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Sisters still left behind

Aug 17 2015 06:58
*Mandi Smallhorne

GOOD evening, ladies and gentleman and welcome to our Women’s Month event. I’m very excited to announce that tonight, we have with us four very special guests, the ladies who led the very historic march that we celebrate this month – Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn. 

They marched to protest the iniquitous pass laws, which meant that they could not move around freely in their own country. These famous ladies… sorry, what was that ma’am? Oh, my apologies, women, women, of course!

These famous women are on a return tour of our beloved country to see just how much things have changed since their courageous march 59 years ago.

And how much we have to show them! What advances we have made! The very fact that this month is now celebrated, up in lights, right across the country, is a great achievement, an acknowledgement of the important role that women play in our national life. (Why, it’s almost as popular as Valentine’s Day, and promises to be quite a profitable little Hallmark moment in the near future, too, if this year’s range of gifts and offers is anything to go by. So good news for business, don’t you think?)

Achievements, yes… just look at our parliament – South Africa is in the top ten in terms of female representation, number seven in fact. Forty-one percent of our parliamentarians are women – we’re only beaten by Senegal, Sweden, Seychelles, Cuba, and the top two, Bolivia and Rwanda, both of which manage to have more women than men at 53% and 63% respectively – wow, something to aim for, I suppose!

We even have a Department of Women, within the presidency as is fitting. I’m not sure what they actually do, to be honest, apart from write strategic plans – oh, and tweet things that undermine women victims of domestic abuse, there is that.

And nod sagely at meetings when traditional leaders say women should submit to their husbands and that feminism is un-African and that domestic violence should be handled in the home. It’s a strategy of kinda trying to change the patriarchy from within, I guess…

And we have women in high positions in the world of work now – that’s a fantastic achievement! Yes, nearly 4% (count ‘em – one, two, three, three point six…) of our chief executive officers are women, a really sweeping change that shows how far we’ve come in 59 years!

Most women still work in pretty menial jobs, to be sure, but at least they have some role models to look up to, just as we all look up to you Women’s March leaders. What an inspiration those lonely CEOs are, showing that you can bust through the glass ceiling… when you get near it, of course. Which most women don’t, let’s face it. Cough...

And just look at what our girls (oops, sorry, women) are earning now! Okay, there’s a gap of about a third between what women earn and what men earn. Yes, taxable earnings for men average R21 000 a month, and for the lucky women who earn in the taxable range, it’s R16 000.

Buuut – and it’s a big but – we’re ahead of both Brazil and Mexico on this score, and just behind the USA, the greatest democracy in the world. So yay us, don’t you agree?

It is a bit rough on the 67% of kids who live in single-parent households, most of them headed by those under-earning women (only a teeny percent live with single dads), and of course 90% of the absent parents who default on maintenance are dads, but I have very high hopes that we’ll sort out this sad issue soon, before too many generations of kids have been raised in poverty.

And of course we do have a long way to go, in many other ways. I mean, South Africa has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world, with women victims making up the majority by far – and at a cost, mind you, of around R30bn to R40bn a year. Which is why women are still not free to move around their own country, neither in the streets nor in their own homes: the leading cause of women murders in the country is murder by a partner, a death toll of well over a thousand a year.

But at least men who commit domestic violence have a fine choice of make-up gifts this month, what with pink drinks and discounted spa days and Pink Hot deals and two-for-one choccies!

I’m sure you’ll understand that, you know, we can’t risk the greater progressive agenda by being too aggressive about our demands for equality and an end to gender-based violence, can we? We have to work slowly and carefully to avoid the impression that traditional customs or patriarchy are really under threat, or that males are the target.

After all, as one man said, “much more than females are at stake”. Don’t you love that? I found it in the comments section of an article on women’s rights, a pertinent reminder of where the struggle for women’s equality fits in the grand scheme of things.

Yes, despite the fact that 75% of registered ANC members are women, we must possess ourselves in patience and hope that in a generation or so, South Africa will be ‘ready’ for a woman president. And for equality.

We can’t be as forthright as you were in your time, you know; this is an era when you must “act like a lady, think like a man”, and… what was that? Ladies, ladies, calm down, put those fists away, it’s not appropriate, I don’t….

KAZA-BLAM!!!!

*Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on twitter.

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