Mindset change needed to improve women empowerment

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pretoria - Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe says policy, legislation, a change of attitude and behaviour are critical in pursuing the goal of the emancipation and empowerment of women.

Speaking at the National Women's Conference on Wednesday, Motlanthe said partnerships between men and women can also be effective in making a positive contribution.

However, he said the challenge in working to change patriarchal attitudes and practices is that patriarchy is ingrained in all the structures and institutions of societies.

"Just like racism, sexism is an acquired attitude of mind, learned through social agency, and manifests its unequal power relations in varied ways," Motlanthe told the conference.

In trying to change these attitudes and practices, therefore, both women and men need to work in partnership at all times.

"These partnerships should be based on support and respect for each other. It should also be based on sound principles and theories that support gender equality."

Motlanthe mentioned that there were some strategies that have been proven to work, which involve men and boys getting an education in gender equality.

Some work has also gone into training of the police, judges and court officials on how to handle cases of violence against women specifically and domestic violence in general, in a manner that does not discriminate against the victims, who are mostly women.

The opportunity is that there is recognition that patriarchy and economic exclusion are the root of discrimination against women and a lot of attempts are being made through policies and legislation at government level, and research and training at civil society level, to change these attitudes.

According to Motlanthe, policy and legislation are critical in changing practices based on patriarchal attitudes and behaviour but it is difficult to "legislate the attitudes away". For this purpose, there needs to be work that focuses on attitude change.

"The global strategy to transform gender relations should also include continuous education and the creation of spaces to debate issues relating to patriarchy, women's empowerment and gender equality," he said, adding that government is planning to introduce a Gender Equality Bill.

Bill would provide government with the necessary legislative authority to hasten the empowerment of women in the workplace and to address issues of enforcement and compliance.

"The Bill will have the added benefit of covering all the issues that have previously fallen through the cracks," said Motlanthe.

But for the country to see improvement in women empowerment, Motlanthe challenged that both government and civil society should assess what they have achieved or lack of progress thereof since the last time Women's Month was celebrated.

Having assessed the efficacy of our efforts in this task, Motlanthe said the second and last step is to recommitment to continuing the acceleration of the struggle for gender equality.

"In recommitting ourselves to increased efforts to eradicate the oppression of women, we do so fully aware that the scale of this challenge calls for broad mobilisation of society and a sustained momentum of diffusing a new consciousness, especially within the socialising agencies such as families and schools to underpin a new set of norms and values," said Motlanthe.