Championing gender equality

Monday, August 12, 2013

By Gabi Khumalo

As the country celebrates 100 years of the contribution of women to the struggle for liberation, Economic Development Deputy Minister Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize challenges the country’s women to reposition themselves and become transformation hubs.

“Throughout the month, reposition yourself. If you are servicing at the pre-school level, be clear about what you teach, and at school level, be clear about your curriculum. If you are in politics, be clear about your contribution towards agitating for women’s inclusion and empowerment. Become a champion for gender equality, not just for a day…365 days a year,” Mkhize says.

This year's Women’s Month, which is celebrated under the theme, ‘A Centenary of Working Together towards Sustainable Women Empowerment and Gender Equality’, focuses on the role of women in achieving democracy in the country.

Progress worth noting

Significant progress has been made in the promotion of women empowerment and gender equality. Measures, including a legislative framework, have been introduced since 1994 to promote women empowerment and uphold gender equality. These have drastically improved the position and conditions of women in the country.

Speaking to SAnews on whether women’s rights have gained momentum over the last 19 years, Mkhize acknowledges that in terms of government signing all important protocols, the country has done very well. However, she stresses that the need to look at the experiences of women on the ground on a daily basis is where the challenge lies.

She admits that when the democratic government took over in 1994, they didn’t believe in a ministry responsible for women, thinking that it would marginalise issues. But since 2009, they learnt the importance of having a consolidated ministry to ensure that women issues are monitored across all government departments.

“That’s where we are and the Women’s Ministry is talking to all departments, ensuring that there’s women equality across the whole sector and all spheres of government.”

Mkhize also believes that government needs to do more in terms of tackling serious issues affecting women such as poverty.

“With all the good laws and policies, we find that because we are in a patriarchal society, which believes in men’s power and authority, even where it says there should be equality, men benefit more than women. You find that men take the upperhand. It’s an on-going struggle.”

She praises the women of 1956 for their fighting spirit and says it is because of those women standing together and closing down all the divides that South Africa is the united nation it is today.

50/50 parity

On how her department ensures that programmes aimed at empowering women are accessible to them, she says the department has taken a clear stand, where they have a budget and have told development financers to ensure that certain percentages along the country’s line of the 50/50 parity goal, goes towards women ownership.

“On the question of land, we are absolutely clear. Without that, then you don’t have ownership of anything and you cannot protect your children. You cannot ensure food security and you cannot make choices of what to do with your life even during challenging times… That is no longer negotiable. All our development agencies know what they are supposed to do in terms of women empowerment.

“We are also focusing on skills transfer for women because those who got cooperatives and didn’t go anywhere, it’s because they didn’t have the necessary skills. So we’ve told our agencies, which are supposed to train them, to scale up.”

She says her department has encouraged the private sector to partner with women.

“… They are reliable, honest and hard-working partners, and if you give them an opportunity, they will never let you down. Women don’t want money for the sake of having money but for the sake of building the nation, bringing up children and making sure that our communities are dignified.”

She quickly highlights that funds are available from government for women to own small and medium entities.

“We are driving huge infrastructure projects and we’ve said to them, take the necessary skills and own a building company, be an engineer, an analyst so that at the time when there’s a corridor passing through to Mozambique, you are in the driving seat, you own something and benefit out of all this.

“Government has put aside up to R4 trillion for infrastructure development and those who are skilled must build schools. [There’s the] university [in Mpumalanga, which is expected to open next year] and tell us that out of the university project, 80% went out to women. We have challenges but huge opportunities… We need to stand together in unity.”

Focus on young women

Turning to young women, Mkhize admits that they have been neglected. Mkhize challenges young women to further their education in an effort to acquire unique skills so that they can stand on their own.

“… They should focus on redefining their values as young women so that they move to womanhood with a sense of pride and dignity and they begin to take their rightful position.”

She further challenges women in churches, whom she says have a huge role to play in terms of advocating gender equality, especially to young girls and boys.

“As the church in the past did during the most difficult years, we all led from the South African Christian Movement, we all led learning from Sunday school. The churches pulled for us and directed us, so they cannot stand back and be bystanders in the struggle of our time,” Mkhize insists.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2012, South Africa is in the fourth position worldwide with regards to women’s representation. The country has 13 women Cabinet Ministers and 16 women Deputy Ministers and out of nine premiers, five are women. –