations are not always helpful. As a group we are made up of those historically disadvantaged, presently disadvantaged, previously advantaged, presently advantaged, young women, old women, women who are differently abled, women living in rural areas, and others who are city dwellers etc etc…

We have been known to be each other’s own worst enemy at times but we are also capable of championing, encouraging and empowering each other.

Our minds need renewing as much as anyone else especially when it comes to a tendency we have to ‘prefer men’ by default. When we recognise our value and give ourselves and each other permission to be ourselves we will be empowered.

As the always wise Dr. Seuss once said, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Subject for Discussion: (Human Rights Day) Accelerated socio-economic transformation - the key to humans rights and a better future for all
20 March 2019