Despite the fact that we have one of the most admired and inspiring constitutions in the world – that absolutely guarantees equal rights for all and that is backed up by legislation as well as countless institutions mandated to ensure that the rights of people, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual preferences are upheld – as South Africans we can’t seem to get on with living a normal life.
The question of gender equality remains high on the agenda of what still needs to be “normalised” in post-Apartheid South Africa.
And it’s probably not politically correct to question why women in South Africa are still fighting for basic human rights and equal opportunity. Is it because of apartheid, or are they simply being victimised by cultural and ethnic traditions that remain firmly entrenched in our national diversity?
It seems to be a rather sad indictment of a nation that it has to set aside an entire month as a reminder to its citizens that they should honour and respect the role that women play in society (this month’s cover story). And what is even worse and absolutely abhorrent is the fact that we set aside a period of activism in which we need to be reminded not to abuse women and children!
While National Women’s Day, which is celebrated in South Africa on August 9, has strong historical significance related to the struggle for freedom and democracy and that has every right to be set aside as a day of remembrance of a specific event in our history, the declaration that an entire month should be focused on women makes no sense at all.
Other than some die-hard and extremely terrifying traditional customs, beliefs and bigoted attitudes that pose a threat to women, our constitution and the law guarantees that nothing stands in the way of women taking their full and rightful place in South African society – regardless of what they aspire to or would like to achieve in any walk of life.
One can only speculate that Women’s Month in South Africa may have been created to promote and further vested interests.
This is, perhaps, best illustrated by the fact that March 8 – that has been celebrated worldwide as International Women’s Day each year since 1917 – passes virtually unnoticed in South Africa.
It’s not clear why this is the case as International Women’s Day is specifically designated by hundreds of governments and the United Nations to celebrate women’s economic, political, and social achievements in a manner that is deeply and firmly rooted in the ideological principles that inspired the fight against Apartheid and that the ruling party claims to aspire to.
However, in much the same way that Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day have been commercialised to serve economic interests under the guise of encouraging men to respect and express their love for women, it seems that Women’s Month in South Africa is widely regarded as a platform to be used to pursue and exploit political and economic agendas.
The fight for women’s rights and recognition of their achievements should be nothing more than a part of our national psyche – in much the same way that the abhorrence of crime, bribery and corruption, and bad driving should be.
It’s quite interesting to note that when women of influence, or who hold positions of authority, are asked to comment on what obstacles they had to overcome and what battles they are forced to continue fighting to gain respect and recognition for their achievements, they are generally fairly dismissive of any suggestion that they may have been treated any differently from men in getting to where they are.
This is hardly surprising as no individual enjoys being regarded as a “charity case” — the recipient of a position, a title or any other form of recognition or respect simply because of their gender (or, for that matter, the colour of their skin).
There is little doubt that the ICT industry has always been one of the most enlightened sectors in the South African economy when it comes to the acceptance of women in business.
For more than four decades women have played a leading and inspirational role in the local IT channel. Long may their success in this field continue.