Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Malibongwe! Paying Tribute to South Africa’s Phenomenal Women By Chichi Maponya.

Malibongwe! Paying Tribute to South Africa’s Phenomenal Women
By Chichi Maponya. 
South African Women are phenomenal and resilient. Sometimes in the hurly burly of the gender politics and the painful violence against women in our country, we tend to either overlook or take this profound reality for granted. The statistics of violence against women – that do not deserve restatement here - are a painful indication that while women are indeed resilient, our society has been socialised over time now to undermine those that are in fact the majority of our society and on whose backs the nation is being nurtured.  What has become extremely encouraging however– militating in a sense against this wanton disregard of our women, is the worldwide recognition of South African Women and the furnace of women struggles.  Without overstating the fact, take a moment to think where in the world did women do what they did here in 1956 – putting themselves at risk against a regime that had proved that it was willing to use brutal violence against society. By burning their passes and marching on to the seat of power on behalf of the entire nation they gave resonance to the African adverbMmangwana o tshwarathipakafabogaleng, which suggests that a woman can hold the knife on its sharpest side. So much is a deep cut about what has come to be the norm and the yoke our women have to bear – the painful and unbelievable rapes of toddlers and elderly women. This alone must expose the repugnance of the moral state of our society if the most vulnerable amongst us such as women and children are daily subjected to such untold violation.It is time we seriously stopped and took serious stock as a society.
Over the last twenty years strides have been made – largely pushed through by women themselves. In the political arena it has not always been smooth sailing but there are some sterling example that as we observe Women’s month we need to single out. The ruling party’s translation of their commitment to women empowerment where fifty percent of public offices  will be held by women in their own structures and in future across all society must be commended as a clear and deliberate recognition of the value that society ought to be paying to the equality of women. It is an acknowledgement of the horror of multifaceted  oppression that women went through the ages – oppression of women as a class, women as Africans under Apartheid and the general economic oppression of women as the  vulnerable in our society often bearing more of the brunt.
The second issue to acknowledge is the phenomenal role that women have played in building our democracy over the last twenty years. While not all of them can be mentioned here notable movers and shakers of political leadership at the highest levels in government and civil society leaves all of us with a sense of pride of what can be achieved if women are given an opportunity to play their rightful part in our society. In the judiciary the executive and the legislature  the pillars of our state, Women such a former constitutional Judge Yvonne Mokgoro, Former Deputy President and now Chairperson of the ANC Baleka Mbete and speaker of Parliament Dr Frene Ginwala have put it beyond doubt that women can run this country. These are women who were in  the front line of building this democracy. In the fourth estate as well phenomenal editors such as Fariel Hafajee Phylicia Oppelt and Now Angela Quintal are emerging in newsrooms – stepping into roles that have been dominated by white males here at home and abroad. In fact now the biggest newspapers by circulation and influence are now led by women – The City Press, Sunday Times and Mail and Guardian.  In the midst of the maiming of women in our communities over the years these are encouraging signs. One hopes that this will translate into a change in how society views women in allthese areas of the existence of our nation. Will women in parliament be given more responsibilities if they eventually constitute half of the women MPs? Will the participation of women in the highest echelons of the judiciary be given deliberate attention of continue to be scoffed at when key appointments are made like it was suggested by recent debates about the transformation of the judiciary? Will women be overlooked in politics where it can become acceptable for an entire cabinet to be dominated by Men as we saw in the Western Cape at the beginning of this term of government – with a strange claim that not enough could be found to be in the executive of the Province?
Meanwhile the world has looked to South Africa for its phenomenal women. The appointment of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to head the African Union commission cannot be celebrated enough and is historic happening on the eve of that body turning fifty. The recent appointment of Dr Phumzile Mlambo –Ngcuka to head up UN Women is a huge boost of confidence and premium the world is now placing on the value of South African women who have indeed shown resilience in rising to hold the knife of our challenges on the side that cuts the sharpest. With less words and more actions, if the world can send such a profound message, we need to acknowledge our phenomenal women more. A string of powerful women in our country whether be it the Public Protector, the head of our public broadcaster or the numerous provincial premiers continue to tell the story in no uncertain terms that our women are phenomenal and that in a strange kind of way those who were at the receiving end of the worst oppression of Apartheid are now looked upon by society and the world to be at the forefront of undoing that legacy of colonialism the world over, for the betterment of the lives of  our people.
If these accolades that we bestow on our women, as it is clearly the case looking at this string of achievers, does not translate into the reversal of the horrendous crimes against our women they will remain meaningless for the majority of our women including toddlers and the elderly who are not safe in their own homes, streets and communities. The violence against our women have got to stop and all of us must play our part in practice from our homes right into our boardrooms, to stem the tide before a whole nation implodes cause we dare not forget that we strike a woman we strike a rock. Let us say Malibongwe!As we pay tribute to all South African women for being phenomenal and resilient.
·        Chichi Maponya is Chairperson of Brand South Africa.  

Article – Women against abuse

As South Africa celebrates the tremendous achievements and milestones reached by the country’s women in all walks of life, it is perhaps a salient moment to also take time to reflect on one of the continuing and highly destructive challenges facing many women in the country, each and every day. The Department of Justice estimates that 1 out of every four South African women are survivors of domestic violence, and according to POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse, an NGO undertaking research into gender-based violence in Africa), one in every six women who die in Gauteng Province alone are killed by an intimate partner. The Institute of Security Studies in their major research project into gender based violence found that 90% of the women interviewed had experienced emotional abuse, with being humiliated in front of others being the most commonly reported. 90% had also experienced physical abuse, being pushed or shoved and being slapped or hit, the most common. 71% had experienced sexual abuse, attempts to kiss or touch followed by forced sexual intercourse. 58% experienced economic abuse, with money taken without consent being one of the most common outcomes. An incredible 42.5% of women had experienced all these forms of abuse simultaneously. In 60% of all reported cases, the abuse was committed by those closest to the victims, either by partners, lovers or spouses. Emotional abuse, either as a category on its own or in combination with other types of abuse, was referred to by 63% of women as being the most serious. According to a Medical Research Council study, young women are more vulnerable to assault (ranging from slapping to beating with objects and stabbing), together with sexual coercion by partners and others. These horrifying statistics send a stark reminder to all South African citizens as we commemorate National Women’s Month of the culture of male violence against women and sexism that still pervades our society and is going largely unchecked.

So, how do we start to genuinely and effectively combat this endemic problem that is threatening to undermine the development and continuing empowerment of South African women in particular and which is eroding the fabric of our society as a whole? It surely starts at the top, with our leadership in the political arena, in our communities and in the workplace leading by example in the way they respect the human rights of women to live in peace and dignity without the threat of violence in their daily lives. For example, the Domestic Violence Act introduced in 1988 was formulated to offer women protection from domestic violence by creating obligations on law enforcement bodies to protect women victims of abuse as far as is possible. The Act is quite clear in terms of those behaviours that constitute domestic violence, including physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and psychological abuse, stalking, intimidation, harassment, malicious damage to property, unauthorized access to the complainant’s property, as well as other forms of controlling behaviour which may cause harm to the safety, health or well being of women. However, one of the major stumbling blocks to stemming the tide of abuse against women in our society is that a large proportion of women are not only unaware of their rights when reporting abuse to the police, but are often traumatized by an assault and, as a result, are unlikely to be assertive and insist on their rights. Many women are also afraid of further violence from the perpetrator if they attempt legal action. This needs to change and as part of the empowerment process, women need to be better educated in their rights and at the same time supported by the legal system in order to effect real and lasting change in their lives, and in the societies in which they live.

The challenge for the Domestic Violence Act in South Africa is to ensure that women not only better understand how it can protect them in all areas of their lives, but they need to see sterner sentences being imposed on the perpetrators of domestic violence. The judicial system needs to send a very clear message to society that domestic violence in any form will not be tolerated and that the law will respond with sentences that ultimately match the severity of the crime. Such sentences need to act as a real deterrent to others who, on a daily basis, are perpetrating acts of violence and abuse against women and going unchecked. At the end of the day, domestic violence is a crime and a violation of human rights and needs to be punished accordingly.

Every South African citizen needs to recognise that abuse isn't just physical harm inflicted on women – abuse can take many insidious forms. Whether mental, emotional, financial or political in nature, abuse against women and its devastating impact cuts across culture, ethnicity, religion, income and status. The societal challenge we face as a country is that abuse against women is unfortunately widespread in our country and most of it is hidden behind closed doors, ignored or tolerated by communities, friends and families. This needs to stop – if we are to be regarded as a caring society, we need to start seeing abuse against women for what it is. As caring and responsible citizens, we need to take a stand and issue a call for zero tolerance to violence against women. We need to nurture a culture where society recognises that violating the human rights of women is fundamentally wrong and that all individuals, communities and the state all have a duty to prevent such abuse and respond effectively. We all need to be accountable in order to make change happen and that accountability starts with the individual. Each person needs to respect the rights of women and take control of their actions and emotions. Each individual needs to examine their consciences and take accountability for the actions they choose to tolerate in their families, communities or in the workplace. Each individual needs to say no to violence against women and take steps to protecting them from those who would cause harm against them.

Ultimately, if South African society is to successfully combat the scourge of violence and abuse against women, it requires our leadership to set a clear and positive example to all men in our society that women are to be treated with respect at all times and that their human rights to live their lives without fear of abuse should equally be protected. Our leaders need to send a clear message that South Africa has a zero tolerance approach to violence and abuse towards women in our society, punishable by the full force of the law, whilst at the same time, inspiring all South African men to be part of the real societal change that needs to happen.

Taking inspiration from the courageous women of yesteryear, we continue to advocate progress in women’s empowerment and gender equality today
By Chichi Maponya, Chairwoman of Brand SA

South Africa’s citizens unite in their remembrance of those women who bravely made a stand against discrimination and inequality 57 years ago. 
Each year 9 August is celebrated as a public holiday to commemorate and honour the brave women who took part in the 1956 Women’s March to petition against legislation that required African women to carry special identification documents, also known as the "pass", which was intended to curtail their freedom of movement during the apartheid era. 
The infamous “pass laws” required Africans to carry an identity document on their person at all times to ‘prove’ that they were allowed to enter ‘white areas’.  The Women’s March is regarded as an act of quiet yet determined defiance, in which over 20 000 women of all races and ages from all corners of South Africa were inspired to take a united stand against discrimination by marching together towards the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
The event was co-ordinated by The Federation of South African Women (Fedsaw) and led by four courageous and inspirational women: Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophy Williams and Lilian Ngoyi.  Another anti–apartheid activist, Albertina Sisulu, also participated in the March.  Another 100 000 women throughout the country were inspired to voice their anger by signing petitions against having their freedom of movement restricted.
When the women who led the march delivered their signed petitions to Prime Minister JG Strijdom's office at the Union Buildings, they were made to wait outside in the cold for more than 30 minutes, which they did silently.  This event represents a turning point in history, both for the country and for the advancement of women in society in general. 
This month, as we all reflect on the bravery and determination of these women who risked arrest, detention and banning, in order to try and effect lasting social change in South Africa, it is pertinent to also reflect on the continuing challenges faced by women today. 
Despite great strides being made in terms of women empowerment and gender equality to date, there is still much to be done.  For example, corporate South Africa still has many boardrooms and senior management tiers in business and industry where women are under-represented.  Many businesses and industry sectors remain  male-dominated, despite the growing numbers of highly qualified female graduates.
Young women today, who are tomorrow’s leaders, continue to take inspiration not only from these women of yesteryear, but also from other women today who are making their mark.  One only has to look at our national government structures which have a large number of highly experienced women ministers who are driving efforts to address the most pressing socio-economic challenges that face our country. 
8 March is the United Nations International Women’s Day. This year the focus was on the Gender Agenda: gaining momentum, the continuing struggle for equality and the rights of women in society and in the workplace with special focus on violence, abuse and sexism against women. 
It is incredible that in today’s society, according to Department of Justice estimates, 1 out 4 South African women are survivors of domestic violence.  In a country with over 50 million people, this figure shows that a vast number of women are suffering.  These statistics are a stark reminder of the culture of male domination, violence against women and sexism that is pervasive in our society. 
It all starts at the top, with our leaders in the political arena, in our respective communities and in our workplaces leading by example.  For example, the Domestic Violence Act introduced in 1988 was formulated to offer women protection from domestic violence by creating obligations on law enforcement bodies to protect victims of abuse. 
The Act is quite clear in identifying  behaviours that constitute domestic violence, including physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and psychological abuse, stalking, intimidation, harassment, malicious damage to property, and unauthorized access to property, as well as other forms of controlling behaviour which may cause harm to the safety, health or well-being of women. 
Ultimately, if South African society is to successfully rid itself of the scourge of violence and abuse against women, it requires our leadership to send a clear and positive message that women are to be treated with respect and that their rights to live their lives without fear of abuse are protected. 
In my own organization, Brand SA, we recognize the need for leadership to both inspire and find solutions too many of the challenges still facing women in the workplace.  We celebrate those women in all spheres of business, government, education and society in general who are leading the way for change, whilst at the same time recognizing that we have a unique role to play in inspiring positive change in terms of attitudes towards. 
Our “Play your Part” campaign, launched earlier this year, continues to raise awareness of the devastating consequences of gender-based violence, and provides the necessary support mechanisms for those women who are suffering intolerable abuse in their homes, communities or in the workplace. 

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