Why does Women’s Day fail?

I attended a presentation by Professor Piet Naude, the director of the University of Stellenbosch Business School, and I was really interested in his take on Women’s Day.

In South Africa we celebrate our women on 9 August each year, but there is something inherently wrong with that.August 9 1956 was the day when more than 20 000 woman marched to the Union Buildings to protest amendments to the apartheid laws that prevented black women from living in the towns where their husbands worked unless they had a Pass. They also demanded the repeal of the Pass Laws.

Prof Naude feels that the day should be used to highlight issues around sexism and racism in our society, not to celebrate women.

In fact the World celebrates and recognises 8 March as Women’s rights day. In South Africa we have Reconciliation day on 16 December, Human Rights Day on 21 March, Freedom Day on 27 April, Workers’ Day on 1 May and Heritage Day on 24 September, so we have enough holidays around freedom and rights. The real issues we are facing and need to deal with in South Africa are sexism and racism in our society.

Some of the sources of sexism that Prof Naude shared are:-

  • Culture;
  • Religion;
  • Sports;
  • Politics; and
  • Business.

In each of these five areas, there seems to be a deadly cooperating network of sexism.

Culture is something each of us are born into and some would say it is a web of significances. Culture in many ways says that sexism is okay and rewards “appropriate” behaviour.

  • Religion demand that women need to be subservient/subordinate to men.
  • Sport where men’s competitions are always “pinnacle” and men earn much more than women athletes.
  • Politics. We need to remember that women only received the vote very late. The creation of a Women’s League and a Ministry for Women’s Rights, is that to keep women out of real political leadership? Maybe the truth is that separate structures help to marginalise women even more.
  • Business – Sadly it all started long before business. The above issues feed into business too, especially culture. We have “feminised” whole career paths. In reality women face conflicting demands of parenting and job progression. Maybe this is the reason there are so few women in the board rooms of SA companies. Even though it is law from earlier this year 2015, women still do not receive equal pay for equal work.

So if not Women’s day then what?

We all need to fight for equality all year round and every day. Women days need to be imbedded into other actions too.

HOW?

  • Conscientisation of the issues for both men and women.
  • Re-educate our children. We have them for at least nine years to help develop the understanding and belief that we are equal.
  • Shifting the roles in marriages to the partnership approach…”in sickness and health until we do part”.
  • Public leadership examples and creating real role models.
  • Vigorous application of the Law.

In summary Prof Naude mentioned the following which I must agree with.

  • Sadly sexism is not taken as seriously as racism;
  • Power and privilege are not given up easily; and
  • We need to create a safe space for women in current gender roles while understanding that moving away from the “norms” creates major conflict.

Lastly I personally believe we have a tough and long journey to disentangle the web of the current reality.

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