Symbolism over substance in Women’s Month
In the month of August South Africa makes the right kind of noise regarding women’s issues but what is missing is a concomitant action that brings real and lasting change. Year in and year out we find ourselves with a wide gender gap between men and women. And the high levels of violence against women also refuse to subside. Surely we need a change of tack if we are serious about alleviating the plight of South African women.
I think this necessity for change is what motivated the four women who mounted a protest while President Jacob Zuma addressed the country from the IEC Results Centre. Dressed in all-black these women held up posters in solidarity with Zuma’s rape accuser who was known as Khwezi during his rape trial. Their silent protest proved that actions do indeed speak louder than words. Zuma remains innocent of rape but the Khwezi protestors showed that he remains complicit in a system that shows little sympathy to rape survivors.
After all, it is this system that allowed him to ascend to the presidency while it forced Khwezi into exile for fear of reprisals. I like what JH Oldham says about equality. He says that historically, “the idea of equality always emerged in the form of a protest against existing inequalities” . He continues and says that the claim to equality is a claim to the abolition of privilege, and it is also a pressure against barriers which shut off a class of people from the enjoyment of what appears to be a fuller and freer life (1950:84).
What a pity then that some within the ANC chose to reduce these young women into political pawns who were less interested in levelling the playing field between men and women. I think guarding the privilege enjoyed by Zuma is far more of a priority to some members of the ruling party than other pressing issues. Anyway, notice that international sporting bodies like the IAAF have this task of eliminating unfair advantage between competing athletes. It is for this reason that they banned a country like Russia from participating in the Rio Olympics.
Russia engaged in the systematic use of performance-enhancing drugs because it chose medals over morals. Well, we are not different from them in that we have chosen symbolism over substance. Our drug of choice is a patriarchal system that creates favourable conditions for men. What this system does is to ask women to run the same distance as men but with a pile of rocks on their backs. For instance when it comes to education, two-thirds of the illiterate people in the world are women.
In other words, women are like athletes who are forced to train in appalling and inferior conditions while they are expected to perform on par with others. The strange thing is that when we count our country’s medal tally, we do not focus on the gender of the athletes who won the medals. Instead, we celebrate the achievement of Team South Africa. I suggest then that gender inequality is untenable and in fact an artificial condition.
Notice again that even when women eventually make it to the podium of wages they are likely to be paid less due to the wage gap between them and their male counterparts. I am tempted to say it pays to be male, but inside of me I know that the proverbial glass ceiling has to be shattered. This glass serves the interests of insecure men, but it also shuts off the progress of the whole nation. So I see that we have made big strides in uprooting structures that support racial inequality but on the gender battle, we have chosen to be pacifists.
The Khwezi protestors might indeed have acted at the behest of the EFF, but they helped highlight something very important. They helped show us that patriarchy and misogyny are the main things we should be addressing in the month of August. And as Christians we need no higher motivation than the Bible itself. This ancient book tells us that women are co-bearers of God’s image. They were not created to be dominated over but in fact to dominate. We should be showing the light in this rather than allow the world to lead us.
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