Sunday, February 18, 2018
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" Nature knows no pause in progress and development, and attaches her curse on all inaction. "

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Reflections on Women's Advancement

August 9 was more than an historical day for women in South Africa. It revolutionised the way society views women in general. It was the day the country realised that women were more powerful than what society thought, and that the stand those women made at the Union Buildings 54 years ago continues to resonate till today. It has inspired millions
of women to take the mantle in deciding the destiny of their own lives. The ECNGOC spoke to three women who have worked in women’s organisations and they discuss with us the significance of women’s month and what this means for the struggle for the gender equality in South Africa. 1) What does women’s month mean to you and your
organisation?
Vuyokazi Yiweni (Ikhwezi Women’s Support Centre):
Women’s month means a lot to me and the organisaiton. Women living in South Africa are now enjoying things they couldn’t before.

Ntomboxolo Ntengo (Masimanyane):
It’s the celebration of women’s rights because now, women can stand for themselves and are in high positions.
Judy Silwana (Department of Social Responsibility and
facilitator of the Girl’s Club):
It reminds me of where the older women are coming from and the advantage I have that they didn’t. It means more opportunities are in front of me and I’m enjoying the privileges that they had fought for.

2) What does your organisation do to empower women in South Africa?
V: We run awareness raising projects pertaining to issues such as child and women abuse and income generation which helps women involved in our projects get an income for themselves and their children.
N: Masimanyane has many programmes that empower women such as the Crisis Intervention Programme, Public education programme and Women’s leadership programme.
J: My contribution to the community is the change, the information sharing and training. I share and learn from them as they do from me. We seek new ways for women to learn about ARVs, customary marriages etc.

3) How do you think women are coping in South Africa?
V: Women are starting to cope well. It’s not like in the old days when women were marginalised. Women are working for family. They have become breadwinners too.
N: There are women who are not coping and are not safe. We are not safe until all women are safe and we are not coping until all women are coping.
J: I think there are two sides to that coin. On one hand, they’re coping well. The few who are empowered have access to tools (information and resources) and know how to use them, then there are women who are still living in a cocoon. They don’t know where they’re going to. They are dependent and wait to be told what to do. They are especially suppressed in their relationships. They can’t afford to break the stigma because it will come at a price.

4) Has the social structure in South Africa changed with all the women’s in the last two decades?
V: Yes. Women have jobs now that they couldn’t back in the old days.
J: Yes, I can agree. South Africa has tried. However, to implement a policy is about one thing, but the fact that we do have policies in place that help women is a good thing.

5) Why was the women’s movement referred to as a struggle? What are women struggling for and are they still struggling?
V: I don’t think they’re struggling now. Even if they haven’t accomplished all their goals, they’re slowly getting there.
N: There are a lot of changes in women’s lives. We can’t say all women are enjoying their freedoms because there’s still the risk of rape, abduction and so we are still struggling. We can never say they are enjoying their rights when the perpetrators are not jailed.
J: To me, it would be the struggle of poverty; in terms of health facilities, access to technology, to information. There are some women with degrees and they are principals of schools, but they have no access to technology.

6) In which sectors/spheres have women advanced the most?
N: In government departments, but when we talk of this issue, there are still women in rurual areas struggling. They are not educated and they do not have access to resources as women living in the cities. These women still suffer from gender based violence and feel they have nowhere to go.
J: Women in development and construction.

7) Recent studies have shown that women in the United States make up fifty percent of the workforce. How long
would it take for South Africa to reach that milestone and what would we have to do to attain it?
V: I think South Africa is very close to that goal. Educating women is what’s needed. They need to bring education to the rural areas so that we can reach that goal.
N: I’m not sure about that. It’s too hard. There are rural women suffering from high poverty. We’ll never reach the rate of America.
J: I’m not sure how long it will take, but the number will come down. This is because of what I’m seeing in the rural areas. Those women are taking decisions on their own.

8) What are some of the obstacles that hinder the progress of women in South Africa?
V: Maybe it’s education. Rural women, right now, can’t go forward because they don’t have an education.
N: Most women in the Eastern Cape are uneducated and live in the rural areas. They are dependent on their husbands and lack knowledge and skills.
J: The obstacle would be discrimination, Gender-based violence and HIV, the latter being one of the greater challenges we face.

9) What should the current generation of young women do to ensure a progressive future for the next generation of South African women?
V: Young women should be more active in communities they are living in. Be active in their community and volunteer even if they’re not earning anything. This will teach them to help themselves.
N: Schools should educate children on human rights – empower both boys and girls. They should teach boys to value young women and not see them as objects to be abused.
J: I would say self awareness and self reliance. Then they’ll be able to set goals. Young women can help girls grow into self reliant individuals and not be dependant and obligated to get married. Get an education as quick as they can so they can be independent and be where they want to be.

10) What can women’s activism do to change the mindset of men so they can view women as their equals?
V: Women should take dependency out of their minds because women can do everything a man can.
N: They can advocate and network with other civil society organisations in South Africa; do awareness campaigns. I don’t think all this is enough, though. The activists can work on ground level and eradicate violence at root level then work upwards. Long ago, Masimanyane had a men’s programme that educated them on women, domestic violence, respecting and valuing women. The men who attended want to change. They want to change their mindsets.
J: The other thing done by the DSR is to create dialogue for men. What we have learned is that in order for women’s voices to be heard, you have to empower men. We have to tell men that there are ways to communicate with women. They also have to learn they have the right and the space to be empowered. We are not fighting with them.  We are just saying that we are equal.

Vuyokazi Yiweni from Ikhwezi Women’s Support Centre in Cathcart has been working with the organisation for eight years now. Ikhwezi has bee instrumental in educating men, women and children of Cathcart on issues such as violence against women, HIV and human rights. They aspire to a crime-free, healthy and non-discriminatory society.

Ntomboxolo Ntengo of Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre has been counselling women and children since 2004. However, the organisation does more than counselling beleaguered women. They have influenced the women’s movement on a national scale since its inception, 15 years ago. They have also reached out to other African countries as well as the Middle East, educating young women about their rights.

Judy Silwana from the church based NGO, Department of Social Responsibility, is a facilitator for various programmes that educates women on gender-based violence and has also started a Girls Club which educates learners on issues such as HIV/AIDS, violence against women, rape and empowers them  by teaching them skills such as goal-setting.

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